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Published on October 13, 2014

What Really Matters

My blogs prior to September 2014 were written when I earned my living giving inset. I suspect I am part of a very small band of people who once earned their living from giving inset but who then have returned to full time teaching. I may be wrong.

These older blogs were written at a time when I used to regularly meet teachers who were often angry, sad and confused. They often felt confined, forced to teach in a way that was, in fact, an anathema to them. They would shake their heads at the fads that would come and go. They would beat their chests at the gimmicks that would wax and wane. They would bend over backwards to please the powers that be.

I met happy teachers too! Of course! The teachers who were told by their SLT that they were “outstanding”, they were happy. They felt a lot of pressure to find the next “game changer du jour” but they were happy-ish.

Of course there were lots of teachers who were told they were “good” and they came to me looking for a new game or an acronym or magic formula that would win over their SLT in their next observation so they too could be – “Outstanding”!!!

Anyway, here’s a blog, maybe a bit anachronistic now, have a read, see what you think. As ever, it could be just some bloke ranting into the ether or, maybe, just maybe, there might be some food for thought buried in my not so elegant prose.

Cheers Barry

Someone suggested I write a blog on “objectives” and I thought, “Hey, why not?” So here, goes…

This blog is, on some levels, meant as a bit of advice to new teachers. On other levels it’s a commentary on the nod-a-long conformity that is so often encouraged in teaching. It’s an attempt to question “good practice”. Cos, you know, very often, “good practice” really isn’t that good.

So much in education, that is, so many of the fads and fashions that come and go, they never arrive empty-handed. They arrive, not only with the fanfare that says, “This is the panacea you’ve all been waiting for!”, but they arrive with the expectation that we adopt the latest “magic formula” without ever actually questioning its value, its roots or its learning impact.

So many of the “must-do” miracles of modern pedagogic orthodoxy don’t leave a lot of room for discussion or independent thought – it seems to me.

“Shut up and do as you’re told!” prevails in many schools, I’d suggest. That’s not teachers talking to kids. No! Perish the thought that adults should tell kids what to do.

“Do as you’re told, fit in, never stand out if you want to be outstanding.” That’s more the mantra that teachers are encouraged to adopt to ensure conformity.

Of course, if you “do as your told”, if you “tow the line”, if you never “rock the boot”, if you dutifully recycle the nod-a-long “thinking-lite” soundbites that permeate education orthodoxy, you’ll soon be recognised as “outstanding”.

In an avalanche of green, amber and red, in a tsunami of lolly sticks, in a blizzard of independent brain-based multi-sensorial interactive 21st C personalised deep learning – you’ll be praised to the hilt.

Which is a shame. Because praise is addictive. And, even if you’re being praised for teaching by star sign, delivery through mime or, better still, facilitating through stealth – praise brings with it a buzz and we like that buzz of acceptance.

It’s very easy to get sucked into the concept of “if others like it, it must be good stuff”. See, you’re probably working on the premise that those observing you have given this stuff some serious thought. And maybe they have! In some schools you’ll be observed by some great teachers who are critical, challenging, supportive, sharp and insightful. They’ll tell you some stuff that’ll maybe smart a little and they’ll tell you some stuff that’ll make you really question every hackneyed essential “good practice” Pavlovian learned response embedded via not good enough ITT and CPD.

That’s brill! If you’re working with teachers that think – you’re in a great place. Teachers should never be afraid to question “good practice”. Teachers should be constantly analysing and dissecting “good practice” based upon the evidence they see before them daily. Teachers should be constantly asking…

What do my kids find hard? Why?

How can I teach differently so the hard bits become accessible?

How can I do that without dumbing down?

How can kids hide in my lessons?

How can I pre-empt the most common errors through precise and concise teaching?

How can I convince them that success in this subject is just a set of habits that need lots of practice?

How can I make those success habits explicit and ensure they weave through every lesson?

They’re the sort of questions teachers should be asking themselves – I’d suggest. But instead a lot of teachers are encouraged to focus upon…

How can I demonstrate “engagement”?

How can I get some group work in here?

How could I include mini-whiteboards?

How can I incorporate technology?

How do I make the lesson objectives fit the SLT prescribed format?

None of those questions really get to the heart of teaching, I’d suggest. None of those questions help teachers better understand themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, areas for development. None of those questions focus the teacher on the kids in front of them – not really.

Those questions are about embodying, demonstrating, replicating, parroting “good practice”. Those questions don’t encourage teachers to reflect on the kids in front of them or on their own potential. I think that’s a shame.

If change is going to start anywhere, it’s going to have to be with the adult in the room, the teacher, who gets to understand himself and his vision and the little and big habit changes he needs to make to really impact upon learning.

So learning objectives typed onto a powerpoint, following the prescribed format, maybe with some snazzy font and zingy effects – that might be “good practice” but it’s not great teaching or learning – I’d suggest.

If you like, or rather, if your SLT like, give your objectives in the “All, Most, Some” format. If SLT like WILF and WALT, if they salivate over EBI,  if they want objectives in the form of questions, if they love SOLO – go on then, feed them the thing that they crave. That’s the game.

But I worry about this imperative to please observers at all costs. There’s a real danger that “the observer is king” mantra encourages crowd-pleasing conformist, mechanistic, lobotomised teaching, robotic unthinking teaching, the kind of teaching by numbers that corresponds perfectly to an SLT designed tick list but doesn’t necessarily let the teacher grow and develop their potential.

I guess my point is: lesson objectives – they don’t need to be written to be at the heart of everything you do. Just because they’re written, copied down and referred to, as per prescribed procedure, at designated lesson intervals, that doesn’t mean the teacher has really asked the important questions about what holds kids back or pushes kids forward.

So, new teachers, nod your head, do as your told, tick the boxes, it’s the game and, besides, nobody likes a smartarse. But when you’re praised for your capacity to follow the party line, to swallow the sound bite, to nod-a-long, just remember that, one day you’ll move to another school and the definitive unequivocal “truth” that seemed set in stone in your first school, well in your next school they’ll laugh at it, as they’ve moved on to “the next big thing”.

Take the panaceas with a pinch of salt, take a moment to think about what you really believe in. What’s your vision of a brilliant lesson? What would you want a fly on the wall to see? Try working towards that – that’s my suggestion.

Posted on February 27, 2015 by Bodil Isaksen

Maths everywhere

Here’s how we squeeze in maths outside of maths lessons, without compromising subject content in other lessons.
  1. Rolling numbers

Rolling numbers is a great first step for embedding times tables. Ultimately, we want our children to know each times table out of order and without counting on their fingers. But rolling helps the children get a feeling for the patterns. Incorrect answers start sounding out of place. But the main reason I do it really is that the children simply love it.

You can break out a quick roll anytime and anywhere. Outside in the playground when lining up to come in. Between main course and dessert at family lunch. At the end of form time when you got them stood behind their chairs a little too early.

It’s nice to drop in some other rolls once they’re confident with the basics. Can they roll their 18s? Their 25s? Their 3.5s? Their 0.303s? You can then follow up with a conversation about how they figured each number out. Decimal rolls in particular are great for reinforcing place value.

  1. Quick-fire everywhere

I’m lucky enough to work in a school where all teachers recognise the central importance of number facts. All staff help pupils by firing questions like times tables or square roots to individual pupils in spare moments. I’ve seen this work particularly well in the queue for the toilet at break time.

As we’ve gone through the year, staff have become good at working out who needs what, adjusting the level of challenge for the pupil as appropriate. One pupil might be asked 7 + 8, and the next to find the difference between the square root of 169 and 25.

I love this for so many reasons. It has zero resource cost. If a pupil is struggling, the teacher can go straight into a one-on-one pep talk about the importance of automaticity. It really makes the pupils feel like every staff member cares about them automating their number facts – not just the maths teachers.

  1. Maths Mugshots

In order to super-size the effect of quick fire, I produce one pagers with photos of the pupils who need particular attention. I print A3 posters showing the slowest pupils’ names and photos. These are stuck up in the office, staff room, by the photocopier and even in the staff loos.

Teachers can hone in on those pupils and fire a quick question at them every time they see them. They can also use it to generally encourage and check in on the pupil. It’s not watertight: I don’t expect teachers to recall perfectly who is on the posters. But if it means even one kid gets one bit more practice in the thing they need, then I think it’s worth it.

  1. Number chains

Start with a number. Multiply it by something. What do you get? Take off something. What have you got now? Then square the answer. Then halve that… You get the picture. I run number chains like a fast paced game of Pepper with enough wait time to keep everyone on board. I tend to do a mix of hands up and cold call.

Number chains are fantastically adaptable. You can make them as difficult or as easy as you like. You can easily link them to current learning. You can play with any size group. You can have a number chain that lasts a few seconds or many minutes.

They are perfect for when you’re waiting for any reason. We play if we have to wait to leave the classroom while another class is filing past in the corridor. We play with the first pupils to arrive in the lunch hall whilst waiting for the other classes to come down. We play before PE when some pupils are changed into their kit before others.

  1. Times table rockstars

The best £50 your department can spend. TTRockstars takes on a life of its own. I do next to no promotion of TTRockstars, but our pupils answer tens of thousands of times table questions a day. Hype up the launch week, buy some inflatable instruments and whacky glasses, then sit back and watch.

  1. Scores on the door

We have an IXL subscription which gives pupils endless high quality practice. Every day, I publish the whole year rankings, right from top place to bottom place, for time spent on IXL the night before. It is purely an effort measure: it ranks based on time spent, not difficulty of topic or percentage success. Pupils who really struggle are on a level playing field with those who don’t.

We have numerous pupils choosing to do over 2 hours of IXL a night. These aren’t all existing high attainers: they span right across the spectrum. They are speeding ahead of their peers. Those spending the least time deserve to know what the standard is. I don’t want them to wallow in denial about how hard everyone else is working. I want pupils to know where they stand. They want to know where they stand too. They love crowding round to see what position they came in.

The sign it’s working? The median time spent is usually around 45 minutes a night. Different names come in the top 10 each day. And I just got an email from IXL saying my pupils had answered over 600,000 problems since September. Can’t say fairer than that.

Posted on February 28, 2015

Which knowledge?

I often ask pupils at family lunch at Michaela what their favourite subject is. Many of them reply, ‘I love every subject, sir!’ What we choose to teach plays a big part in how much our pupils love learning. 

At Michaela, we decide which knowledge to teach based on three principles: schemata,challenge, and coherence.

Schemata

Our aim is to help pupils remember everything they are learning, and master the most important content. To this end, subject content knowledge is best organised intothe most memorable schemataSo we organise history and English literature chronologically. We start in Year 7 with classical antiquity: in History we study Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Roman Britain; in Religion, we study polytheism, The Old and New Testament, Judaism and Christianity; in English, we study Greek mythology, The Odyssey, Roman Rhetoric, epic poetry and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; in Art, we study Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, sculpture and architecture. Chronological, cumulative schemata help pupils remember subject knowledge in the long-term: not for ten weeks or ten months, but for ten years and beyond.

 

Challenge

The subject knowledge we choose to teach our pupils to master is the most vital and the most challenging content. The pupils we teach often arrive at school far behind, unable to read fluently or multiply. Many have a vocabulary of under 6,000 words, while wealthier pupils often have over 12,000. So the opportunity cost of anything other than the most challenging subject content is high. Only the most challenging topics with the most stretching vocabulary, combined with high support so all pupils understand and use it accurately, will allow them to compete academically with the 96% of private school pupils who reach University. We dedicate extended teaching time for mastery of grammar, spelling and vocabulary, the hidden bodies of knowledge that make for accurate writing. Our pupils will have vivid memories of reading some of the most complex and beautiful texts ever written: Shakespeare’s Othello, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Shelley’sFrankenstein, Orwell’s 1984, Malcolm X’s autobiography, Duffy’s The Worlds’ Wife, and Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom.

Coherence

Subject knowledge we select dovetails cohesively across and between subjectsAt Michaela, our pupils will remember Year 7 as the year they learnt about classical civilisation. Across subjects, they are making exciting connections. Sacrifice, for instance, recurs in the stories of Abraham and Isaac in religion, with Agamemnon and Iphigenia or Minos and Theseus in Greek mythology. Across English and Science, the planet Mercury is named after the swift Greco-Roman messenger god as it is the fastest-moving planet, taking 88 days to orbit the sun. A dovetailed knowledge curriculum allows pupils to make these fascinating connections for themselves, and understand the ideas of democracy, dictatorship, hubris, nemesis, tragedy and monotheism from their early origins.

In short, we select challenging, sequenced, coherent schemata within and across subjects, so that our pupils remember what they’ve learned for years to come.

Posted on January 17, 2015 by Katie Ashford

 How do we get them reading?

This post is intended to help teachers who are at a complete loss as to why their pupils can’t read. I’m not saying I have all the answers- what I am proposing is not a definitive solution to the problem of reading, but it outlines some of the things I wish someone had told me when I started teaching. There is a range of things you could do, of course. These are just some of the things I have learnt over the past few years that I have seen work well.

Countless secondary schools across the country are faced with this problem. It is an absolute travesty that many children start secondary school unable to read. It means they will struggle to access a KS3 curriculum, and because many secondary schools lack the time, funding and frankly, the expertise to teach children how to read, they can often slip through the net and make very limited progress in reading over 5 years. I felt compelled to write this post because I have had to spend hours and hours researching, reading and trying to understand what on earth we can do to solve this problem. It is my hope that a few secondary teachers will read this and feel empowered to do something about a problem that likely does exist in their schools.

Step 1: Assessment.

You cannot begin to teach children to read if you don’t know where they are to begin with. Lots of schools use the Accelerated Reader reading test. This is okay, but it won’t give you much of a breakdown of their ability. So you won’t know whether their strengths lie in vocabulary or comprehension, which can make it more difficult to determine what support they need. I would recommend the New Group Reading Test by GL assessment. They do an online version and it generates very easy to understand reports.

Once you have your reading age results, get all the pupils with a reading age below their chronological age to do a decoding test. I would recommend the WRAT test. It takes about 3 minutes per child (done individually) and anyone can administer it. All they have to do is read a list of words until they can’t read anymore. It’s simple.

Step 2: Placement.

 The WRAT test contains instructions for converting their score into a Standardised Age Score (SAS). If they have an SAS below 80, they need to do a phonics programme. If they are between 81 and 100, they need some fluency work, and usually some support with spelling (but this may vary, depending on the child).

Step 3: Phonics.

Badger your SLT and make them invest in a good phonics programme. I would highly recommend Ruth Miskin’s Fresh Start for any pupils in year 7 with a low decode score. It could be taught to kids in higher years, but some of the resources are a bit young. I haven’t found a better programme that is more age appropriate, however, so I’d still recommend this one. They’ll need 3 sessions of 45 minutes a week. It will take about 6 – 8 months, depending on how weak they are when they start. Find the money and the time in the timetable. It’s worth it. If you or members of your school’s SLT have ideological reservations surrounding phonics, get over it. A phonics programme WILL work if it is delivered properly, and not doing it because you don’t believe in it is borderline immoral. #justsayin.

Step 4: Fluency

Lots of pupils can decode, but still read in a very stilted, awkward way, without expression or much of an understanding of emphasis, tone or intonation in reading. It is important that all children can read fluently, as it frees up space in working memory to focus on comprehension. If all you are thinking about is how to pronounce the words, you aren’t concentrating on the content.

There are lots of ways to solve this. Firstly, they need to be reading aloud often- at least once a day, if possible. A simple way to do this is to read aloud in class. At Michaela, our pupils read aloud in all subjects. I’m very lucky to work with excellent humanities, maths, science, art and French teachers who recognise the importance of reading, and will happily ask pupils to read aloud in their lessons. You could also get them into the habit of reading aloud when they read at home, but this is obviously harder to monitor.

Secondly, if you have the time, you could try to do some timed repeated reading practice with the pupils concerned. Here is a good video outlining what this looks like.

Step 5: Comprehension

There isn’t a magic bullet for this one, unfortunately. It takes a very long time to build, and the poorer kids’ comprehension is to start with, the slower it improves. But there are important points to note here. Firstly, comprehension is heavily underpinned by knowledge. A 1988 study by Rechts and Leslie tested the comprehension of weak and strong readers with the same text. They found that poor readers with a good knowledge of the content (baseball) outperformed the strong readers with poor knowledge of baseball. Read more about this here, or there’s a nice video you can watch here. So the first step is to cram them with as much knowledge as possible.

Another option is to use these resources by McGraw Hill. They are expensive, but are completely scripted and extremely well sequenced. A teaching assistant can deliver these sessions, and each one takes about 20-25 minutes. Again, time would need to be built into the day for this, as you wouldn’t want to take them out of mainstream lessons and therefore give them less access to the knowledge they need to get better at reading.

A few more points

Finally, if you have exceptionally weak readers, I would recommend getting in touch with Dianne Murphy (@thinkreadtweet), whose reading programme has enormous impact on weak readers. Definitely worth a look.

Of course, to make any of this work, reading must be a central part of the school culture. Pupils must have access to a range of texts, and must learn to love reading. Next week, I will blog about building a culture of reading in a school, and motivating pupils to read. I think these two aspects of reading are so vital that they merit their own post. The five steps above are intended to help literacy leads or English teachers who don’t know where to begin with reading, as I didn’t a few years ago. Of course, I am still no expert- far from it! I’m just passing on some of the wisdom I have been fortunate enough to stumble upon over the last few years.

Happy reading!

Welcome to Michaela’s First Newspaper

04 Feb 2015, Posted by admin in Latest News

Michaela Matters – Our first school newspaper is out!

Our pupils have worked extremely hard to publish our newspaper ‘Michaela Matters’. Have a look and find out what we have been doing during our first term. Our aim is to give the children at Michaela a voice and at the same time provide exciting articles of interest to everyone! There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy – download our free newspaper here.​

Visit us any time

21 Oct 2014, Posted by Becci Roach in Latest News

Missed our Open Events?

Visit us any time and discover why you should make Michaela your first choice for 2015!

Call us on 020 8795 3183 

 

High challenge, appropriate support and precision teaching

14 Jul 2014, Posted by website administrator in Latest News

Click on the image to read the article.

Michaela is staffed by highly motivated teachers, true experts in their field, passionate about their subjects and 100% committed to really challenging every single pupil. Too often labels limit pupils, give them an excuse to give up when the going gets tough. Not at Michaela. High challenge, appropriate support and precision teaching ensure that pupils are pushed not pandered to. In the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, Head of Ofsted, ‘we give them love but it’s tough love.’ Ask yourself this, if a child can complete a task easily whilst half concentrating and absent-mindedly chatting to a friend, was the task worth doing at all? At Michaela pupils learn the power of focus, concentration and sustained effort every lesson. They learn that persevering and eventually succeeding feels amazing and is the foundation for all of life’s successes.

Click on this image to read the article.

This is yet another example of how online bullying can seriously impact upon our children. At Michaela we’re not anti-technology, but we are very much pro sitting around a table, talking at length to our children, teaching them the right values and protecting them from harmful outside influences.

So, as ever, our message remains: let’s talk more, read more, discuss current affairs more, let’s help our children develop empowering habits, let’s actively teach them to manage their time and avoid procrastination.

Michaela pupils have long school days. They work hard every day and in every lesson. When they come home from school they’ll be brimming with all of the knowledge they’ve encountered across the curriculum. That’s why we urge every parent to talk at length with their children about what they’re learning, how they’re feeling and, maybe, where they could do with some extra support and help from you, their family.

And please, never accept just a shrug or a one word answer. We’ll never accept that in lessons and we need families to support our high standards by insisting upon courtesy at all times, full sentence responses and correct grammar.

Remember, we are preparing your children to compete with the very best of their generation. We need you to model the courtesy, the full articulate responses and the attention to detail that we will be modeling every single day in school.

A zero tolerance approach to bullying

03 Jul 2014, Posted by website administrator in Latest News

Cyber-bullying: Horror in the home

Every parent needs to read this very harrowing article. Every family needs to sit down and seriously discuss the issues of cyber-bullying with their children. You can’t ignore the potential of cyber-bullying. Cyber-bulling comes into your home – but only if you invite it.

At Michaela we have a zero tolerance approach to bullying, whether it be physical, verbal or on-line. We teach pupils to work hard and be kind. That’s what being at Michaela is all about. But we, as teachers, can only do so much. We need every single parent to be vigilant, we need every single parent to take their responsibility, in terms of preventing cyber-bullying, very seriously indeed.

Social networking can be addictive, massively time-consuming and, quite frankly, vicious. That’s why we insist that every single Michaela parent monitors their child’s use of the Internet very closely. No Michaela pupil should ever have more than two hours per day of screen time, be that TV, Internet, games consoles, texting or any form of social networking. It’s simply too easy to send a message or a photo in the heat of the moment that one might later regret.

By far the easiest way to keep your child safe, happy and free from bullying, is to restrict and monitor their screen time and to simply ban them from social networking sites. Rather than fritter time away on social networking, or playing computer games, encourage your child to take up a sport or other character-building pastime. And remember too our message at Michaela – ‘the more we read, the more we know.’

Through firm but fair discipline and a 100% ban on mobile phones we will keep your child safe at school but, to keep your child safe when s/he is not at school, every single parent must monitor their child’s Internet usage and texting. As the adults in their lives we need to protect them through clear parameters consistently applied – there is no other way. One day they’ll thank you for it.

Our advice is:

  • No child should have access to a Facebook account
  • Families must discuss, be vigilant, and if necessary, ban their children from using, social network sites.
  • Let’s encourage our children to have healthy hobbies, to read, to sit with us around the dinner table in discussion and to watch the news with us –  together as a family.
  • Let’s not allow our children to become isolated, obsessed by social networking, texting, computer games – activities that isolate and break the family connection.

Click here to view a short video that demonstrates what cyber-bullying is, and how you can deal with it.

As teachers, we’ll do our bit, but pupils, parents, teachers, we must work as a team.

Welcome to the Michaela Family!

25 Jun 2014, Posted by website administrator in Latest News

Michaela’s Headmistress, Katharine Birbalsingh, teachers, support staff and governors all thoroughly enjoyed meeting our Year 7s and their families at our recent Welcome Event.

Welcome Event

The turnout was phenomenal and it was a pleasure to meet so many parents who are as excited as we are about our focus on high academic achievement, strong family values and excellent manners and behaviour.

We made our expectations clear on uniform, haircuts and attendance and we underlined the importance of teachers, pupils and families working as a team to secure each child’s academic success.

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