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Posted on March 6, 2016 by Naveen Rizvi

Minimally different examples

School Visited: Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School

Class Observed: Algebra 1 Grade 9 Statistics (UK equivalent Year 10)

Theme of post: Pedagogy and Curriculum

This is the first blog post in a series complementing a workshop I delivered at Mathsconf6 entitled “Mathematics Pedagogy at USA Charter Schools”. Here I spoke of my experiences whilst visiting a selection of Uncommon and North Star academy schools in New York and New Jersey.

I discussed how the common denominator in each maths lesson I observed was the level of academic rigour in the teaching delivered to pupils. I am still trying to find a way to define this term, because it is overused and poorly defined. However, I do believe I may be able identify the evident features of academic rigour in the structure and delivery of each teacher’s pedagogy and instruction:

Academic rigour featurse

In my workshop, I discussed four examples of academic rigour that different teachers up and down the country can implement with minimal effort and maximum impact. Each blog post will discuss one example at a time. Today, this blog will address using minimally different examples during instruction.


Minimally different examples are examples to explain different concepts where the difference in the algorithm between one concept and the other can be distinguished as one additional step. This was one example I witnessed in one of the classrooms I was in.


Minimally different examples 1

The teacher presented the first expression to factorise, where the coefficient ofa in the quadratic expression is 1. This was a recap exercise where she stated the values for the coefficients, and then she determined the two values of which the product gives us the value of c, and the sum gives us the value of b. She wrote the expression in its factorised form.

She then introduced the next expression to factorise. She stated that it looks visually very different to the first one, but that there is only one difference between the algorithm to factorise the first and second expression. She defined the minimal difference between the two as one additional step – which was at the start of the algorithm. She asked her pupils, “What is the greatest common factor (GCF) of all the terms in the expression?” Pupils spotted the GCF to be 3p, which she then factorised. She said “look, we now have an expression in the parenthesis which looks similar to the first expression we factorised.” The minimal difference between factorising the first and second expression was classified as one additional step. Traditionally, in my training, I would have seen the algorithms to factorise both the expressions as isolated and fragmented. Instead, they are connected; pupils were empowered to factorise more complex expressions from prior knowledge of the algorithm to factorise the first expression. Minimally different examples are a good strategy and example of academic rigour in the classroom because they help pupils to understand knowledge and concepts which are initially complex and ambiguous. Here, the difference between the two examples is classified and determined as one additional step in the algorithm. The possibilities are endless.

I plan to show different examples of how I have used the idea of minimally different examples in my teaching, sometime this week.

Posted on March 5, 2016 by Barry Smith

Mental Health

I really don’t like all this talk of ‘intolerable pressure’ and ‘stress’ on school kids.

In my experience most kids are bone idle unless you’re right on top of them. They’re not stressed out. They’re making excuses for lack of self-control.

If kids at Michaela don’t do homework, and this is monitored very tightly, they are guaranteed a detention. The kids know. There is no escape. There is no doubt. There is no ‘stress’.

If kids break the rules twice in a lesson, this could be fiddling with your pen and then later on turning around to smirk at a mate, they’ll get a detention. Guaranteed. No escape. No doubt. No uncertainty. No ‘stress’.

Does that sound like ‘intolerable pressure’ to you?

Are you thinking,  ‘My God! That place is a prison. Those poor kids are at high risk of mental health issues due to the hot house, highly academic, no excuses  ethos, where Oxbridge entry is touted daily?’

That’s because you’ve never been to Michaela. We read out test results, we show TT Rock star rankings at break, we punish kids who get lots of demerits and we reward kids who get lots of merits. We celebrate high achievers. We celebrate effort. We celebrate change for the better.

We don’t do ‘tea & sympathy’ we do ‘pull your socks up!’

We’ll help you pull your socks up, but we won’t let you make excuses.

‘I slept in!’ won’t cut it. Detention. ‘I forget’ is a blatant lie. Detention.  The list goes on.

Kids at Michaela aren’t ‘stressed’! They know the way school works, the way every teacher works.

You break the rules? You’re guaranteed to be punished. You work hard and you’re kind? You’re guaranteed to be praised.

I reckon our kids do about 60 to 90 minutes of homework per night. The ones that don’t, the ones that offer up excuses instead of effort – they know they’re going to get caught and do detention.

So, kids at Michaela aren’t under ‘intolerable pressure’ or ‘stressed’. They  simply know 100% that every action has a consequence. They know that, ultimately, they are in charge, they decide their own fate.

That’s true empowerment. No stress. Your future is what you make it. The choices you make today will form your future. And yes, because unless we watch you like a hawk you’re lazy, we will punish you every time you fail to pull your weight.

I don’t think we’re doing kids any favours at all talking about ‘a rising tide of stress due to high expectations’.

The real scourge of society isn’t the supposed epidemic of mental health issues.

What we really need to battle is procrastination, the media fuelled obsession with fame at any cost and in any domain – too many teenagers live for notoriety, the excuse culture that permeates everything, the pseudo medicalisation of normal emotions, the overuse of words like ‘depression’, ‘mental health’ and ‘pressure’. That’s what we need to fight rather than handing out limiting and harmful labels.

I’ve never known a stricter, happier, more loving school. I’ve never taught prouder, more confident, more polite kids. I’ve never worked with more committed, hard-working, passionate teachers.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when kids know the rules and the rules don’t budge.

Maybe that’s the response we need  to ‘the rising tide of stress’.

More schools that call pupils and parents to account every time.

Posted on March 5, 2016 by Jo Facer

Reading Reconsidered

Teach Like a Champion,’ by Doug Lemov, changed my teaching profoundly: it was the most practical and helpful piece of writing I had ever encountered, and transformed my classroom practice, giving me specific aspects to hone and improve.

When I heard that Lemov had been an English teacher, it didn’t surprise me – in particular, in TLAC 2.0 there are several techniques which are especially useful for the English teacher. When I heard he was co-authoring a book on reading, I had very high hopes. ‘Reading Reconsidered,’ written by Lemov with Erica Woolway and Colleen Driggs, does not disappoint. With a nod to the poetic importance of literature (‘this book is about the enduring power of reading to shape and develop minds’), again, we have a manual for practice; specific things that teachers can do, day in, day out, to read effectively with pupils.

‘Reading Reconsidered’’s opening gambit is that text selection is key: in pages referencing Hirsch and Arnold, canon and cultural capital, the writers note: ‘part of the value of reading is to be able to read and talk about important books that almost everyone else has read.’ The great conversation of literature, intertextuality, ‘works only when pupils have read some texts in common.’ The writers extol the value of a common reading curriculum for all pupils, and warns us to select our texts carefully, noting: ‘a typical pupil might read and intentionally study forty or fifty books in English classes’ over their time in school and ‘these few books form the foundation of their knowledge of how literature works.’ If only there were as many as fifty texts! Such a sentence puts the demands of the new GCSE English Literature, with its four texts (I include the poetry cluster as a ‘text’) over two years into frightening perspective. To those who argue that canonical texts are unreadable by youngsters, the authors respond: we just need to get better at teaching them.

The writers go on to isolate the ‘five plagues of the beginning reader’, looking at five challenges all readers face in encountering tricky texts, and how we can overcome these in our everyday practice. One example is using ‘pre-complex texts’ to prime pupils for the canon, such as children’s classics like ‘The Secret Garden’ which use challenging syntax but have child-friendly story arcs.

The chapters on close reading are a must-read primer for all English teachers, going meticulously through how we should read closely in class, supplemented with specific questions designed to unlock meaning in complex passages. One key take-away for me was: teachers! Prepare to close-read! Annotate your text! It sounds blindingly obvious, but I know I’ve been guilty of sauntering into class, blank copy in hand, hoping for the best. Yet what more important preparation can there be for a lesson than our own annotation?

The most revolutionary chapter for me in ‘Reading Reconsidered’ was that on non-fiction. It made me recognise how vital it is for pupils to read non-fiction alongside fiction to assist with their comprehension and to enable really excellent analysis: ‘reading secondary nonfiction texts in combination with a primary text increases the absorption rate of pupils reading that text’; ‘when texts are paired, the absorption rate of both texts goes up.’ Overall: don’t teach non-fiction as a separate unit, but rather interweave non-fiction texts into your teaching of literature, either with short, contextual glosses or in-depth historical study of the time period in question to deepen analysis.

Though reading is this book’s chief subject, the authors do not neglect writing: ‘we are suggesting that pupils [should] write with more frequency and consistency as part of their daily work of responding to texts’. They recommend intervening at the point of writing to help pupils improve (no mention of lengthy, burdensome and delayed marking), explaining: ‘great teaching begins at the moment learning breaks down.’ ‘Writing,’ in this guide, also encompasses annotation, and again there is detailed advice for modelling these, with the goal of pupils eventually annotating autonomously.

Again, though the goal is for pupils to read independently, we need to be aware that if they do this poorly they are ‘inscribing errors’ (and of course we know from Lemov himself that ‘practice makes permanent’). It is vital that pupils read aloud, as well as listening to great reading being modelled for them. In considering ‘accountable independent reading,’ the writers give such guidance as using short sections with a specified focus, or scaffolding pupil comprehension by using questions.

Although the focus of the books is practical, with advice to be found on the specifics of vocabulary instruction and the dynamics of a classroom discussion, the underpinning voice here is one deeply concerned with children loving reading and doing it effectively. The voice of the parent in each writer is heard most clearly in the book’s dedication: ‘to our kids, with whom we have 16,000 more nights to read – not nearly enough.’ Foundational to this book is a personal and deep love of reading, for all the right reasons.



Posted on February 28, 2016 by Naveen Rizvi

Act the anger, feel the warmth

I always believed that I had high academic and behaviour expectations of my pupils whilst working at my placement school in South Manchester. I was known to be strict at times because of my high expectations. I would give sanctions out to pupils who would not be giving me their 100% attention. I would insist my pupils SLANT whilst I was teaching to avoid fiddling. I would teach from the board and go through worked examples. My pupils knew how I wanted them to behave in my classroom. My pupils knew how I would behave if they were compliant or defiant. However, when I arrived at Michaela, my expectations were seen as low, and they were, and here I explain why.

At Michaela, we have 14 teachers and 6 teaching fellows where 9 members of staff are founding staff. I was observing a founding member of staff guiding and monitoring pupils to ensure that they were transitioning around school corridors in silence. I saw founding members ensuring that all pupils during assembly and class were slanting, if they weren’t then a teacher would give non verbal cues where a teacher would slant themselves and pupils would follow. I saw members of staff giving pupils demerits for not tracking them whilst they were speaking. At the same time, I saw founding members hysterically laughing with pupils during break time and lunch time when staff made witty comments about Mr Smith having luscious long locks of hair sarcastically (…Mr Smith has some hair). Pupils would be playing basketball or ping pong with teachers during lunch time. I would have pupils talking to me in the morning to greet me “Good morning Miss Rizvi, how was your evening?”

Now I look at pupils around the school and think now I know why Michaela pupils were so kind and polite. Let’s remember pupils did not come to secondary school as polite, kind or obedient as they currently are now. Pupils were trained and moulded to embody Michaela values. During our initial behaviour bootcamp, teachers taught pupils how to sit up straight in class. We taught pupils how to address a teacher. We would over exaggerate our behaviour when pupils made mistakes. For example,

“Excuse me Mr Rubbie, how dare you walk past me and not respond ‘Good Morning’ when I have wished you a pleasant morning. I am always polite to you so I expect you to always be polite to me,”

and “Zakye I am incredibly disappointed in your disingenuous apology and in you rolling your eyes when I was speaking to you! I am utterly horrified over how disrespectful you are to your teacher who works so hard for you.”

We would overexaggerate when pupils demonstrated exemplary behaviour:

“I am so proud of you Yasmine for scoring 100% in your science quiz this week, I would like to give an appreciation to Yasmine for her excellent self quizzing which resulted in her scoring 100%. We all want to be as successful as Yasmine. 1, 2 *two claps*,”

Olivia Dyer, Head of Science and Founding member of staff, said to whilst giving me feedback that “we act the anger, and feel the warmth.” Being angry and negative is emotionally draining for a teacher so we act when we over exaggerate and over justify why talking in the corridors is unacceptable.  Furthermore, we are wholeheartedly loving when a child is successful and we celebrate it to make that child feel valued, and to have surrounding pupils identify the kind of behaviour they need to demonstrate to be identified as an exemplary Michaela pupil.

This gives pupils clarity on how to behave and how not to behave. We do not give leeway to different extents of behaviour. If a pupil is doing something that they are not supposed to do then we would pick them up on it, no matter how subtle. At my previous school, I would give demerits because pupils would not be tracking me whilst I was teaching. If a pupil was rude even in the most subtle way such as smirking or curling their hands I would go ballistic. Surrounding teachers thought I was crazy for it.

At Michaela, teachers have sky-high expectations of pupils and our behaviour management is consistent because we all use the same language for rewarding and sanctioning pupils.

At my previous school, there was minimal consistency in rewarding and sanctioning pupils. We did not all have the same dialogue for sanctioning or rewarding students. If I ever pulled a child aside in the corridor for being too loud or demonstrating inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour then I would hear the response “Well [insert a member of SLT’s name here] did not say anything down the corridor when I was behaving this way.” It was exhausting. I would be the teacher who was crazy or too strict because of the high expectations I did have of the children. I would be unapologetic for giving a child a detention for not having a pen with them. I had one pupil who always forgot to bring in their exam prep folder, so for two weeks I proceeded to call the pupil’s house every morning at 7:15am to ensure that their daughter would bring their folder to school so they could be more prepared for my lesson.

At Michaela, all teacher’s have unapologetic and uncompromising high expectations of each and every pupil. Even more so our expectations are even higher for the pupils with the most tragic circumstances. We cannot change a child’s tragic circumstances at home but we can control their learning circumstances at school. If anything, it is more important to have high expectations for pupils who have those tragic circumstances so they have all the potential to escape their situation using education as the engine for such mobility. I know that the sanction I give to a student for a particular issue in science would also be sanctioned three floors downstairs in MFL by another member of staff. We are incredibly consistent. And students know that too…isn’t that the dream in any school? Students do not push their limits with us.

For example, we expect all pupils to bring a pen to school, and if they do not have one then we provide them with the opportunity to rectify the issue in a way which does not impact others around them. We have a stationary shop open between 7:30 – 7:50 am just before schools starts. The onus is on the children to meet our high expectations and we are explicit with what our expectations are. We are all consistent with the dialogue we have around school when we interact with children which contributes to a consistent and strong school ethos. As teachers we have bought into what is considered as Michaela standards. We have children bought into Michaela standards too.

There are many reasons behind the success of Michaela Community School and one of them is the uncompromising high expectations that all teachers have of each and every pupil our school serves. Children respect our standards because they understand that we want the best for them. Furthermore, to be the best pupil then pupils need to meet those high standards. My standards were considered high at my placement school where teachers were inconsistent with the dialogue they used and the reasons for sanctioning pupils or rewarding pupils. At Michaela, I realised my standards were not high enough. I had to raise my expectations, and I still am, but now I could not imagine reducing them. I would be failing myself as a teacher and the pupils that I teach. High expectations are underprioritised at majority of schools where at Michaela Community School it is part of the golden triangle of success.

We know that what we are doing having our sky-high expectations is right when a pupil who I have given detention to, which I have accidently forgotten to log, goes to detention and informs Mr Miernik that he has detention and that he is here to serve it even though Mr Miernik has informed him that he hasn’t got one. Or when I get an appreciation during Family lunch “I would like to thank Ms Rizvi for coming into school today and teaching us even though she isn’t feeling 100%” or when I get a postcard from a pupil expressing their gratitude.

Our Michaela high expectations in sanctioning and rewarding pupils comes from a place where we want our pupils to be the best possible student and human being. If you want to see us Michaela teachers and pupils in action then do come and visit us during a school day. Our doors are open to all. Come and have lunch with us.

Posted on February 28, 2016 by Barry Smith

Zero Tolerance

It’s one of those soundbites that are bandied around, notably in education, that can mean a whole variety of things depending upon who’s saying it or hearing it.

There’s no hard and fast definition of ‘zero tolerance discipline’, for example. But here’s my take…

As a teacher you have to care enough to be tough with kids. You have to care enough not to indulge their bad habits. You have to care enough not to collude with society’s permissive values, the broader excuse culture which, my take, blights lives. Zero tolerance discipline is caring enough not to collude with or give way to parents whose values aren’t in line with the school’s.

You send your child to Michaela and he’s going to receive a superb education, in silent classrooms, where kids sit up straight, arms folded, no pen fiddling, no doodling, no gazing out the window or whispering to your mates on the sly.

You send your kid to Michaela and he’s going to be safe in the yard, the corridors, toilets, on the stairs, in the changing rooms, at the bus stop.

You send your kid to Michaela and he can be clever, hard-working, keen, put his hand up every lesson all lesson, use long words, express his ideas articulately and at length, talk about which university he’d like to go to – all of that – without any fear of being mocked or called gay.

You send your daughter to Michaela      she won’t be sexually harassed by male pupils. Corridors and lesson change overs are silent. Pupils walk in single file. Your daughter will be completely jewellery and make-up free.

You send your son or daughter to Michaela and you don’t have to worry that they’ll dread lunchtime because they’re friendless. Every child sits according to the seating plan teachers have designed.

Every lesson, every child has a full pencil case. No excuses.

Every lesson, books are distributed in silence, in seconds.

Every break, 240 kids fall instantly silent when any adult raises their hand.

Every lunch, 240 kids serve one another, clear up after one another,   say please and thank you to one another.

There’s no pushing, shoving, name calling, swearing, graffiti, litter, sexual harassment, pressure to be ‘street’, pressure to underperform.

At the end of the school day, there are lots of detentions. At lunch, there are lots of detentions.

You haven’t done your homework, you ‘forgot’ your homework, you ‘forgot’ your pen, you ‘slept in’, you rushed your homework – detention.

You send your kids to Michaela, they’ll learn loads, they’ll feel massively accomplished, they’ll feel safe, they’ll have great relationships with their teachers, they’ll learn to be polite, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, greet new people with pride, have self respect, respect others – they’ll laugh a lot, they’ll have the confidence to be themselves, they won’t need to feign a tough, street, anti academic, aggressive persona – just to survive.

Kids at Michaela work hard and are kind to one another – in every lesson, all day long, every day.

None of that happens by accident. It happens because of our version of zero tolerance.

We give them love. We give them tough love.

Posted on February 27, 2016 by Olivia Dyer

Selling Science

Astronomy is my hard sell of physical science. Think of astronomy as the confectionary placed at the point of purchase in a well-known chain of high street stationary shops. How did the checkout boy, Alex, know I wanted a super sized bag of sour sweets at 10 am on a Saturday morning? I want the children to LOVE physics. I want them thinking, “How did Miss Dyer know I loved physics so much?!”. Which is why their introduction to secondary school physical science is astronomy. This is an eight-week unit designed with the number one purpose to blow their minds. The reason I chose to teach them about astronomy before electronics or mechanics is because it is truly fascinating. When I speak to pupils from other schools or my grown up friends about their experience of ‘physics’ at school, they tell me that they are or were taught so badly that they gave up, thinking that physics was not for them. If not for them, then who is physics for?

Caroline Herschel is the first scientific enquirer that pupils are introduced to in this unit. She was a pockmarked, four-foot three-inch woman whose family assumed that she would never marry and felt it was best for her to train to be a housemaid due to a childhood bout of typhus. In fact, Caroline Herschel beat the odds to receive many honours for her scientific achievements. Together with Mary Somerville, she was first woman to receive honorary membership of the Royal Society in 1835. Children are designed to leave the lesson where they learn about Caroline Herschel thinking, “Yes, physics is definitely for me”; “If Caroline Herschel can do it, why can’t I?”; “Nebulae are amazing!”. The astronomy unit taught at Michaela goes into far more depth than any other astronomy unit that I have ever taught at any other secondary school.

In this post, I have included an excerpt of the astronomy textbook that I have written and teach from, to give an idea of the content. The devil is in the detail. You cannot expect a pupil to love astronomy merely by learning the order of the eight planets and about the phases of the Moon. No, let’s not patronize the children that we are expected to teach. At Michaela, pupils learn about different models of the Solar System and references can be made to Ptolemy and his view of the Universe, thanks to Jonathan Porter’s history curriculum that includes Ancient Greece. Pupils learn that although Georges Lemaître first conceived the Big Bang theory, that the phrase ‘big bang’ was coined, ironically, by Fred Hoyle – an astronomer who disagreed with this theory. It is the links that can be made between science and other disciplines and the small pieces of information that are not usually found in science curricula, that children really love.

A recent visitor to Michaela asked a group of five year eight pupils what their career aspirations were. The responses were: experimental physicist, astronomer, ambivalent (!), mathematician and pilot. A year after being taught astronomy, some pupils actively want to pursue a career in the physical sciences. Using astronomy to sell the physical sciences? I say give it a go.

Posted on February 27, 2016 by Jo Facer

A guide to this blog

I’ve worked in education since 2010, as an English teacher, Head of Department and Assistant Head in four schools. I’m currently Head of English at Michaela Community School. I write about curriculum, teaching, leadership, English and reading. You can read about what education means to me and why I do what I do here.






Posted on February 27, 2016 by Barry Smith

But what would Ofsted say?

I knew if I used the O word you’d take a sneaky peek! God, teachers are predictable!

When I used to give inset for a living that question was always up there,”But what would Ofsted say?” Another popular question was, “I’m good but I need to be outstanding. What do I need to do?”

I gave my last inset July 2014. I don’t know if the preoccupations of teachers have moved on much since then. I don’t know because where I teach, “But what would Ofsted say?” is very rarely mentioned.

Ofsted could visit us anytime from September 2016. You know how quickly time passes. It’s round the corner. If Ofsted arrived tomorrow what would they find at Michaela?

We don’t mark books. We don’t do pair or group work. We don’t differentiate in the ‘traditional’ sense. We, the teachers, talk loads. We’re all, more or less, would-be actors. We love an audience. We love telling kids stuff.

In mfl things couldn’t be more different from what you’d expect. No pictures. Not one. No games. Never. No textbooks. No listening exercises. No pair or group work. No choral repetition.

We produce tightly packed booklets. All ability levels use the same resources. I don’t really understand what ‘progress’ means so Year 7 use phrases like, “c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire” and “bien qu’il le faille parfois.”

All classes use past, reasons, opinions, future, subjonctive all the time. We don’t ‘do’ the perfect tense or ‘do’ the subjunctive. We don’t ‘do’ grammar. And yet grammar is all we do. It’s everywhere.

What would you see if you popped into an mfl at Michaela. Kids read out loud lots. They love it. One kid at a time. Bottom sets, top sets. They love reading out loud. The texts are longer than you find in gcse exams. The vocabulary is pretty authentic I think. It’s not always easy to pronounce.

“Apprendre une langue étrangère n’est pas forcément évident. Si on a envie de réussir il faut lire chaque lettre. C’est vrai que les Anglais ont  pas mal de problèmes parce qu’il y a beaucoup de lettres qui ne se prononcent pas en français mais quand même, ça ne vaut pas la peine de rouspeter. Ça ne sert à rien en tout cas. Et de toute façon personne n’est parfait, certainement pas moi. L’erreur est humaine – comme le dit le dicton.”

That’s the typical kind of language Y7 and 8 practise. We’re always going for nice little nuggets that can be used in a broad range of topics. We like stuff kids can chuck in over lunch, “ce n’est pas la mer à boire” or ‘je ne demande pas la lune” or “c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire”.

So If you popped in kids would be reading at length. One at a time. The rest really listening. They’re a gorgeous bunch of kids. Or rather, we’re developing a school culture that turns kids from ordinary Y6 into extraordinary Y7 and beyond.

They listen. They correct one another’s pronunciation. It’s a lovely atmosphere. They support one another. They’ve got keen ears and very impressive accents. They speak a lot more quickly than gcse listening exams generally. They have no problems with silent letters when réaligner alors. They do a lovely rolled R. They’re reading lots, reading out loud, so speaking, lots, they listen to me and their peers very, very carefully and they write a bit too.

I was bursting with pride yesterday at 8.3. We revised orally loads of language from last year. They had the English and the initials that corresponded to the French translation. They sounded great. Their memory was brilliant. They wrote up the answers in a very earnest, but very proud, manner.

You can give our kids 50 sentences, a real mixture of proverbs, idioms, structures, tenses and topics and they beaver away. No silly questions. No work avoidance tactics.

This was Period 5. Just after lunch. At lunch break they’d been dancing and giggling and teaching teachers to dance. Others were shooting hoops. Others were playing table tennis. The mood was high. Teachers were laughing as much as the kids.

Anyone who reads my tweets knows I am immensely proud of our kids. It’s ridiculous how much I love teaching them.

But what I’m seeing more and more is that the teachers are finding themselves. Everyone is becoming more themselves. Their personalities are to the fore more than ever. I love that. Yes, our systems and routines are remarkably consistent across staff but we’re losing the robotic quality I’ve seen in schools sometimes. ‘Teach like a champion’ is all good and well, but ‘Teach like a champion  who trusts himself, who is confident to giggle with the kids, who has the self-awareness to  really let their personality shine through’, that’s always infinitely more important to me.

I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m more than 20 years older than many of my colleagues. I’m very proud of our kids. I’m very proud of my colleagues too.

Sometimes I try to step back and look at the school like a visiting parent would. I look at the corridors and lessons through different eyes. It takes my breath away!

Those kids, those families, they’re bloody lucky to have Michaela!

The manners, the confidence, the handshakes, the smiles, the way in which kids project their thoughtful answers across a silent lunch hall to an appreciative and respectful audience of 120 peers.

The way our kids behave on the street, their ties neat, their shirts tucked in, they stand next to the railing so to not block the pavement, they’re not shouting, nor swearing, nor dropping litter.

We’re teaching them to be lovely people. They’re polite, they work hard, they blow me away with théière knowledge of science, humanities, art, literature, maths, music – the list goes on.

So what woukd Ofsted say? If they don’t  see the love, the learning, the character, the charisma, the passion, the compassion, the professionalism, the pride, the joy, that I see every single day in every classroom – they must be mad!

its a  joy teaching at Michaela. If you  fancy joining us get in touch!

Posted on February 21, 2016 by Jonathan Porter

The Golden Mean: Aristotle and KS3 History


One of the most attractive principles in Aristotle’s philosophy is the Doctrine of the Mean. Aristotle says that what is virtuous is always between two states: one of absolute excess and the other of absolute deficiency. A good soldier, for example, is neither totally cowardly nor totally rash: he uses his reason to find a mid-point between the two – the ‘Golden Mean’. I think this is something that the best teachers do very well: they aim to be strict, without being austere, and kind, without being soft.

I think it’s also a principle that can very well be applied to curriculum design. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced this year is striking the right balance between the sample and the domain. Greg Ashman and Daisy Christodoulou have written persuasively about how bad assessment (and notice I do not say ‘all’ assessment) leads to a situation where the sample BECOMES the domain. Greg has produced a really helpful diagram, which I hope he won’t mind me reproducing here:

Greg Ashman pic

But it is highly problematic, particularly for those who believe that the expert performance – in the long run – depends on wide domain knowledge. Over a long period of time, teaching to the test in this way erodes the domain so that our pupils only learn (and remember) the red dots (the sample), rather than blue shaded area (the domain). Clearly, this affects all subjects, but I think its impact has been keenly felt in the teaching of history.

History teachers are used to creating enquiry questions that act as lenses through which they view a period of history: What was the significance of the Magna Carta? What were the causes of the French Revolution? To what extent was Alfred the Great ‘great’? These questions are designed to assess the pupils’ understanding of significance, causality, continuity and change. They encourage the pupils to see history vertically as well as horizontally; because it is only through these sorts of questions that pupils can learn about the nature of ‘power’, ‘democracy’ and ‘tyranny’, and how these initially inflexible concepts bend and flex over time. Without them, history would just be ‘one damn thing after another’.

However, as important as I think enquiry questions are, I do think they present historians with a significant challenge, particularly at KS3. The reason for this is because, in effect, enquiry questions at KS3 often become the sample. In order to help our pupils write complex end-of-unit essays we provide our pupils, and our teachers, with the enquiry question weeks in advance. And, as such, the enquiry question will always inflect and distort the domain. If my enquiry question were ‘To what extent was Alfred the Great ‘great’?’ huge amounts of my teaching time will be devoted to the question of Alfred’s success as a king, rather than other significant features of Anglo-Saxon history. If my enquiry question were ‘How significant was the Magna Carta?’ much of my teaching, particularly toward the assessment, could centre on quite a narrow discussion of the events pertaining to that document, rather than other significant events in the period – the Peasants’ Revolt, the Anarchy or the story of Thomas Becket.

I want my pupils to learn as much as possible about medieval England, not because I want them to do well in their assessment (I do), but because I believe that, in the long run, their success in history will partly depend on broad domain knowledge. But also because learning about these events, and remembering them for years to come, has educational worth over and above my end of unit assessment. To defer to Aristotle again, I believe that such knowledge, combined with virtue, leads them to eudemonia – a state of human flourishing.

Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to write about how I’ve tried to find the ‘Golden Mean’ when it comes to curriculum design. How do I help my pupils to remember what I’ve taught them for years to come? How can I guide them to write complex answers without answering for them? And how do I strike the right balance between the sample and the domain?

Posted on February 20, 2016 by Lia Martin

What Happens Next, Miss?

Teaching English and thoughts on the future of education.

The success of ‘eating together’ has long been documented. Countless studies claim that children who eat with their families are more likely to have healthy relationships, achieve academically and maintain psychological stability and wellbeing.

Coined ‘family lunch’, at Michaela we do lunchtime differently. Gone are the long lines of children counting pennies for a burger. Gone are teenage clans claiming plots in the lunch hall.

We seat pupils in sixes, randomly shuffled, with a teacher or member of support staff at the head of each table. All six have individual roles (serving the food, clearing up, fetching dessert and so on) creating a joyous demonstration of working together to reap the benefits of a cooked meal.

Pupils are given vegetarian fare so that any cultural group can sit together and enjoy the same food. We have a topic of conversation every day that, led by the head of the table, is discussed over lunch. Not only do these topics provide a platform to explain why we do the things we do (see my post on narrating the why), but it often gives us English teachers an excellent opportunity to speak about the joys of reading.

The last minutes of ‘family lunch’ are set aside for appreciations, during which pupils and teachers will volunteer themselves to show gratitude to someone. We hear anything from, ‘I would like to give an appreciation to Mrs X for helping me to become more confident when reading aloud’ to, ‘I’d like to thank my mum for teaching me how to iron my shirts.’ All we ask is that appreciations are specific and that they have something to be grateful for every day.

In this ‘Whatsapp age’, it’s hard to monitor how much time our young people spend communicating without distractions outside of school. Having daily time set aside to talk, eat and be grateful together is precious. It strengthens our relationships and allows us to have meaningful dialogues with pupils outside of the classroom. It’s a sight to behold and, without a doubt, the very best part of our day.