Six Months In
Six months ago, I started working at Michaela. As a Wembley native, growing up just around the corner and attending a local state school, it has been an experience and a pleasure to teach pupils in the community and to see them thrive. Since starting here, I have questioned almost all my pre-existing beliefs about teaching, and have come to see that the Michaela way works extraordinarily well. In this reflection, I note down three aspects of the Michaela way that I wish I had known about before I first entered the classroom.
1) Department Planning
I mention here that we do not use PowerPoints at Michaela. Instead, Heads of Department co-ordinate the creation of all our resources, which we co-plan and share. There are so many benefits to this that it is hard to list them all, but here are a few that spring to mind:
- Improve teachers’ subject knowledge: Every teacher has their own specialism, particularly in a subject like science where one might be an expert in physics but only have a basic grasp of biology. By pooling all our knowledge into our resources, we ensure that every child receives the best possible explanations and examples in every lesson.
- Consistency: Not only does our approach to planning support high quality teaching, but it ensures that every pupil receives the same standard of teaching in every lesson.
- Greater Depth. The time we spend thinking about our resources means that we are able to teach a curriculum that spans far beyond the GCSE requirements. Our pupils learn great topics such as the history of science and the biographies of significant scientists, including Herschel, Mendeleev and Dunlop, and hear about the latest discoveries (such as the recent categorisation of giraffes into one of four species).
- Renewable – Every moment spent on creating these resources is renewable. Rather than re-creating new stuff every lesson, we plan with reusability in mind. Each year we evaluate and improve on the content we have produced, and use it again the following year.
- Literacy – Literacy is deeply embedded in all science lessons. Pupils are exposed to approximately 1,000 words every science lesson. Commonly misspelt words such as temperature, neutron and flagellum are flagged up before pupils begin their writing. We explain the root of naming compounds and scientific words (such as chlor = green or aer = oxygen). Pupils are able to express the correct keywords in a sentence (e.g. weight and mass).
2) “3,2,1 SLANT”
SLANT is a behaviour tool used across the school: every teacher makes use of this strategy. SLANT stands for Sit up straight, Listen, Answer questions, Never interrupt and Track the here to see how often it is used in a lesson.
Below are some reasons why SLANT is important in class.
- Calling the class together – It is a simple way of getting the pupils’ attention without the need for waving hands or raised voices.
- Concentration – I find pupils listen attentively because they are tracking the teacher; it serves as a visual cue to be attentive and not daydream in class.
- Great for posture – “strong spine, strong mind”. Slouching is bad for your back! Being encouraged to sit up straight could prevent serious posture problems later in life!
- Prevents fiddling – Fiddling is distracting to pupils and others around them. SLANT prevents such distractions, allowing more focus on learning.
I remember in my previous school, I used to enjoy marking…the first ten books! Then it became a chore that would often take around three or four hours per class. As Joe Kirby explains here, marking is a burden on teacher workload and has minimal impact on pupils. Instead, our pupils receive tons of useful, instantly actionable feedback that enables them to continually improve.
- Green Penning – Pupils mark their own responses to questions using green pen. This way, pupils recognise and understand correct answers, learn from their mistakes, and –most importantly- gain ownership and responsibility over their work.
- Whole class feedback – Every two weeks I read through pupils’ books to spot misconceptions. I do not write long comments or “well done, you have understood xyz correct”. I do not set any targets or DIRT time. Instead, on a piece of paper, I write down any merits, demerits and any misconceptions I see. The following lesson, I spend around 5 minutes re-teaching or clarifying as necessary. The visualiser is also a great tool to display pupil work. As a class we discuss strengths and suggests improvements – such as misspelt words, use of keywords and how to improve the quality of the content.
- Extended Prep – Year nine pupils receive examination questions as weekly homework. Teachers check these through briefly to get a general sense of how pupils have done before giving them back. Pupils then have an opportunity to improve their written answers.
- Quizzes – Pupils are given a weekly quiz and receive instant feedback. In addition to this, pupils are given one practice exam every week, ensuring that their skills and knowledge are put to good use! More about quizzeshere.
- Exams – There are two high stakes exams in the year (and two mock exams as well). On each occasion, pupils receive whole class feedback on content and exam technique.
Whilst none of this is especially radical or new, the striking simplicity of the Michaela approach enables teachers to teach and pupils to learn. The combination of these easy-to-use strategies reduces workload for teachers whilst simultaneously increasing impact on pupil progress.
If you would like to visit Michaela and see us in action, email info@.
If you have excellent physics knowledge and would like to get paid resourcing for us, email odyer@.
We’ve also released the Tiger Teachers book which outlines many of the strategies that we use at Michaela.