I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.
I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student's queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:
1) Start the class with a "Do Now"
This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.
2) Positive framing (Catching them when they're good)
By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. "I can see James has started jotting down some ideas...I can see Megan has put one point for improvement". Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.
Compare that to negative framing where you call out people's names for being slow to start, "Ryan, you've been in here 5 minutes and you still haven't got out a pen...Janet, why are you walking around?". This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.
3) No hands up and no opt out
Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don't pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.
In combination with Doug Lemov's "No opt out", it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers "I don't know", you can respond with "I know you don't know, I just want to know what you think". Every student has something in their head. If they're still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.
Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a "Think-Pair-Share". A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.
4) Student routines
All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren't even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this "pacman screens", I've heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it "45"-efficiency in routines is important!
By having routines for handing out folders, getting students' attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you're making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.
5) Ending with an exit ticket
Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It's one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply "did not get it". The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.
When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you've never done before. Yes, I've been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in "performing for observations" or "pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery" which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I've learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.
At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. I've
even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it's not just the
students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of
a major unit however, it's difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching
has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test
doesn't catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was
ineffective but it won't tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.
You can find the
original pupil survey here:http://goo.gl/W2mRPk . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring
repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. "Mr Lau was great".
could Mr Lau have done differently / better:
let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than
watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes
have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one
Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get
the work done better.
he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
come round to every one
Maybe explain in more detail.
Explane more clearly
put more computing lessons on the time table.
and Response:Students have raised
the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence
is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I
could demonstrate these learning habits more byhelping students less, offering
more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers.
Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching
computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I
willtry to observe more
experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as
an issue, so I thinka Vocab
list for each unitwould be
helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the
improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on
the time table” brightening up my day.
would you like Mr Lau to do more of
Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
more of prasing people
Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
more work on your own
come round to more people
explained things and use more visual things like pictures
and Response:Firstly,Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many
students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming
for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective
way of coding: http://www.cs.pomona.edu/classes/cs121/supp/williams_prpgm.pdf
The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops.
However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next
would you like Mr Lau to do less of
Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got
stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
Keep on showing us the board
To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and
try the code on the interactive smartboard.
canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun
I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have
a learning objective on the table
stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical
dont explan to fings at wons
and Response:Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was
partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I
decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked
a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer
to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority
in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B
asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham's work on helping students remember and learn.
stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
computer science is fun
Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
Nice. print("Thanks Mr Lau again") I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me
a detention soryy
It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have
your own work rated.
my mum is impressed
Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school
and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and
useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like
I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun
playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I
have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to
doing more work this term and learning different things.
I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it
at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance
like in your old school.
Analysis and Response: Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That's a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment! How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.
As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes. After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process.
This post was inspired by and in response to Lalita Raman's initial Reflections of 2013 What are you thankful for in the current year?
First and foremost, I am thankful that our baby boy was born happy and healthy on 27th July 2013. Moving back to the UK from Seychelles was a big decision and a daunting one; I was unsure as to whether I should do temporary/short term supply work or go for a full time contract. This decision was particularly tricky (financially) given that my wife is self-employed and we would be welcoming a new member to the family. Luckily, I found a full-time position at a school which I really love. I work with amazing people every day; they are constantly teaching me knew things and I have enjoyed sharing some of my skills with them too. I'm happy and my stress-levels are fairly low compared to what they had been at my last two places of work. I also have the support from a very knowledgeable and inspiring PLN. For all of this I am eternally grateful and thankful.
What are you proud of?
I am proud of my wife for giving birth at home without painkillers or any form of medication. It was very emotional, but I don't think we would have done it any other way.
I am proud of my students, many of whom have now graduated from University and some of them have chosen to pursue teaching as a profession. Many are still in touch and when I meet some of them in the street, they're so pleasant and mature. I think we did something (or indeed many things) right at St Marylebone School, so I am proud of what we did there in terms of educating the leaders and citizens of tomorrow. My current students also continue to amaze me with how motivated, inquisitive and imaginative they are, so I am proud of them.
I am proud that I got accepted onto Google Teacher Academy (second time lucky) and got to meet some truly inspiring people. The ideas we exchanged at GTA UK were innovative and inspiring and I look forward to applying what I've learnt.
What memories would you like to carry forward?
The happiness and relaxed culture of Seychelles-it reminds me that sometimes there are some things which are just not worth getting stressed out about. The creativity of St Marylebone and the rigour and curiosity of my current school are other positive things I'd like to carry forward.
What would you want the year 2014 to be?
A happy year, a year of change, a year of revolution. Let's not talk about resolution, what we need in many areas of our lives is revolution. One thing I learnt at GTA UK was that we cannot change the world, but we can certainly change our world. So speaking personally, I want to be less consumeristic and more realistic. I want 2014 to be a year of questioning and reflection; why am I doing things in a certain way? What if I did things differently? What can I continue to learn from others?
What can you offer to the coming year?
Free Computing resources, anything I have used I will share, as I did at the end of this term ( goo.gl/k6rM02 ). I can offer my time and advice to those willing to learn, share and exchange (about technology, computing and teaching in general) and I can offer more rejections to demands which would be "nice to do" but are not going to have significant impact on my teaching or my students' learning. I can also probably start to offer advice to parents of newborns!
I invite you also to share your reflections: What are you thankful for in the current year? What are you proud of? What memories would you like to carry forward? What would you want the year 2014 to be? What can you offer to the coming year?
I will start this post with a bit of pretext at the macro level. If you want to skip this, jump to paragraph 4.
I once worked in an inner-city London school, it was a non-selective school and so had a full comprehensive mix of students from the surrounding burroughs. 18 years ago, the school had 45% achieving 5 A*-C's at GCSE. For the past 10 years, the figure has been above 80%. Today the figure is 93%, yes that includes English and Maths! The headteacher once asked us the rhetorical question, "How did we turn it all around?" Answers varied from: Excellent teachers, small class sizes, a good leadership team, investing in the building, recruitment, teaching to the exam etc.
Her answer: "Whilst all of those things are important, none of it can happen without behaviour management. It doesn't matter if you recruit the most innovative and passionate teachers if bums are not on seats in lessons". In many schools across England, you can walk into a classroom before the teacher arrives and there is chaos...the teacher then has to spend 5 minutes instilling order.
There must be a way of having an orderly school with learners ready as soon as they enter a classroom. As a headteacher, she decided to find people who were strict, I will define this as teachers who could manage behaviour no-matter how challenging this was by applying a firm and fair behaviour policy, consistently every time.
She firmly believed that all kids inherently want to rebel. If you ban the use of MP3 players in lessons but allow it at break, one way of rebelling is walking into a lesson with your headphones on. However if you remove that barrier altogether by banning MP3 players within school time or within the school gates, you take that out of the equation. The mere sight of an MP3 player resulted in confiscation.
With this philosophy in mind, she set a strict uniform policy and her staff enforced it down to the minute details. It was an all-girls comprehensive and girls were only allowed to wear a blue, black or white headband. A child who might want to rebel would wear a pink hair accessory. The thing is there's a great difference in how much this rebellious act disrupts learning. In one school a child rebels by listening to music in class in another school a child rebels by wearing the wrong colour hair accessory. Clearly in the latter the impact to learning is minimal, yet students are still temporarily rebelling in the same way that any child wants to rebel at some point in their school career.
On the micro level, if you walk into any classroom of an outstanding teacher who generally delivers good or outstanding lessons. What do they have in common? If it's one thing that I've noticed in my 7 years of teaching it is this; they all exercise complete control of the classroom environment. Students know what is expected, "how things are run" as it were. They know exactly what is and what is not acceptable and that is because the teacher executes a behaviour management policy fairly and consistently. That is all. On top of that the teachers will differentiate, ensure marking is timely, actionable and specific, use a variety of assessment strategies, use lots of praise and constantly challenge their students of course. However, as a new teacher, I certainly remember focussing on all these other things, ticking all the boxes on the Ofsted-ready lesson plan. In hindsight, I should have started the year focussing on one thing- behaviour management. My school had a behaviour management policy, perhaps at times it wasn't explicit enough. Indeed, I have been in schools where there isn't a behaviour management policy or it is just very fluffy. If this is the case, you need to develop your own. Be explicit, train the students in it, be fair and consistent in its application. Even if "student X" is normally a "nice kid", if they talk when you are talking, you have to give a detention. They may cry and it may hurt you inside a little the first time you have to do this, but it will pay dividends later in the year. Why? You may ask. Why does my classroom need to run consistently like a machine? And does this mean there will be a room full of compliant robots with no creativity?
No. Quite the opposite in fact. Structure liberates. If you want to see this in action, visit a dance or drama class at any leading school. The routines, rituals and behaviour management is always solid. Yet the students are able to be happy and creative learners all the same. When students know what is expected of them, they do not need to expend emotional or thinking time deliberating their actions and behaviours. They know what is expected of their behaviour, so they can focus on their learning. They can go from remembering and understanding all the way up to Analysing, Evaluating and Creating much quicker and their learning is much richer.
Indeed, differentiated worksheets and creative lessons cannot work without a controlled environment. It took me six years of teaching to realise this. I thought teaching was all about "teaching engaging lessons". In a way I was partly right, but in order to get there I needed to manage behaviour and exercise full control of my classroom first. "Engagement" is a dangerous aim to have and in an inner-city environment, you think that engagement is your ultimate means for success. "If I can engage everyone with exciting content and delivery, then students can learn and make progress". I still believe in this somewhat, but it is not the be-all and end all to an outstanding teacher.
I wanted to write this in August in time for teachers starting in September. If I were to give advice to any teacher starting a new school or simply a new year. I'd tell them that for the first 2 weeks, focus simply on behaviour and learning names. The lesson activities which introduce your subject are important, but without total engagement and control, it doesn't matter how fancy your slides are that you spent 6 hours preparing. Tom Bennett's top ten behaviour tips is essential reading if you don't have a week to read a book. Likewise, all his resources are worth dipping in to.
These two documents from Edutopia are also worth printing out and reading on your commute to school (unless you drive of course!)
If you are a member of SLT, help your teachers by designing an explicit behaviour policy that cannot be misinterpreted. Sweat the small stuff and make sure that teachers are applying it consistently. It will make your school a more pleasant place to be in and no, it won't hamper creativity. My first inner-city London school had a Performing Arts specialism and was recently awarded "Teaching school" status. There was no lack of creativity there and no, I don't think it will impact negatively on student happiness and well-being. It makes perfect sense when you look at Maslow's hierarchy.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Students cannot attain self-actualization, they cannot learn effectively and efficiently unless they feel safe first. Consistent behaviour management through rules and routines ensures a safe learning environment in which teachers can teach.
If there is anything more important than behaviour management, I'd love to hear your views. I under-valued this aspect of teaching for so long because I didn't want to be the strict/mean teacher. However, having applied my school's extensive behaviour policy this year, I'm happier and the students are happier and we're making great progress together. It's a refreshing change!
In my first year of teaching, I had the fortune of working with an exceptionally creative staff body. I was inspired practically every day by the innovation at the performing arts school. Some things I tried and they failed, but I failed in a safe environment, my line manager was forgiving and encouraging and that empowered me to innovate some more. Whilst my environment changed over the next 6 years of my teaching career, I was still inspired to innovate and create engaging lessons:
There are those that disagree that this style of constructive learning is beneficial, Harry Webb whilst commenting on an excellent post about Direct Instruction vs Constructivism states:
"...Constructivism also has damaging effects other than those associated with minimal guidance. It delegitimises the teacher as an expert. Teachers see themselves as needing to ‘engage’ students with ‘relevant’ and ‘authentic’ tasks; a sort of ‘customer knows best’ mentality. This pulls teachers away from focusing on cognitively taxing problems and forces them to introduce potentially distracting contexts. It also creates debilitating levels of guilt around a failure to deliver on nebulous concepts such as differentiation."
I would strongly disagree with Harry Webb who states that Direct Instruction should be used for all new content, I used constructivism for new content and combined with some direct instruction later on, it had a dramatic effect. All students achieved 1+ grade of value added and that same set scored 100% A-C in their GCSE ICT exam, most notably they were all comfortable using spreadsheets throughout their school career.
Indeed, students themselves may innovate and in turn lead us teachers to re-evaluate our teaching and curriculum as was the case when a student demonstrated to the class how to make a game us presentation software, in this case, Powerpoint:
At times however, innovation does not look pretty. Indeed it can simply be deciding to teach using a very didactic form of Direct Instruction as was the case in these revision sessions. To make them a bit more accessible and to maximise time:learning ratio, we could also do these as Vlogs:
I wont really get into the flipped classroom debate here but I can say that that it worked well with my GCSE classes who were very much engaged by the multimedia nature of the Vlogs. I'd be interested to hear how other people have innovated in their respective subjects and perhaps we could all learn a bit more from each other as we combine and re-apply these techniques.
At our school, we have staff enrichment (i.e. CPD) every Monday. During these CPD sessions, we are sometimes able to choose from a menu of sessions. One session was entitled "How to be an effective form tutor" another was entitled "How to manage your time more effectively". It was September, we had just had a baby boy 2 months ago and I was getting by on 3-6 hours broken sleep in a day; surprisingly, I was very productive however unsurprisingly, I still opted for the second session!
What did I learn. Two things, first of all, there are only certain things we can control in our life. Whilst working as a door-to-door book salesman, I learnt a phrase "control the controllables". Our Sales leader had obviously read Covey:
Source: Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1999)
We must sort ourself out and accomplish private victories before we can accomplish greater public victories. One of those private victories and one which is related to numbers 1-3 above is managing our own time and strategic planning.
This ties into the second thing I learnt about time management. We should try to plan well in advance, having a strategic overview and also planning by the week rather than by the day. As a result we minimise the number of things in the top left corner AKA Crisis Corner.
How many of us simply let the important things build up until they become urgent and start to seriously stress us out?
Source: Flickr FJTUrban
A few days later it hit me, the teacher who delivered our CPD (yes, most of our CPD is delivered by our own staff) is an avid chess player. Perhaps there was a link between chess and time management as a teacher. Like teaching, chess is a game of strategy. You have to have an end goal, i.e. where you want your students to be at the end of the term/year. Likewise, whilst it helps to know your opponent in chess, it helps to know your classes and students so that you can plan your tactics carefully. I make no comparison to battlefields and the front-line though!
Similarly, the sequences of moves/lessons strike me as another parallel. And finally, as Covey advises us to plan by the week to avoid crises, in chess if we simply play one move at a time, one lesson at a time, one day at a time, we'll soon find ourselves in moments of stress and crisis as too many things hit us at once. Perhaps, we should all be teaching like a chess grandmaster. We could have set strategies, plan our moves (lessons) well in advance perhaps several moves ahead with a medium and long term goal in mind. We could have a backup plan should our students go off track or make an unanticipated move(ment) in progress. With all this in place, I believe it is less likely that we will get caught out. Instead we will spend more of our time in "The Zone", planning and delivering good and outstanding lessons, rather than flailing around fighting small fires in the bottom left corner or dealing with larger fires in the top left.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Am I just stating the obvious or does the analogy help us manage our time more effectively as teachers?