New year’s resolutions that last (and really help!)

This post was written by VBA

New year- new me?

January is always full of ‘New Year New Me’ mantras – I feel quite overwhelmed already by the pressure to make 2017 ‘unforgettable’ or to overhaul a particular aspect of my life. Radically however, I set my resolutions back in September. Forget January 1st, September 1st is when teachers set themselves new resolutions for the academic year ahead.

Perhaps, good intentions is perhaps a better phrase! Full of energy and vigour after the summer break, many tell themselves they are going to trial new ideas and concepts in their teaching, attempt to maintain a ‘work life balance’, and plan consistently exciting and engaging lessons.

I am guilty however, of using my new found September enthusiasm to attempt 16 different new teaching concepts, creating 3 whizzy lessons and then resorting back to textbooks. One year, I even created a marking timetable to keep on top of book marking. Yet, as November approached, with the inevitability of time and tiredness, like all the best January resolutions, they fell by the wayside.

Realistic expectations

Despite the failure of previous September ‘resolutions’, I am a sucker for a ‘fresh start’ and decided to set myself some teaching resolutions for the forthcoming 2016-2017 academic year. This year however, my September resolutions were more realistic and were designed to have a real impact on the ‘work life balance’ conundrum:

Less is More

Less green ink – I read a blog post from Joe Kirby on marking at the Michaela School, and have been trialling some of their ideas. This has lessened work load immensely, whilst not compromising quality of feedback students are getting.
Simple but effective ideas – I decided that if I do trial anything new this year, it would have to require minimum input (on my part), to ensure that I would see it through and fully understand any impact. No whizzy stuff for the sake of it.
More emphasis on students doing the workgrowth mindset and metacognition were things to be continued from last year.

Teaching like a Champion

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With my new found love of all things Lemov (after reading his book a year or so ago), I decided to try using 4 key ideas from his book. I chose the ideas by considering areas that I felt needed work on in my lessons and that I thought would have a real impact:

4 Lemovian things I have focused on this year:

1) Show Me
In TheoryGet students to demonstrate they can do a task, before allowing them to move on. A ‘hinge’ task if you will.
In Practice – I have been using this method a lot across year groups. Previously I have been guilty of assuming students know what they’re meant to be doing thanks to my clear and concise instructions; yet when reading their books its clear there were elements that were misunderstood or perhaps they didn’t get it at all.

I have been using this method primarily with metacognition, where pupils set themselves targets using general feedback and the mark schemes so that they understand where they went wrong. In the early days of metacognition I was realising that pupils were setting themselves simplistic targets such as “write more” or “do a better conclusion”. Using the ‘Show me’ technique, they draft their target ideas on mini whiteboards for me to look over and discuss with them and edit, before writing them into books.

I’ve used ‘Show Me’ with my Year 11s to get them demonstrating key success criteria to me for an exam question, before allowing them to tackle it. I could identify which students were unsure, and speak to them about it whilst the others could get started.

I’ve used ‘Show Me’ with Year 7s working on structuring their first ever History essays to make sure they knew what a point sentence was. The method has allowed me to see which pupils are secure, and can move on, and which ones need more support, allowing me to personalise their learning without prepping loads of different resources beforehand. My use of mini whiteboards has gone through the roof, as has the History budget on mini whiteboard pens….

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2) Do It Now
In TheoryStarter task for every lesson in same place on the board so that students do it completely independently. Review time should be no longer than task time.
In Practice – I have been using this most effectively with Year 7. Starter tasks are in the same place every lesson, with clear instructions on what to do. Resources are all ready on desks or handed out as they enter the room, so students can complete the task as soon as title and learning objectives are done. It provides a 5-10minute calm independent study task as they enter and sets the tone for the lesson. The tasks I’ve set have included reading, source analysis, reflections on last lesson. The world is your oyster here, as long as it is something that doesn’t need lots of explanation.

3) Class Reading
In Theory Don’t designate paragraphs to students in class reading as the rest will switch off from reading. Keep the duration of reading unpredictable. Tell students when to take over (may need some forward planning). Keep durations short to begin with and then build up.
In Practice – I have used this with all my KS3 classes. I have certainly built this up a bit, firstly by getting students to read paragraphs, and then changing the length of their reading once they have gotten used to class reading. I have found it means more of them are engaged with the text as they don’t want to be caught out reading, and it means that next tasks and questioning are easier as the majority of them have engaged with the reading. A success, very easy to implement and one to continue with.

4) Art of the Sentence
In TheoryGet students thinking about how to craft sentences. Use sentence starters and sentence parameters. Provide sentence starters that expand vocabulary and syntax. Also provide parameters – specific words or phrase to use, or combine multiple ideas, or give a word limit. Can be done at the end of the lesson to summarise and synthesise: can be combined with “Exit Tickets.”
In Practice – I have predominantly been using this with my KS4 and KS5 classes. Their task has been to really think about the language they are using to express their ideas and understanding. I have used it at the beginning of lessons to get them to reflect on their previous work or recall topics we haven’t looked at for a while, I have used it at the end of lessons to get pupils to summarise their learning from a lesson. I have given them specific words to include, I have given them word limits etc. It works really well at getting students to think about their wording and how to craft precisely worded sentences. A very effective method that the students enjoy – they volunteer their ideas which is harder as they get older.

Long-term, workable (and effective) resolutions

So it’s now January, and I think I can say that my academic resolutions have been effective and, perhaps more significantly, I’ve stuck with them– I am marking less but more efficiently; I am still trialling new ideas without over burdening myself with prep work , and students are having to reflect a lot themselves, which is more worthwhile than me “delivering” feedback all the time (in my opinion).

This is my sixth year of teaching and I feel more than ever that I am on top of things due to my resolutions. I am again reminded of the simplicity of Doug Lemov’s ideas and how implementing them makes a difference with little effort, and that everyone, no matter their teaching experience, will find something of his that will work in their classrooms.

And academic resolutions? I think they are worthwhile: they help us to change the status quo of our teaching. But to make them workable and long-term, they shouldn’t be radical overhauls (see this post about marginal gains).They need to be straightforward (but effective) so that you can make them habits, rather than just intentions.

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