How do high ability students reach for the stars in a world of Great Expectations?

high ability students

Guest Post by Stephanie Anne Dudley

As Ed Sheeran likes to put it: “Keep your head down and work hard to achieve”. As a music sensation with global hits consistently hitting the top ten, and with what can only be described as a banger after banger music portfolio, his advice on success is probably worth listening to.

Naturally gifted. Naturally clever. Naturally talented. We’ve all heard the phrases before. Rising from a world where these clichés could often be seen as excuses for underachievement, it raises the question: 

Is the idea of being naturally clever a myth? Can you simply work really hard at something to succeed? Or even is it a skill that you were born with?

Recalling my own schooling, back in the days where pin-straight hair was fashionable and begging Jane Norman for a fancy shopping bag to put your P.E Kit in was a Saturday pastime, the pressure of students who achieved a level 5 in Key Stage 2 SATS achieving high grades did not seem to be at the forefront of education.

By Year Ten, lesson outcomes were the latest craze and on the odd occasion, there may have been a support sheet to assist with a task, but on the whole, from a student perspective, it was different pressures in a different era.

So what has changed?

In an education system where coursework no longer exists and GCSE papers have become more comparable with that of A Levels, the bar has definitely been raised. We expect more from the students we are teaching, as they are now required to sit four exams for their English Language and English Literature GCSEs!

Why the push?

Following the introduction of the 9-1 grading system, English was one of the first subjects to be put through the new examinations. Overnight there was a sea-change in the quality of what students should be writing. Not only could you achieve an A* now comparable with a Grade 8, but an A** which was an exceptionally wonderful quality – as a Grade 9. Thus, no longer were schools focused on simply getting 5 A*-C including English and Maths but the move to Progress 8 marked a development in the way a school or academy would be assessed. Forever.

Schools would now be judged on performances in all subjects, forming an overall Progress 8 score that would then reveal how good a school really was for its teaching and learning.

In working and training in an inner city school within Stoke-on-Trent, which has rapidly raised its profile to second in the city for performance, focusing on how those high ability students at KS2 achieve greatest has become a priority over the last few years.

Are there a range of strategies which assist in this happening or is it simply just good luck?

Here are my 9 top tips to support academic achievement for high ability learners, to avoid the inevitable event of coasting happening, especially for boys.

9 top tips for teaching high ability students

(I do like an odd number, just to be awkward.)

1. Thinking Hard Strategies

In early 2019, our academy trust, in line with PIXL, began to introduce Excel @ Thinking. This involved a range of strategies under the categories: connect, extend, reduce, prioritise, categorise. It enabled students to access deeper level thinking and was certainly a hit for those in top sets. An example of this is giving students ten challenging words associated with a text or topic and asking them to link them all together. They then have to justify the reasons why each links to another. Observing students doing this you can literally see the cogs turning.

As Morrison McGill highlights: How do we instil this confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes in time for them to become self-assured, risk-taking learners? (McGill) Thinking hard strategies hence enable students to make mistakes and find the answers as the emphasis on thinking reduces the amount of written critique.

2. IRIS Connect

Are your questions high level enough? Are you targeting the right students or are you best moving to a no hands up policy? How can you ensure that all students are learning? Get it filmed. We have embraced video equipment IRIS Connect to reflect on practice. The best part is you can just watch it yourself or can share it with others? It’s your call. This is probably the best place to start if those high ability students just aren’t making the grade.

3. Bibles

Thanks to the 21st century, social platforms, notably Twitter, have become a haven for teacher resources. For English Literature within our department, Twitter birthed some amazing revision resources that not only assists with context and plot but focuses on key vocabulary and high-level ideas for Great Expectations, Animal Farm and Macbeth. Since introducing these resources in 2017, we have used these in class and homework to support higher level learning.

4. Tuition

Tuition has been a controversial topic amongst educators for a long time. If it is done properly then it has been proven successful for high ability students. Using a break-down of how students perform in mock exams, if tuition focuses on specific skill deficits then it’s worthwhile. If it is just a general overview of revision then I’m afraid to say, it just won’t cut the mustard.

5. High ability subject entitlement

In order for HAT students to be hitting those grades, they need to be a priority. If they allowed to rest on their laurels in the hope that they are naturally gifted they more than likely won’t actually make any progress and, worse, go backwards. Thus a high ability subject entitlement allows teachers to be aware that HAT students, like other key groups, have different needs. There should be opportunities for masterclasses the elite class, university seminar style days, to name a few examples, as compulsory for students. Learning outside of the same four walls is crucial.

6. Having great expectations

Taking after our good literary friend Pip, of whom our Year Elevens are well and truly sick of by now, we too have expectations of bigger and better. Promoting an environment by which we, as educators, expect students to do well enables students to develop confidence. Inevitably, student success, rightly or wrongly, becomes teamwork between the teacher and student, especially in Year Eleven. Using a question level analysis, students need to know what they cannot do and how to better on those questions in order to succeed. 

7. Exam specialists from AQA

A phrase being coined in academies at present, as GCSEs soon approach is the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Giving the nod to Einstein, this mantra is so true for student success; something needs to change for high ability students to access higher marks if they aren’t already doing so. Adopting this notion within a core department, English, we have had, as well as other subjects, support from the exam board and a consultant to train staff and students as make the big move to AQA this year. Reflecting upon this, what can be better for the students than either workshops or resources and support from those that write the exams themselves. It’s a no brainer. Looking back, that 100% A* gained in my RE GCSE, aside from the great teaching, also came from revising past paper questions in a textbook written by the examiner. 

8. Less writing, more talking

You don’t need to be writing lots to be learning – the most controversial statement if there ever was one. In education, we have spent years providing evidence of books that students are doing. However, all this does is give teachers more to mark and a bombardment of red pen for students to figure out. For all students, but particularly higher ability students, students need to talk about critical questions. For example, it may be far more beneficial for students to discuss the motivations behind Orwell’s novel rather than writing note after note about the Russian Revolution. I simply believe that HAT students need less/more purposeful marking, more high level discussions and teachers just need to plan the hell out of those lessons. Progress achieved. (If only it was so simple…)

9. Boys

Like the main theme behind the 2001 Britney Spears musical number, high ability boys are super important and despite, showing my millennial love for Britney, it is normally high ability boys who struggle to make the progress. Typically, it is the boys that have succeeded in KS2 that then tend to drop off towards KS4 and play catch up on the build-up the exams. How do we combat this? One suggestion would be less focused writing independently and more group writing. Old school flip chart paper and pens enables boys the freedom to explore ideas in pairs or groups and is non-committal as it is not going to live in books forever for the world and his dog to see. In school, we have trialled writing on tables too which went down a treat. It’s definitely worth a shot.

High ability students is a continuous focus nationally, going forward. It is worthwhile trialling some of the strategies above to see how they work in your context. I am eager to develop strategies for high ability further and so am keen to hear any ideas that are working across the country, 

In this society of moving goal posts and high pressure, I would like to think we are all on the right path to success for these students, even if it’s the start. Underachieving boys are an issue that will only change if change is made. Not forgetting that these are strategies that we are putting in place – what are students doing to ensure their own success. There’s no getting away from that.

As Del Boy says:

 ‘There’s no point running away. Running only wears out your shoes.’ 

So I say, let’s growth-mindset the hell out of it – high ability students are not where we want them to be.

Yet.

References:

Morrison McGill: 2017: Mark, Plan, Teach-Save time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning: Bloomsbury Publishing

Author Bio:

Stephanie Anne Dudley: Passionate English Teacher, Writer, Blogger
and Performance Poet. Six years teaching experience in the teaching
world and Key Stage Coordinator within Staffordshire. Lover of
teaching and learning, spending her days discovering exciting ways to
help students learn. When in hibernation, can be found under a pile of
marking. Send chocolate. Send help.

The Performance Related Pay Timebomb

Guest Post written by Bruce Grieg

performance related pay

Performance related pay policies are starting to unravel…

Performance related pay progression for school teachers has been around since 2014. Over the next year or so I think we are going to see this policy quietly unravel.

Why?

Lots of teachers who were starting off at the bottom of the main pay scale back in 2014 will likely have now received their final performance related pay increase. All the problems with performance related pay will now start bubbling up to the surface.

What problems? Surely performance related pay is a good thing? If people do a good job, they should be paid more, right?

That’s the superficial and trite justification for performance related pay rolled out by the DfE at the time of its introduction.

The DfE and the School Teachers Pay Review Board trotted out lots of “evidence” supporting the introduction of performance related pay. But the evidence they relied on fell broadly into two categories. Some of it demonstrated that performance related pay didn’t work at all; or wasn’t really evidence at all, but just anecdotes about how the private sector used performance related pay (STRB 2012, Chapter 2).

What was glaringly missing from this evidence, for anyone (like me) with a cursory knowledge of the field, was the academic research into performance related pay.

There is a large body of research looking at what happens when you pay people more if they do a good job. And that research tends to show that the more money at stake, the worse people perform.

For example, Professor Daniel Ariely at MIT has carried out many experiments which all fall into some variation on this theme: subjects are asked to perform a challenging intellectual task and are paid money if they perform that task well. A control group does the same task, but is just paid for their time regardless of how well they perform.

In many different variations of these experiments, people tend to do worse if their reward depends on how well they perform. Even in rural India, where the amount of money on offer for top performance was equivalent to six months of household expenditure, people did better if they were just paid a fixed amount for their time. You’d think that if you offered someone a small fortune for completing some demanding cognitive task to a certain standard, they would try really hard to earn that money. But no: if you just pay people a fixed amount to do the tasks, they do it better than those who are offered a huge reward for doing it well.

(Source: http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0511.pdf)

So what’s the explanation for the performance-related pay results?

One explanation is that having a lot of money at stake creates too much stress on the participant and they just perform less well. If they can relax knowing the money is guaranteed, even if there is less on offer than the “performance pay” group is getting, they do a better job of the task.

Does this sound familiar? Teachers under stress? Linking pay to performance surely increases teacher stress, even for the best teachers. And that might well make them perform less well in the classroom.

A more nuanced explanation is that once you make money the prime incentive, you lose the other incentives which were there before. The greatest reward for completing challenging work is really the intrinsic satisfaction it creates. Whether that’s solving a scientific conundrum or getting all of your bottom set in maths to pass their GCSE. But once you start introducing a financial reward for doing a better job, you lose the intrinsic reward.

I think that’s what we are likely to see soon. There is a cohort of teachers out there who have had five years steadily working up the main pay scale. Each year they’ll have been told that they have earned extra money because they have been doing a great job. Next year they’ll be again told they’ve done a great job. But they won’t be paid any more for it.

This probably won’t lead to newspaper headlines and strikes and resignations. It is very hard to complain loudly about people supposedly being paid more for doing a better job. But I think school leaders will start to see quiet discontent seeping into staff rooms in schools around the country, as this performance related pay policy slowly unravels.

Author Bio:

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up SchoolStaffSurveys.com after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. He has previously built businesses in property maintenance and technology sectors.

Website: www.schoolstaffsurveys.com

Twitter: @schoolstaffsurv


How To Do “Teacher Wellbeing” Properly

Teacher Wellbeing

Teacher Wellbeing Isn’t Just Staff Yoga

There probably isn’t a bigger topic in teaching right now than the recruitment and retention crisis. NQTs and experienced teachers alike are leaving in droves, largely down to one of two main issues, as cited by teaching unions: pay and excessive workload. In this article, I’m going to try to explain what I think could be a solution to the teacher wellbeing issue.

It’s not a set of “sticking plasters” (thanks go to @mrbakerphysics, @Mr_JTyers and @JamesTheo, amongst others, for your input on Twitter), but it’s more a holistic way of addressing what it’s like to be a teacher in your school. It encompasses everything that a school can (or should) ‘control’ and hopefully will provide a blueprint to start useful discussions about how to improve and maintain teacher wellbeing, so that our schools can attract and recruit like we used to do in the not-so-distant past.

Simply having an extra couple of staff nights out, free biscuits or a staff yoga session isn’t enough (even if they do add some fun to your week).

Seriously though, we have to think bigger and confront the main reason for the reduction in teacher wellbeing: workload and the unnecessary and excessive pressure that comes with it. I’ve written about aspects of it before. You can read them here and here.

What’s Really Important…

The main reason I wanted to write this piece was not to help recruit and retain staff.

My concern is that many colleagues across schools throughout the UK are now starting to crack. A brief look through my Twitter timeline regularly shows people taking to the internet to share their fragile emotional states, whereas a few years ago they were just sharing selfies and photos of their dinner. Things have gotten worse and for the sake of peoples’ physical and mental health, we can’t afford to spend any more time navel-gazing before putting it right.

Within 5 years of being a teacher I felt this way. Whether you’ve been teaching for 1 or 20 years, no one should ever be made to feel like this because of work. @BBCNews – A teacher’s story: Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat. #breakthroughNotBreakdown https://t.co/BITxjHgK9N— 𝕄𝕣𝕤 ℍ𝕦𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕖𝕤 (@MrsHumanities) 4 January 2019

I have to say though, I’m not an expert. My own work-life balance is often less than optimal, despite what I try to implement. But that’s precisely the issue. I, as an individual teacher, can’t do this on my own. Many of the workload problems that I face are beyond my control. They are systemic or boil down to decisions that others have taken.

So, what can we do then?

Successful Teacher Wellbeing Ideas

In all the conversations I’ve had with teachers, these are by far the most popular responses:

  • Time given to share departmental planning
  • Reduced number of data drops
  • No more written reports
  • A clear and consistently followed behaviour policy
  • Centralised detentions
  • Replace morning briefings or lunchtime meetings with an email bulletin or an online noticeboard
  • Email ban between 5pm and 7am
  • Social activities, eg fitness classes, nights out, ‘secret friends’ gift giving, etc
  • Supportive SLT, who take the pressure off at least as often as they put pressure on

What do these ideas have in common? Well, most of them reduce workload. However, these decisions tend to be outside of a typical teacher’s control. They are policy decisions that are either put in place or rejected/ignored by school leaders. Fortunately, school leaders (as far as I can see) are beginning to implement such ideas and share their positive experiences with others. With any luck (and by sharing this with school leaders yourself) the tide should turn a little quicker.

Ultimately, it has to be prioritised by senior leaders and headteachers. Not everyone is fortunate to work somewhere that takes notice of such things. The results are predictable. Staff sickness levels increase and those staff eventually leave, often with a view to ruining the school’s reputation on the way out, making it difficult to recruit. It’s also a false economy to put teachers under this stress, in order to save money. A multiple of the money saved is then spent on external cover agencies. It’s unnecessary, ludicrous and potentially even illegal in some cases.

Most schools/teachers in the UK are inadvertently or otherwise breaking basic UK employment law… pic.twitter.com/NshX5VQPoV— Tom Rogers (@RogersHistory) March 21, 2019

Successful Schools Who Address Teacher Wellbeing: What Do You Do?

As teacher wellbeing is still quite a fledgeling concept, there isn’t yet a lot of data to draw upon, beyond the odd anecdote. So, send me your anecdotes! I’d love to know what teacher wellbeing ideas your school has implemented successfully (you can stay anonymous if you like). The more we share these ideas, the more they will become a prominent feature of the education system and the less we will have to rely on “luck”, when moving between schools.

What Can Teachers Do Themselves To Improve Their Own Wellbeing?

The video below gives some interesting insights into how we as professionals can look after ourselves. What do you think?

Teacher Wellbeing Resources

Teacher Wellbeing Survey

TeachWellFest

Young Minds – Resilience Course

Where To Go For Help…

Sometimes, reading a blog article isn’t enough. If you have reached a point where you feel as though you need to speak to someone about your mental wellbeing then do not hesitate.

Teachers tend to put themselves through hell before seeking help, out of embarrassment, fear or any number of rational or irrational reasons. Below are the numbers of two organisations who CAN help.

Mind:

0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk

Samaritans:

116 123
jo@samaritans.org

Education Support Partnership:

08000 562 561
support@edsupport.org.uk

Final Thoughts…

Teacher wellbeing is such a crucial problem to solve. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can. Please share this. Or share something. Just keep spreading good ideas.

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Why Don’t Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

Effective Learning Strategies

A guest post by Dr Flavia Belham (Author Bio below)

For a relatively long time now, researchers working with cognitive sciences have shown that some learning strategies are more effective than others. This has been done via randomised controlled studies in the lab and interventions in schools. Nevertheless, the majority of students in schools, colleges and universities are still investing their time in sub-optimal techniques, such as re-reading notes and highlighting textbook.

In this article, I’ll summarise:

  • Some of the evidence-based learning techniques
  • The main reasons why students don’t use them
  • How teachers can help them do so, using freely available resources and simple classroom activities.

Evidence-Based Learning Techniques.

The main strategy that has received wide support from the academic literature is Retrieval Practice. This technique is basically answering questions and actively bringing information back to mind instead of passively reading notes over and over again. This active retrieval creates new and stronger connections between pieces of knowledge and generates a deeper understanding of the topic. A few ways to use retrieval practice are low stake quizzes, braindumps and flashcards.

Two other effective strategies are Spacing and Interleaving. These two are the opposite of cramming. That is, studying one topic for many hours in a row and then moving on to the next one is significantly less productive than spreading out practice and switching between topics. Interleaving can also happen within one quiz or exam. Especially for STEM subjects, mixing the order of questions will force students to think harder and figure out the answer from the question itself, and not because they already knew which content would be covered. Doug Rohrer has written a lot about this.

Another learning strategy based on cognitive sciences is Dual-Coding, which conveys the idea that it is easier for our brain to understand, process and retain novel information when this is presented combining words with visual elements. Examples of dual-coding are diagrams, timelines and mind-maps.

Main Reasons Why Students Don’t Use Effective Learning Strategies

We, Seneca Learning, conducted a survey in 2017 that revealed that only one-quarter of students were using good strategies to revise. This result is in accordance with peer-reviewed papers that consistently found that less than 30% of pupils and university students use Retrieval Practice to prepare for an exam.

There are three main reasons for this low number. The first is that students simply do not know about those techniques. That is, they simply do not realise that it is possible to study without highlighting the textbook or re-reading notes.

The second reason is that the non-effective strategies give students an illusion of competence, making them believe they are progressing more than they truly are. For example, reading the book makes them feel like they understand all that content, whereas being tested reveals that they still have gaps in their knowledge.

The third reason is that effective learning techniques require planning and effort to implement. Using Retrieval Practice, Spacing, Interleaving and Dual-Coding are, admittedly, way more complicated than simply reading, highlighting and cramming.

How Can We Help Students Use Effective Learning Strategies?

The first two reasons why students don’t use effective strategies is because they do not know about them and they feel like those strategies do not work. Thus, it is crucial that we inform students about learning techniques based on cognitive sciences and show them the evidence.

This can be done with assemblies, classes about the brain and memory processes, as well as the reading of scientific articles. There are also very good videos on the internet that explain the techniques and the science behind it in a student-friendly language. Teachers can also run multidisciplinary projects where students conduct their own small randomised controlled trial. Links to some of the videos are HERE and HERE.

The third reason for the low number of pupils using good strategies is that these techniques are time-consuming and effortful. Luckily, there is a number of free tools online that make them easier to implement. For example, The Student Room has a tool that helps students plan their study routine based on exam dates. There are also guides that help them to allocate their time in an effective way. Seneca Learning is an interactive website providing exam-board specific revision and homework material for KS2 to KS5 pupils for free.

Useful Classroom Activities

There are also many classroom ideas developed by teachers and that successfully apply effective learning strategies. For example, at the latest conference of the Association for Science Education, I attended a talk by Adam Boxer, from a school in north London. Adam is a Key Stage 3 Science teacher that was worried that years 7, 8 and 9 were becoming useless or a simple preparation for the upcoming GCSE years. To change that, Adam developed a series of core questions and what he classifies as perfect answers to them. His aim is that all students finish KS3 knowing all of this content. To reach his goal, he created what is now known as a Retrieval Roulette. This is a spreadsheet that randomly selects core questions for students to answer. The questions can come from the most recent lesson or from any topic previously covered. By using the roulette as low-stake quizzes, Adam is helping his students by using retrieval practice, spacing and interleaving.

Another great idea is Blake Harvard’s Colour-coded Recall. This is a very simple classroom activity that only requires pen, paper and a set of highlighters. At the beginning of a lesson, Blake asks his Psychology students to write down the answer to a question without checking any notes or textbook.  Students must try hard and try to give their best answer. They then take one highlighter (let’s say yellow) and mark what they wrote. Following this, students are allowed to check their course material and complete the answer writing down anything they may have missed. This addition to the answer is highlighted in a different colour (let’s say blue). Lastly, students can talk about the questions and write down even more highlighting that in a third colour (let’s say green). Students receive one grade for each colour and are encouraged to repeat the technique whenever they have time. This method effectively uses retrieval practice and dual coding. It also helps in terms of metacognition since students can visualize their progress very easily.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Jon Gustafson wrote an article for his blog explaining why and how he changed his lessons to become 85% review and only 15% new content. Part of the review is done with low stake quizzes that revisit past content. The aim is to have students practising and applying what they previously learned, while creating connections between the different topics and concepts. Similarly to the Retrieval Roulette, Jon applies 2 to 3 quizzes every week, in which he includes and interleaves questions from the most recent content with questions from past lessons. Jon noticed that his workload and stress have been reduced, and that students are doing more and better independent work.

These are all examples of resources, tools and classroom ideas that have effective learning strategies already embedded in their methodology. Using them from the beginning of their school years will certainly teach students the power of evidence-based methods and increase the number of students optimising their revision to achiev higher progress.

Guest Author Bio:

Dr Belham - Effective Learning Strategies

Dr Flavia Belham applies experimental findings from Neuroscience to the free revision & homework platform Seneca Learning as the Chief Scientist. During her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, she used behavioural and brain imaging techniques to investigate how people of different ages memorise emotional events. She is a certified Science Teacher and worked in schools before joining Seneca Learning.

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

Best Teaching Books

19 Books That Make You A Better Teacher Today

With CPD budgets being squeezed each year, one easy way to develop your teaching is by flicking through a great teaching book.

This list of teaching books has been carefully curated for you, to filter out books that aren’t based on research evidence and extensive classroom experience.

Take a look and see what you fancy!

[Contains affiliate links]

19 Top Teaching Books

Making Good Progress – Daisy Christodoulou

 

Mark, Plan, Teach: Save Time. Reduce Workload. Impact Learning. – Ross Morrison McGill

 

High Challenge, Low Threat: How the Best Leaders Find the Balance – Mary Myatt

 

Making Every Lesson Count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning – Shaun Allison & Andy Tharby

 

The Confident Teacher: Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy – Alex Quigley

The Learning Rainforest – Tom Sherrington

 

Trivium 21c: Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past – Martin Robinson

 

Getting the Buggers to Behave –  Sue Cowley

Seven Myths About Education – Daisy Christodoulou

What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology – David Didau

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way – Katharine Birbalsingh 

Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories – E.D. Hirsch

Leadership Matters: How Leaders at All Levels Can Create Great Schools (3rd Edition) – Andy Buck

Embedded Formative Assessment (Strategies For Classroom Assessment That Drives Student Engagement And Learning) – Dylan William

Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator – Dave Burgess

The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour Management Solutions for Teachers – Tom Bennett

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College – Doug Lemov

What if everything you knew about education was wrong? – David Didau

Flipping 2.0: Practical Strategies for Flipping Your Class – Jason Bretzmann

Have I missed anything? What would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!

Andy

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching

EdTech Tools: How To Choose The Right One

EdTech tool

EdTech tools are simple to use, the real challenge is knowing where to start.

I don’t know about you, but I get completely overwhelmed by the number of EdTech tools out there. I’m bombarded constantly by emails and tweets telling me I *have* to sign up to the latest app or website. I’m no technophobe and I know it can save me time, or help me create more engaging lessons, but where do I even begin?

Where To Start With EdTech tools…

Firstly, identify what it is that you need to develop in your own teaching. Is it developing the strength of your students’ arguments? Do you need to use a wider range of activities, to liven up your repertoire? Is text-analysis something that students need extra support with? Do students just need to practise low-stakes quizzes more frequently? There are EdTech tools out there to help with all of these areas (and more too).

Once you’ve identified your area for development, you can then narrow down the range of EdTech tools significantly.

Question: Are EdTech Tools Worth Investing In?

In my experience, yes. However, not all EdTech tools are worth your time and money. It depends on what your priorities are. Ultimately though, you need to consider the following, before choosing an EdTech tool:

  • Time cost (in relation to the amount of actual free time you have left at the end of the day)
  • Financial cost (in relation to the size of your budget)
  • Amount of positive difference it makes (this might not be accurately measurable)
  • Getting staff on board (not always necessary, but often the hardest task of all)

It’s impossible to say objectively which EdTech tools are worth investing in, as it depends on your own situation. However, by spending a little time figuring out your priorities first, it becomes easier to identify a worthwhile EdTech tool when you see it.

EdTech To Consider Trying This Year

Study Rocket

EdTech Tools

An excellent platform, where students can access distilled exam-specific scripts for GCSE and A-Level subjects, written by experienced teachers (such as myself). Each script is accompanied by a low-stakes quiz, which students can use to ensure they retained the most important points. The quiz has answers built-in, so students can see what they should have answered if they answered incorrectly. It’s a quick and easy way for students to use retrieval practice, an effective metacognition-based revision method underpinned by cognitive science. Students can also request that topics are added if they aren’t already included, or require further depth. Not many platforms are as student-centred as these guys. Highly recommended.

 

Google Classroom

EdTech Tools

Google Classroom lets you organise your digital resources into sections that students can access. This is a brilliant way to encourage students to access resources beyond the classroom. One way I use it is to give students access to Flipped Learning materials before they study topics in lessons. Students can even respond to the materials they read, watch or listen to, enabling a useful dialogue to occur before the lesson. Extremely useful.

 

Insert Learning

EdTech Tools

Insert Learning is a great little Chrome Extension that allows you to take an article and add activities to it. Students are first asked to highlight specific parts of the article using different colours. Insert Learning then provides a great set of sample questions. These range from basic comprehension to deep analysis and evaluation of the text and also of related issues that the students have previously studied. If you want, you can even set your own questions. It takes only a couple of minutes to set up and learn and provides an excellent way to structure wider reading, helping students become more independent learners. Quick, simple and highly effective.

 

Final Thoughts…

We’re frequently presented with new ways to do old things, using EdTech tools. The trick is to know whether it will make a positive difference or not. In reality, this means that at some point you’ll have to have a go. I’d recommend just getting to grips with one EdTech tool this year.

Go on, give it a go!

By the way, what’s YOUR favourite EdTech tool? Leave a comment and share your knowledge!

 

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Teacher Wellbeing

teacher wellbeing

Teacher Wellbeing

If you are reading this then you are probably a Highly Committed Teacher. Well done! You’ve survived another year! The trouble is that it’s now the end of the summer term and you’ve got very little left to give. Unless you take a proper break, you’ll end up being “committed” to a different sort of institution altogether! After a year of focusing on everyone else in the room, it’s time to take care of yourself. The value of “teacher wellbeing” can’t be underestimated.

I struggle with switching off, so I’ve compiled a “teacher wellbeing” to-do list, to keep me on the straight and narrow over the holidays, so that I’m refreshed and ready to start again in September. I’ll be miserable and be of no use to anybody unless I take care of myself over the holidays!

Teacher Wellbeing To-Do List

  • Go and see that musician or band you’ve been meaning to see. Soon they won’t be touring anymore and you’ll regret it forever.
  • Get fresh air regularly (not necessarily exercise!).
  • Spend quality time with your family, especially your children – they grow up so quickly!
  • Meet friends you haven’t seen in a while – especially non-teachers.
  • Finally buy yourself a Kindle and read a load of books for pleasure. (Personally, I’d recommend signing up to Kindle Unlimited as well. You can read millions of brilliant books for a ridiculously low cost. It’s only £7.99 a month! I’ve got through tonnes of books this year because I didn’t have to go out and drive to the bookshop. I can just download and read them any time I want.) I use a Kindle Paperwhite [affiliate link] and it’s so much better than reading on my iPhone. No eye-fatigue!
  • Be leisurely in all that you do. Take time enjoying the little things.
  • Go somewhere new – get out of your routine.
  • Treat / pamper yourself.
  • Have a nap.
  • “Decide” to forget about work. Rest means rest.
  • Stop being so busy. Say no to stuff that just fills your time and that you do through silly obligation. This is YOUR time.
  • Go to bed early / late / whenever!!
  • Stop reading edu-blogs for at least a month!
  • Stop writing edu-blogs for at least a month!
  • Nap in the fresh air (park bench, garden, tent, etc).
  • Turn off Social Media and News notifications. (Also, this might be something you permanently want to change, for your own sanity.)
  • Play that computer game you’ve not had time to play for the last few months.
  • Have another nap.

Final thoughts…

If you find even one of these things useful, then my work here is done! But ultimately, just do what you like, when you like. You might not get that chance in six weeks time!

Have a great holiday,

Andy

By the way, you can find me on Twitter at @guruteaching. Come and say hello!

Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload

 Reduce Teacher Workload

Teachers: Are You Too Busy? (Then Reduce Your Workload!)

Reduce teacher workload!” can be heard up and down the country, in staffrooms and online. The truth is it’s one of the simplest things that schools can do to help retain staff and maintain their wellbeing.

That being said, however, some schools aren’t doing all they can to remove unnecessary burdens. Those who have done so, enjoy rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, which of course doesn’t do them any harm when it comes to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. The best staff know their worth and will inevitably leave the school earlier than they would’ve done if they feel that another school would trust them and let them just get on with the real job of teaching. Even the Department for Education has begun to take note of the issue, identifying some key areas where schools can reduce teacher workload.

Some of the ideas I’ve listed to below are things that individual teachers and departments can do to reduce teacher workload. Others require Senior Leadership Teams to make brave decisions. But they are decisions that pay dividends for schools with the courage to take those simplest of steps. Take a look and see how many you could decide to do right now.

Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload

1. Collaborative Planning

This is a no-brainer. Too many teachers get caught up in the trap of creating their own resources when others have already created ones that they could use. One way to avoid this is by deciding which parts of the course that you will resource and who will resource the other areas. This way (providing that everyone pulls their weight), a broad and deep course can become much more manageable and will take much less time to plan for.

When planning collaboratively, you should take care to establish a common set of standards for the resources, so that no matter whose resources are used, students are guaranteed consistency of quality (and so that no teacher has to work harder than a similar colleague, unless of course, they’ve agreed to do so).

Standards you might want to discuss with colleagues include:

  • Technical vocabulary list
  • Key figures, scholars, theories, quotes, formulae, etc
  • The format of resources used (presentations, worksheets, online content, wider reading, homework)
  • Assessment tasks, mark schemes, success criteria, etc
  • Permissions to edit resources
  • Potential enrichment activities such as trips, guest speakers, clubs and competitions

2. Ditch Written Reports

This one is controversial for some schools, but not where I work. We ditched written reports as we didn’t see the value in them when the same information was given throughout the year in data reports to parents and in a yearly parents evening. The hours that were saved by not having to write reports, especially those with generic or copy-and-paste comments (don’t pretend you haven’t done it!) mean that not only is teaching workload reduced but staff morale increases. A huge part of the aim to reduce teacher workload is not that teachers don’t want to put in the hours, it’s that often they are forced to put hours into things that make no discernible difference. This is a quick solution that, in my experience, has absolutely no downside.

3. Reduce Data Drops

Many schools still require teachers to submit assessment data too frequently. Some teachers I’ve spoken to (thankfully at other schools) are required to submit assessment data once every half-term. That’s six times a year. Per class! I would ask why that is necessary.

As I’ve written before, we know that the progress made by students isn’t linear. So if a data point showed that a student had dipped, then that often means nothing at all. It’s the pattern over time that counts. If a student had dipped in their efforts or attainment, either in class or in homework tasks, the teacher doesn’t need a classful of assessment data to intervene, they just need a short conversation with the student. Reduce the data drops and you also free up time that was used analysing instead of planning better, or giving feedback, both of which are far more useful. Stop “weighing the pig”, just fatten it up, as you might say.

4. Promote Student Independence

The ability of students to work and learn independently is vital. Not only for courses that demand ever greater breadth and depth of knowledge but in life too. For too long, teachers have been forced to spoon-feed students in order to ensure they gain good grades. This can’t go on. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t do the students any favours in preparing them for life beyond school, it is completely unnecessary. We need independent and resilient learners.

Instead of giving students the answers immediately, you could set them a wider reading list, as I’ve done in Religious Studies and Law. The list of sources includes hand-picked textbook chapters, press articles, YouTube videos, and academic journals, covering the main themes to be studied over the year, broken down into termly sections. I show students where the resources are kept, but I ask them to find, read and comment on each source themselves, ideally in advance of the lesson where it will be taught. This Flipped Learning approach makes such a difference to students of all attainment levels and can be customised for any student to access.

Oh, and you only have to create your list once. It pays off for years as students become more confident in their own resourcefulness and require less and less guidance from you. Click here to read my Three Top Tips for Independent Learners.

Wider Reading

5. Only Create Evergreen Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just modify and refine it. When choosing a topic to create resources for, make sure that you would be happy teaching this topic in this way for the next five years, regardless of who you are teaching. That way, once you’re planning is done, you can “bank” that planning time next year, the year after and the year after that, etc, in order to focus on something else of use. (This includes valuable family time or having a well-earned rest!)

Also, to ensure that your resources are suitable for next year, don’t just make them specific to your current class. Include a range of activities that you would use with a different class too so that you have to do as little tinkering as possible next year.

6. Give Whole Class Feedback

I mark a lot of essays. I used to frequently lose evenings and weekends every month. That was a time that I could (and should) have spent with my family and I regret not moving to this system much earlier. Here you can read more on why I think Marking Doesn’t Work.

When giving feedback on a classful of work, quickly read through a number of answers, without giving written feedback on them. Instead, jot down on a PowerPoint slide a list of common mistakes, misconceptions and missing pieces of content. Then, read through each piece of work and only comment on things that are unique to that piece. You will find that this reduces workload and it also provides you with a “response to feedback” resource for your class when you hand their work back. They can then learn to look for errors, with the guidance you’ve produced. With enough practice, they will need the teacher less and less, as they develop the ability to self-edit, rather than waiting for lots of feedback.

Top Tip:

To enhance this further, you can use the whole class feedback slide you produced the following year. This will be used to prepare your new class attempting the task. That way, students should make fewer mistakes and which reduces the number of comments needed in your feedback.

7. Reduce Meetings To An Email

Do you ever find yourself meeting with colleagues to discuss something, only to find that the meeting took an hour and the issue could just as easily have been resolved via an email? Well in future, reduce teacher workload by using email instead of physical meetings in the first place. It won’t work for everything and some things are done far better in person, but it works for a lot more than you might realise.

Final Thoughts…

Feel free to share your experiences of reducing teacher workload below. Any extra tips will be much appreciated!

Oh, and share this post too. Hopefully, your teacher friends won’t be too busy to read it.

Andy

How To Improve Literacy With Live Modelling

How to improve literacy

Why We Should Focus On Improving Literacy

Knowing how to improve literacy is crucial if we are to improve the life chances of our students.

The attainment gap between highly literate students and their less literate peers is stark. Add to that the complexity of examination questions and the texts that often accompany them and you have a perfect storm.

Students who are well-read and who have grown up in vocabulary-rich environments tend, on average, to achieve much higher examination marks. They then have more opportunities available to them and once they have children of their own, the cycle continues.

Those who have not grown up in a vocabulary-rich environment achieve lower scores in examinations and consequently have fewer opportunities to them. The next generation’s children inherit an even more challenging education system and the problem becomes ever more acute.

The National Literacy Trust has conducted extensive research on the effects of literacy on people’s lives and how to raise literacy levels. You can read their work here.

Improving literacy not only raises the life chances of today’s generation, but it also improves the chances of future generations. So narrowing today’s attainment gap, in my opinion, requires a bold and well thought out literacy strategy.

Here, I explain one way in which you can improve literacy with your students, with an immediate impact: Live Modelling.

Improving Literacy With Live Modelling

I read a tweet recently by @positivteacha highlighting a huge literacy issue, that I’d also noticed in my own students.

“Showing kids a pre-prepared model answer and asking them to write a paragraph off the back of it is no different to showing them a picture of Duck l’Orange and sending ’em to the kitchen to knock one up.”

Mr Pink @positivteacha

As teachers, we’ve created a problem. In our attempts to produce resources to support students’ learning, we often think to ourselves “they could do with seeing a model answer of how it should look”. A huge proportion of students see this perfect answer on a pre-prepared PowerPoint slide and think to themselves “I can’t possibly do that. What if I make a mistake? What if someone notices? I’m not good enough.”

We didn’t mean to create this problem. In fact, this attitude is held by some students, regardless of our input. However, we DO make it worse by only showing students the “end-product”, rather than showing them how to get there. We want them to adopt a more positive attitude so that those who are reluctant to make an attempt gain the courage to do so. We have to show them the journey, not just the destination.

A method I’ve been particularly keen to try out “properly” for a while is “Live Modelling”. The idea is that teachers should move away from their pre-prepared slides, especially where it shows exemplar answers. By removing these carefully scripted responses, teachers are forced to model the writing of these responses by hand, LIVE in front of the class.

Scary, you might think! Well, that’s the point entirely.

Live Modelling demonstrates in a very explicit way how the writing process really works, in all of its ugly beauty. When I write on the board in front of my class, they see a teacher who sometimes struggles to phrase ideas the way they would like. They also see a little of themselves when they watch me writing, redrafting and making mistakes. Ultimately, they see that its okay to be less than perfect.

“We have to show them the journey, not just the destination.”

Writing is a messy process and it is okay to make mistakes along the way as your thought process develops.

In his TES article, Laurence Holmes explains his methods to effectively model the formation of answers for students. You can read it here.

 

What I’ve Observed So Far…

Since trialling Live Modelling consistently for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a growing confidence among many of my less-literate students. They are now less reluctant to ‘have a go’ when they are unsure of how to proceed with a sentence, a description or an explanation. Consequently, they have made much more progress over time than the times where I hadn’t used Live Modelling. Now obviously, it could just be a coincidence that those students have made particularly good progress at the time where I used Live Modelling. However, the more classes I use it with, the surer I am that it is having a greater effect than just showing those pre-prepared model answers I used in the (recent) past.

Additionally, as my students become more resilient learners, they have become less afraid to use new and more complex terminology. The increased variety of the sentences they can now use will hopefully lead to better quality explanations and arguments in the future. Consequently, their performance across all subjects will hopefully improve.

I use the word “hopefully” on purpose. I don’t yet know how well this will work. If I’m the only person using this method, then it will have only a limited effect and on only a small proportion of the students in my school. But if used as part of a whole-school focus on literacy then it really does have the power, not only to improve answers but ultimately to change lives.

Thanks go to @positivteacha for his inspirational tweet!

Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to have a go too. Please leave a comment and share your experiences too!

Andy

Revision Videos for GCSE and A-Level

Fantastic Revision Videos!

Revision Videos

I don’t know about you, but even my most resilient students often struggle with revision, especially for GCSE and A-Level exams, where the stakes are high and the content is complex. Using textbooks is an excellent start in helping them develop their knowledge, but as you know, having more interactive resources like revision videos can be of even greater benefit to students, regardless of their ability.

Do you think your students would benefit from interactive revision videos, with built-in quizzes, to help consolidate and extend their learning? If so then I have a FANTASTIC resource for you to share with them.

Study Rocket is a new website where students can sign up for sets of revision videos, created by expert teachers and animated by professionals.

Revision Videos
www.studyrocket.co.uk

Revision videos are available for all subjects studied at GCSE and A Level and are tailored to specific exam boards, so you only pay for what you really need.

The videos contain summaries of key topics required by each exam board, followed by self-marking quiz questions to help students assess their knowledge of those topics. By giving the students the opportunity for immediate automated feedback on their revision, you reduce teacher workload – no more marking!!

I know that many of my students struggle to revise using notes and books, so I will be recommending Study Rocket to them to help with all of their GCSE and A Level subjects. As you know, a variety of revision resources is much more likely to lead to success than textbooks and notes on their own!

Many courses are already available on the website, with the remaining ones coming online soon.

Not only that, but right now there is a huge 30% discount available for anyone who pre-orders courses which haven’t come online yet. Get in there quickly before the videos go online! Just register your interest by entering your email address on the website, so that you are notified when the videos for your chosen course come online.

If you have any questions about Study Rocket then please reply and I’ll get back to you!

Andy

P.S. For more tips on how to build resilient learners, click here.

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