I’m writing this after returning from the hugely inspiring ResearchED Durham 2019. Brimming with ideas about how I can be more research-informed and improve my teaching, I’m dying to see what quick wins I can implement and what cultural changes I can affect, at least in my own classroom. But the trouble is, my enthusiasm isn’t enough. Nor is the random assortment of notes that I took while listening to the speakers. I know fine well that by Monday, some of that enthusiasm will have waned and that I’ll have forgotten the context of those pithy quotes I wrote down, in the hope that they would make me look and sound clever.
Come to think of it, I probably haven’t improved that much at all.
So, what was the point in attending?
For me, it’s about developing good habits. In this case, I mean that I’m trying to develop the habit of using research-informed strategies to influence my teaching. Attending a ResearchED event has been on my to-do list for a long time now. But as a one-off instance of CPD it isn’t enough. To really make the difference to my practice, I’ve started to read more academically about what works and to apply some of that research in my daily teaching activities. Attending ResearchED is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit an invaluable one).
“Teachers’ reflections/development over time is a crucial element of our overall professional development process, & plays a central role in the school’s drive to improve the quality of teaching.” @johntomsett#rEDDurham
It’s easy to see why many of us teachers feel overwhelmed at the number of edu-books currently out there as “must-reads” and I’ll even be recommending a couple in a moment, so brace yourself. (Also, you can read a few of them on Kindle Unlimited for 30 days for free!) With all those titles telling us that our go-to strategies are either a waste of time or even counter-productive, you could be forgiven for putting off that “change” that might just be needed. After all, it’s comforting to think that after a few years of hard slog in the classroom, that you’ve managed to “nail it”.
But that’s not how we grow.
Sometimes we need to think back to why we wanted to go into teaching in the first place. We wanted to make a difference. We loved our subject and wanted to share our knowledge of it. We wanted to guide the next generation to success. And we still do!
So, with that in mind, I want to offer you a tiny little challenge. It only takes a couple of minutes.
How to begin…
Here’s something I do, once a week, to add something to my arsenal of effective teaching strategies and to remove strategies that have now been proven to be less effective.
I want you to read something. It could be a blogpost, a few pages of a book (here’s a few you can try), or an article from a magazine. Take one thing from whatever you read and implement it during your first lesson on Monday morning (or as close to that as you can).
If we want to become the research-informed and the most effective teachers that we can be, while maintaining our sanity and work-life balance, then small steps are needed. Just implement one thing. Otherwise, the hurdle will seem too high. The trouble with educational research, as @EmmaAlderson pointed out at ResearchED Durham, is that so few teachers engage with it. Many even see it as a threat, or worse, just a fad.
It’s something I’ve been doing for the past few months and over time it hasn’t only improved my teaching (verified by my students’ attainment data). I’ve also become more engaged and reflective about my teaching. It’s given me a much-needed boost in job satisfaction and has allowed me to ride this year’s teaching rollercoaster with a sense of joy, rather than fear.
Give it a go. Choose joy.
Here’s a couple of really accessible ones you can dip into to get started:
Tom Sherrington’s practical guide to using Rosenshine’s Principles is probably the easiest book to read, to improve your teaching. In the book, he gives simple advice on what works well, according to Rosenshine’s research and how we can implement it.
Peps Mccrea’s book is short and sweet, but packs a punch. You could easily devour this in one sitting and come away with a sack full of ideas to help your students learn more effectively.
Your journey to becoming research-informed begins here. Let me know how you get on.
“I’m sorry to inform you that you weren’t successful this time. Thank you for applying, we really enjoyed meeting you.”
If you’ve been on the receiving end of such a message, in person or over the phone, you know how devastating it can feel. After all, its likely that you’ve spent hours and hours crafting your application, redrafting covering letters and rehearsing answers to interview questions for that teaching job. Not only that, but you’ve bared your soul, both on the page and in person, when asked questions like “So, why are you a teacher?” and “Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge”. The feeling of rejection can be powerful and paralysing.
So, where should you go from there?
Well, after a couple of days of naval-gazing, you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel and saying “Oh, stuff them. I didn’t want that job anyway!”
But, you did. And you will again, when you next see a similar opportunity. So how can you prepare yourself to bounce back and improve your chances?
Well, speaking as someone who has been “unsuccessful” on a number of occasions, I can tell you what works (and is working) for me. It might not be to everyone’s tastes and it takes time to put into place, time that you might not have if a teaching job pops up at short-notice. However, I have faith in my methods. It’s a long-game, this teaching malarkey, so I want to take the time to get it right. Otherwise, I could end up in a role that I don’t enjoy, just because I was too short-sighted to choose something that was truly worthwhile for me personally.
I wrote myself some rules…
10 Rules For Staying Sane
#1 Don’t take rejection personally
#2 Ask for feedback
#3 Respond to feedback
#4 No sudden movements
#5 Reflect on the journey more than the destination
#6 Decide what job you want
#7 Start accruing useful and interesting experiences
#8 Build your network
#9 Improve your knowledge and skills
#10 Do things that others aren’t doing
So, why am I writing this?
This list has kept me sane for the last couple of years.
There have been so many times when I’ve either been within touching distance of teaching jobs, or where I’ve been shortlisted against candidates whose qualifications and experience far surpass my own. But in both sets of cases, having a solid hold onto those ten rules has helped me deal with the pressure and the (inevitable) disappointment.
Some might say I should perhaps get some new rules. After all, I haven’t succeeded at an interview for a long time! But, in reality, I don’t need to.
Rather than looking for greener pastures elsewhere, I’ve instead worked on creating my own ideal role where I already work. It doesn’t come with a footballer’s salary, or a lighter timetable. But I’m good at it and, ultimately, it makes me happy. I now lead a small and successful Law Department, co-run the EPQ and I’ve recently been given the (huge) responsibility for taking our NQTs through their Induction Year. This combination of leading a department whilst developing new staff is exactly what I had always worked towards.
I’m not sure that such a teaching job even exists on the TES, or anywhere else for that matter. And if I have my way, it never will.
So, just take your time and enjoy your journey. If I can do it, so can you.
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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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,
By the way, you can find me on Twitter at @guruteaching. Come and say hello!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.