On Teachers Walking Away

Teacher Leaving

A Guest Post by Ele Crovato

DISCLAIMER: This blog is a personal stance on a much-discussed topic; I don’t speak for anyone but myself and those that I have quoted where appropriate. 

The following is taken from page 9 of Briefing Paper 7222, 16 December 2019, available from The House of Commons Library:

“22.5% of newly qualified entrants to the sector in 2016 were not recorded as working in the state sector two years later. The five year out-of-service rate for 2013 entrants was 32.3%, the highest on the current series, which dates back to 1997. The rate has been between 25.4% and 32.3% in each year over this period. The ten year out-of-service rate for 2009 entrants was 38%. It has been between 40.3% and 34.4% in each year since 1997.

DfE commissioned research on factors affecting teacher retention 

Following a survey targeted at former teachers in January to March 2017, the DfE commissioned in-depth qualitative research into why teachers leave the profession and what would encourage them to remain in teaching. The report of this research was published in March 2018: Factors Affecting Teacher Retention: Qualitative Investigation

Amongst the findings of the research were: 

  • Workload was the most important factor influencing teachers’ decisions to leave the profession and most suggested solutions to addressing retention were linked to workload in some way. 
  • Decisions to leave the profession were “generally driven by the accumulation of a number of factors, over a sustained period of time”, but for some, there had been a specific ‘trigger’ point. 

Suggested solutions for retention offered by teachers included: improving in-school support for teachers, increasing focus on progression opportunities, reducing workload, improving working conditions (flexible working was viewed positively; pay was not a driver for most but it was stated that pay levels were not reflective of the role), professional recognition and greater autonomy.”

Roughly, one in three new teachers don’t stay beyond those infamous first five years of service; I don’t have any numbers to prove it at this point, but I’m not convinced that the teaching profession is so much different from other sectors.

In the good old days of me having jobs before teaching, staying with one employer or in one sector for a long time was no longer an expectation, even if you had been offered a permanent job; the truth is, I think, at least partially, that becoming a teacher is still seen as one of those jobs that clearly carry the ‘vocation’ label and therefore, once in, you’re in, and commitment is commitment.

In other words, you’re expected to stay no matter what (I’m being very generic here, I know) and leaving is seen as a huge deal.

I live most of my teaching life in the very limited world of EduTwitter, but I know that every time someone posts about making that big decision of leaving teaching, the post leaves ripples. I’m guessing this is normal for a number of reasons (we’re losing one of ‘our own’, if you like) and we know that retention is hard work, so I do sympathise with the upset; goodness knows that we need all the good teachers we can get. I genuinely understand why a seasoned teacher would be an overall loss to the profession.

I’ve yet to encounter a leaving tweet that speaks of dreadful children, horrible colleagues (again, being generic here), and the hate of working in a school being the reason people leave; no, let’s be honest here, people leave because teaching is a relentless job which you don’t step away from: the workload in far too many schools is horrendous, the demands on time are absurd and, quite frankly, nowhere near worthy of the money we get.

Of course I know that no one gets into teaching for the money – if that was the case we’d have no teachers to speak of – but sure enough it has to be considered at some point; and, while the bursaries for training in certain subjects look very nice, they’re also very deceiving: going from 30K as a physics trainee to circa 24K as an NQT doesn’t bode very well, does it?

In view of all of the above, it comes to no surprise that the latest input from Gavin Williamson regarding teacher retention was seen by some as gaslighting (see this TES article for details). Thing is, Mr Williamson, while we could argue that some ITT providers are better than others at their job, you know and we know that training has nothing to do with teachers staying or leaving; statistics have shown, over and over again, that workload is pretty much the bugbear here and often one of the deciding factors in choosing the school you work at.

So, in essence, if Mr Williamson continues to come up with pearls of wisdom like the one above, I fear he will manage to create an unsurmountable divide between government and the very people a Secretary of State Education is supposed to work with and for. 

Yet, I’m making what is potentially an even more controversial claim here: while it might be true that retention is an issue, it makes no sense how big a fuss we make of it. Now, before you get the pitchforks out, I’ve thought about this long and hard and I hope that you can too; for one reason or another, I’m not as insular (some detractors would say ‘institutionalised’) as other, more experienced teachers. Also, the fact that I’ve come to teaching after doing loads of other stuff might actually help me see the profession in a different way as most people that have been teaching for a far longer time than me, do.

In my school we currently have a number of Teach First trainees. I had never heard of TF before getting onto Twitter, and I’ll admit that their reputation – not always positive – precedes them. So far I’ve heard that TF trainees are trained for SLT, are trained to leave, are trained to go into bigger and better things, with the overall feeling that they basically don’t stay in teaching.

This might or might not be true and I’m not interested in the TF rumours being proven or otherwise because I’m sure that, one way or another, the organisation reflects the variety of outcomes of all ITT providers out there. So, for example, while I stayed on as a teacher after my training, one of my fellow trainees decided it wasn’t for her; once again, the overall reaction to her decision (from me included) was one of commiseration but of recognition of her bravery. Believe me when I tell you that, when I left my job as a team manager at Esso, no one made a fuss and told me how brave my decision was.

But back to TF. 

One of the trainees we have is in my science department and this is her second year with us; this is obviously not the norm as we’re used to trainees coming and going as they move on through placements. The TF trainee and I have some wonderful conversations about all sorts of stuff; I’ll call her Hannah just to respect her privacy, even though she’s fully aware of me using her as an example for this blog.

Hannah and I spend some of our PPA time debating and discussing education stuff, anything from making resources to abandoning PPT for booklets to the best cake for tedious meetings. Recently she talked to me about her future plans post QTS and I was not surprised to find out that she wishes to go on a gap year but I was actually surprised to find out she doesn’t intend to return to the teaching profession after that.

As you can expect, my reaction was the usual one of commiserations and of mourning the loss of a really decent teacher. Of course, I probed a bit more and she was happy to discuss her views of the teaching profession as it stands; a further disclaimer should go here and I should remind anyone reading this that I’m relaying Hannah’s personal views, but she definitely found me in agreement with many of her points.

Hannah mainly mentioned the well-known retention factors that we all know about: unrealistic workload, as well as demands on time that go well beyond the school hours and lack of support from some SLT. She recognises that the way we do things in our school is much different from other schools, and what I mean is that, as teachers, our workload is the absolute minimum, we don’t mark books, we have centralised detentions, we don’t chase parents nor children, we are consistently supported by a lovely and very visible SLT, and that makes a huge difference. However, both Hannah and I know very well that this is not always the norm, at least not at this point, and we appreciate that changing schools might also mean giving up some or all of the nice stuff we have at our own school. 

Hannah also bemoans the unrealistic expectation of having to find new resources to teach with, indeed of not having some sort of centralised database for each topic which we can access and use at leisure; she finds the lack of a more standardised approach to running a school just as baffling; she cannot quite fathom the fact that some schools are criticised for being strict with behaviour expectations, something which was basically a given among her peers during her schooling (she’s in her 20s).

In short, she has found too many negatives in her day-to-day teaching job to want to come back as a qualified teacher; she knows that demands will possibly get worse once she’s an NQT and beyond and therefore she’s stepping away from the profession altogether. When I asked her if she would consider returning she said no, not unless considerable changes and improvements were in place.

As she was speaking about all this, I found myself nodding along in agreement a lot; because of a number of reasons, this is my fourth year in the classroom and I’ve seen some wonderful schools and some terrible schools, so I really do know what is out there.

Yet, the thing that struck me the most was her reaction to the responses she gets when she says she will not continue teaching: she doesn’t get the sympathy nor the commiserations, and she doesn’t get why it’s a big deal. She got me thinking and you know what? She has a point. Hear me out.

In every other profession or job I’ve ever been in, leaving is not a big deal. I mean, sure, if you’ve been in a job for a long time and you have some lovely colleagues they’re bound to miss you and you miss them. However, I’ve lost count of the times in which I’ve seen a post about a teacher fully leaving teaching and being told that changing schools might help (yes, I’m also guilty of this, I will do better): why? Why do we say this? Instead of saying something encouraging, we sort of turn the tables. Look, I know this is the kind of comment made with the best intentions, I do. But it still sounds odd, somehow. Put it in the context of any other form of employment and you’ll see what I mean.

Every job in the world carries a probation period, however long, and teaching is no exception; to be brutally honest, I’ll go one more and say that teacher training, as it stands now, is misleading; the most you teach is about 70% of a full timetable and the responsibility of the classes you teach ultimately rests with the actual teacher so yes, I think misleading is a fair assessment. No, I don’t have a solution and I fully understand why ITT courses are setup the way they are, but they are nevertheless unrealistic. Many people told me that my NQT year would be so much easier than my training year but that was definitely not true for me, or rather, that was far too simplistic a way to put it.

The reality of being in a classroom, in charge of – on a typical five-period day – about 140 or so kids is terrifying and a huge responsibility! And the truth is that we don’t know what that is actually like until we’re well into our NQT year. And the even more obvious truth that sometimes we ignore is that it takes time to try out a job, any job, but especially a complex one as teaching; complex not necessarily because of what we do, which of course is not rocket science as such, but complex because of the constant plate spinning that comes with the job. Someone once compared the skills you need when teaching to the ones you need when driving a car, which is fair enough, except the car is on fire and you’re driving on two wheels on the edge of a precipice. While I can agree that in time things get better, this is true of some aspects of the job, but not all of them; in fact, my argument here is that some get worse as responsibility increases: eventually something has to give to restore balance.

So, with all the respect I might have for Mr Williamson, he’s once again off the mark and appears to operate in a parallel universe where teachers have no lives outside school, no families to worry about, no agency, no voice; quite frankly, no amount of training will ever solve the number of ludicrous loops we make teachers jump through.

While I’d agree that the vast majority of people hold teachers in high esteem – despite all attempts to convince them otherwise from far too many sources – it’s really important that, for at least once, you read the room, Gavin, seriously. If not the room then read the reports the government you belong to commissions. Honestly, we deserve someone who knows what they’re doing.

But, and this is a sizeable but, to me it seems also true that we make a rod for our own back in the way that we view those who choose to leave the profession, for whatever reason. We might not do it willingly or in a way meant to cast doubt, but we still do it and I think we should stop; we should consider the kind of implicit message we might be sending to others who are doubtful of their place in the classroom.

Overall, it feels like we’re very good at recognising the things that make us want to leave teaching, but we often fail to accept that teaching is just like any other job and we should be able to come and go, so to speak, even if training is hard work, even if we give it a proper try but still it doesn’t work out, even if we take as much as two years (as in Hannah’s case) to actually make a decision about it.

We should be able to just leave it or take it as with any other job without the burden of guilt hanging over us because we are left feeling that we didn’t try hard enough.

Ele Crovato

Science Teacher and #TeamTransition Science Lead

On Twitter as @Illwriteitdown

With special thanks to Hannah for her patience and honesty, to Towers for being an awesome school, and to Andy McHugh for bravely hosting this blog.

Remote Teaching and Learning: Dos and Don’ts

remote teaching and learning

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in April 2020.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.

Teachers are getting used to remote working – supporting pupils and families with education during the coronavirus lockdown. Andy McHugh offers some dos and don’ts for teaching staff

Everything has changed. Only last month, we were going about our normal business, walking down jam-packed corridors, peering over students’ exercise books and sitting in close proximity to our colleagues over a cuppa during breaktime.

Most of us had no idea that the world of education would be turned on its head. We moved from having little personal space for several hours a day, to being in isolation (no mention of booths please) during a national coronavirus lockdown.

Yet the world still turns and we are still teaching. Well, sort of. Perhaps not everything has changed, at least not yet.

Without notice, teachers have had to move online. For some, the move has been fairly straightforward. Depending on the school you work in, or your own proficiency in IT, you might already be used to Google Classroom, Class Charts, Education City, Mathletics and the like.

But not all of us are. Not only that, we all use these tools in different ways. This is not necessarily a problem, variety is the spice of life after all. But with a varied education delivery system you will also have variance in the quality of what is provided.

There will inevitably be some ways that tend to work better than others, in most contexts. But at the same time, we need to understand that there are methods of delivery that might be, in most cases, more effective for the students in terms of what they learn.

There are also ways to deliver effective teaching in an efficient way, removing needless workload from teachers, who in many cases are simultaneously looking after their own children.

With this juggling act in mind, I propose a few dos and don’ts regarding working remotely. They are to be adhered to strictly or taken with a pinch of salt – it is completely up to you. Your own context is central here.

Do: Plan the tech as well as the subject content

If you are going to commit to teaching remotely, then you need to have a plan. It is no different to planning a traditional scheme of work, with subject content to cover, regular low-stakes quizzes and summative assessment at the end.

Not only that, you might have to also teach your students how to use the various apps and online platforms where the work will be accessed and submitted. It is all well and good telling students that the work is on Google Classroom, but if they do not know how to submit an assignment, or answer a quiz on a Google Form, then you are wasting your time.

Plan some basic how-to tutorials, or use one of the many walk-throughs that are available online. That way, the new content delivery system will not become a barrier to learning.

Do: Keep it simple

Using technology to teach can be very distracting. Education apps gain extra functionality with each week that ticks by and there are more online platforms than you can shake your mouse at.

It is easy to succumb to “shiny object syndrome” and try to sample them all in your teaching. But this adds unnecessary complexity. Try to stick to one “ecosystem”, be it Google, Microsoft, or whatever. If you must use something subject-specific, such as Mathletics, or Times Tables Rock Stars, then stick to it for a sustained period before you switch to another platform.

One of the major issues faced by parents who want to support their child’s learning is that they tire very quickly of having to remember a dozen log-in details and another dozen ways to navigate the software set by the class teacher.

If you can, try to collaborate across different subjects, so that as many subjects can use the platform. Education City and SAM Learning are popular choices for this very reason, as they house multiple subjects within one system. One log-in to rule them all.

Do: Create or curate an independent learning resource bank

Students who take to remote learning like a duck to water will run out of tasks quicker than you can upload them. They need stretching. With that in mind, create a bank of online (or even offline) resources that will push them beyond the standard tasks you set, encouraging them to broaden and deepen their knowledge.

These resources could be links to specific articles, YouTube videos, banks of exam practice questions, quizzes, or even open-ended tasks that ask students to write in greater detail, but giving them full creative control.

By doing this, you allow students to take greater ownership of their learning and you can push them to take on greater levels of challenge. These tasks must be meaningful though. They should inspire students further, not just take up their free time. Think killer, not filler.

Do: Contact your students

Teaching is a social activity. So to teach remotely can be a little daunting – and not only for the teachers. Students need contact, via whole-class feedback and also on a one-to-one level. Many students need that interaction, not only to guide them, but also to give them the confidence to keep going when they are unsure of the path they have taken.

For many students, the fact that an adult has taken the time to think about their work and given them useful feedback is invaluable. For some students, this might be one of the few positive interactions they have with an adult in their life. Whether teaching online or offline, nothing has changed in that regard.

Don’t: Expect your students to complete five to six hours of work each day

The rigour of the school timetable makes it easier for students to work for five to six hours each day on a range of tasks. After all, they are supervised and have relatively few distractions. Not only that, but their timetable sets out what they should be focusing on during each hour of the day.

Remote learning does not quite work that way. Students can come and go as they please. Not only that, but many students, at this time in particular, are taking on domestic duties while their parents work. Family time is also vital during this worrying period and must be encouraged.

This makes it totally impractical for us to expect the same sort of working patterns that we experience in school.

And while we cannot and should not expect students to work a full “school” day, neither can we expect them to complete a normal school day’s work in one or two hours.

This is an uncomfortable truth for so many of us who have sought to promote “high expectations” as a tried and tested route to success. Right now, we must remember that this is an emergency and we are all doing our best. So accept that delivering the full school curriculum for six hours a day via remote learning is not our goal and is not even feasible.

We must relax our expectations a little and plan to fill in the gaps later on. One union’s advice has been to aim for two to three hours of work each day and then to encourage time for family activities, signpost educational resources, and so on.

Don’t: Respond to emails straight away

Email was never designed to be an instant messenger service. If you treat it like one, then it can become unmanageable. By all means, encourage your students to email you questions. However, it is sometimes useful to set parameters regarding when you will respond to emails.

For example, you might set out to answer all questions within 24 hours, but only between 8am and 6pm on weekdays. Sharing this protocol with students helps them to understand why their query sent on Friday night at 8pm did not get answered until Monday morning at 10am.

You, the teacher, will not feel guilty about not answering and the student will not have watched their inbox for 72 hours straight.

If you do want to operate an instant response type of service – perhaps a trouble-shooting or FAQs session – then schedule a time with students when they know you will be available on your school email or via the school learning platform to answer queries. That way, you and your inbox will not be overburdened.

Remember, union advice is to never use your personal email, social media or instant messaging services with students – stick to school email or other school communication systems so that all is recorded and safeguarding requirements satisfied.

Don’t: Put off learning new ways of working

There is something terrifying and exciting about having to work in a completely new way. As teachers, we get used to our favourite ways of doing things. But sometimes we work harder than we should. By using technological tools, we can reduce planning through collaborating, live on a single document, with colleagues. We can generate and duplicate materials with very little effort. We can create self-marking quizzes that even give specific feedback. But most of us have not done it before. At least not yet. So, here is your chance. Do what your own teachers told you to do. Keep pushing yourself – in that sense, nothing has changed.

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

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.

Student Presentations: Are They Useful?

student presentations

In all my years of teaching, I’ve rarely come across students who were naturally ‘good’ at presenting. In theory, student presentations should demonstrate knowledge of their chosen topic. But too often the breadth of knowledge or depth of understanding fails to show what was supposed to have been learnt. In this post, I’ve put together some of the tips I’ve given to my students so that they can show a greater level of knowledge and understanding and thus raise their level of attainment.

Why are student presentations so important?

Recently on Twitter, there has been a huge increase in the number of teachers arguing over whether the teacher or the students should be in control over the learning that takes place. I freely admit to having mixed views on this, despite identifying primarily as a “Trad”. (You can read an excellent article on the distinction between Traditional and Progressive teaching by @teacherhead (Tom Sherrington) here.) In my opinion, the teacher should be the one who teaches. After all, we’ve studied educational theory, have greater experience of what constitutes excellent answers and we are experts in our own subject areas. Not that students can’t contribute themselves of course!

Ultimately though, it is the primary responsibility of the teacher to ensure that students learn. If teachers can pass on that torch to students, then that is a fantastic achievement. However, to place the onus of learning primarily on our students could be disastrous. Too often, they simply aren’t equipped with the skills required to bear that responsibility.

However, at some point, students have to be able to take ownership of their learning to some degree. That way, they develop their skills in learning how to learn, which is an excellent life skill. Not only that, but it is a natural way for students to stretch themselves and demonstrate a greater degree of independent learning. An excellent method to enable this is for students is to research, learn and present to the rest of the class.

What are student presentations for?

I use student presentations in three different ways:

  1. Summative assessment at the end of a unit
  2. Formative assessment in order to plan next steps for the class or for individuals
  3. As a Flipped Learning technique, in order to bridge the gap between two lessons

Summative Assessment

Using student presentations to demonstrate the extent of understanding, as opposed to an exam, can be very beneficial. Firstly, the students get to show everything that they know, rather than being constrained by a specific exam question, as they would get in an essay. There are some excellent advantages to this.

Firstly, the students will demonstrate all of the areas that they are knowledgeable about. This is beneficial for the student, as they get to show off what they have made progress on throughout the course. In addition, they will always have learnt something, even if only a little. This has the benefit of allowing even those who have learnt only a little to feel as though they can contribute meaningfully to the lesson.

Secondly, presentations allow for the practice and demonstration of skills beyond being able to read and write. Some students feel much more comfortable presenting their ideas verbally than they do via a written format. In my experience, this is even more pronounced in students whose written skills are significantly hampered by poor spelling, punctuation and grammar. Low levels of literacy can sometimes hide a depth of understanding of subject content.

Thirdly, when students present to the class, the teacher can assess the standard of response without having to mark a pile of books, essays or portfolios. This can also be a huge advantage, particularly for teachers who, by the nature of their subject areas or Key Stages, can be swamped with the amount of written feedback they are expected to give. Presentations can and should still be assessed, rather than just listened to, but the feedback can be written or checked off a list as the presenter speaks, thus reducing workload and avoids the need to take marking home.

Formative assessment

I often give students the opportunity to present, as opposed to writing an essay, part way through a unit. This is to see what standard their knowledge and understanding is at before I continue teaching the remainder of the course. As a teacher, it allows me to plan much for effectively, making sure that my lessons are more relevant to the needs of the class.

When my students present well, they highlight to me not only what I have taught well, but also the extent to which I have challenged them. In contrast, when students do not present well, it can be a sign that I have not explained concepts to them in a clear enough way, or that they need additional support regarding specific topic areas. Either way, my teaching and their learning both improve in the immediate aftermath.

Flipped Learning

As I’ve written about in the past, Flipped Learning is an excellent way to develop independence in our students. Student presentations which follow the Flipped Learning principle of independent research, prior to the lesson, are invaluable. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate maturity and a willingness to stretch themselves beyond the classroom. It also allows for lower-order skills such as information gathering to be undertaken, where the presence of an expert is not needed as often. In the lesson that follows, more time can be given over to higher-order skills of analysis and evaluation. Here, the presence of an expert is often much more necessary.

Who benefits most from student presentations?

Obviously, the students who have learnt and prepared the material will make progress in their level of knowledge and understanding. But do other students benefit from watching students presentations?

It depends. (And this is where you as the teacher come in.)

The evidence that students learn well from others is not conclusive. However, this is not necessarily because presentations are a ‘bad’ way to teach. Rather, the quality or the nature of student presentations, as opposed to teacher presentations, may be found wanting. Having observed students present in my classes and in other subjects too, I’ve compiled a number of tips that I now give to my students, each time they present to their peers, to help to ensure maximal quality.

What students should avoid when presenting

Students often rely too much on the written word and this often impacts negatively on what they present visually to the class. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a PowerPoint slide covered in text. Not only is this difficult to read, in terms of the size of the font used, but it also distracts the audience from listening to the presenter.

Another reason why students shouldn’t place much text on their slides (if slides or their equivalents are used), is that they can have a tendency to just read them out to the class. This too can be not only distracting but can leave the audience feeling as though listening is a waste of time. After all, they can read for themselves at their own pace.

Many students will also spend a disproportionate amount of time making the visual appeal of their presentation fantastic, but at the expense of providing real value to the listener. The point of the presentation isn’t to show off design skills. The visual appeal should really just be “clean and clear”, so as no to distract from the content.

Tips for student presentations

  • Focus on your verbal presentation rather than relying on the written text on your presentation screen. Make it a speech, rather than pointing to what you have written. Otherwise, the audience will keep shifting their attention from the speaker to the screen and back again, ultimately focusing on neither.
  • Use images on your slides (if you even use ‘slides’) instead of text. A symbolic image can be far more thought-provoking than a paragraph or a set of bullet points.
  • If you absolutely must have text on the screen, then limit it to three bullet points. If you can’t limit it to three, then split the ideas across more slides.
  • Provide a detailed handout to the class at the end of the presentation, so that any points that went unnoticed by the audience can be addressed and taken away to be studied further.
  • Have at least one ‘scriptless’ section, where the content of the presentation has been memorised. (This is mainly for those students who are more comfortable with presenting, or who have a greater depth and/or breadth of subject knowledge.)
  • Allow for Q&A at the end of the presentation, so that any students who want points to be clarified can have their questions answered. This is also beneficial for the presenter, who will then be able to demonstrate subject knowledge that they hadn’t thought to put into the original presentation.

Final thoughts…

I firmly believe that by following the tips outlined above, students can create excellent presentations. As always, I welcome critical argument of anything I’ve written and I would love to know if you give similar or different tips to your own students. Just leave a comment or tweet me (@guruteaching) and I’ll get right back to you!

 

You can follow me on Twitter and now on Pinterest too.

And don’t forget to SHARE this with any teachers you think would find it useful.

Andy

%d bloggers like this: