Creating the Right Climate for Learning

creating the right climate for learning

Creating the Right Climate for Learning

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in June 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.

Sometimes it does not matter what you have planned, you just know it is going to go badly because of the actions of a noisy minority in the room. Every teacher faces – or has faced this – in their time, but some with more success than others. And it is particularly daunting for those new to the profession.

So what is the secret? How do some teachers manage the behaviour of challenging students with an effortless air, while others flounder just getting them to pick up a pen? In this article, I propose that it is all about creating the right climate for learning.

The right climate for learning means having a culture within the classroom, where the students are less tempted to behave badly and where they value positive behaviour. This can be done via carrot, or stick.

I prefer using a balance of both, but with one simple addition: responsibility.

Students with a sense of responsibility for their actions do not need carrots or sticks. They see the value in behaving well for the long-term. They see the positive influence they can exert on others and they value it for its own sake, not just for a reward, or out of fear of punishment.

This all sounds perfect, right? But how do we get there? Well, the answer is not always straightforward.

Proactive strategies

It is vital to put the work into establishing a positive environment, or ‘climate for learning’. Setting out high expectations, with the reasons behind those expectations being properly explained pays dividends. If the students know, from the off, that good behaviour benefits them personally, they are much less likely to deviate from it.

Play the long game

Remember: Rome was not built in a day. Students often think short-term. They look for quick wins. Teachers should not. They are in it for the long-haul and should be looking to develop positive relationships over time. You cannot expect to be able to fix all behavioural issues on the spot.

Apart from anything else, students often do not want to engage in-the-moment and so any attempt to fix the problem there and then is futile.

The cost in time of this approach for teachers can be expensive in the short-term. However, it usually pays off handsomely, especially when the students begin to see that you are not willing to give up on developing positive relationships. After all, some of them are disruptive because of this lack of positive relationships outside of school in their home lives.

Routines, routines, routines

One of the most important things you can control (and remember, you cannot control everything) is classroom routines. I find that it is really useful to structure lessons in this order, every lesson:

  • Present information.
  • Question the students.
  • Students create something in response to demonstrate understanding.
  • Check students’ understanding.
  • Give feedback.
  • Students respond to feedback,
  • Check responses to feedback.

This structure can be adapted to suit the needs of the class or the nature of the topic, but frequently using such a structure, where students know, each lesson, what is coming next, can help them. Many students crave structure in their daily lives or find it hard to operate outside of one. Nobody loses out with this strategy.

Clarity and consistency and fairness

When implementing your behaviour policy, be it whole school, departmental or your personal code of conduct, be consistent. If students know that when they do A, then B will certainly follow, they will often pause for thought. This can be enough to deter most disruption in most classrooms and maintains a positive climate for learning.

The key, though, is ensuring that the steps used to resolve disruption are seen as fair. This may require an explanation from you when you first begin to teach the group, followed by regular referrals back to these steps.

But, it will keep the students on “your side” if you have to address one of them calling you out as “unfair” when all you have done is maintain the rules that you promised to maintain in everyone’s best interests.

‘Don’t smile until Christmas’

I remember someone telling me this when I first trained back in 2005. I am sure they meant well and it might even work for some teachers, but it was not for me. I still hear it from some teachers today, but I think (hopefully) it is said with a little more nuance.

The point, I think, is to maintain a “professional” exterior. This might involve keeping a straight face more often than you normally would, hence the imperative “don’t smile”.

But this is no mean feat. After all, did we not get into teaching, partly because of the unpredictable nature of the children themselves? It is worth asking more experienced staff for their funniest anecdotes, where they somehow kept a straight face despite the hilarious situation they found themselves in (or even the times when they did not manage it).

Reactive strategies

Sometimes, no matter what conditions you lay down in your classroom, students will break rules, have a bad day, or succumb to the stresses of life. At this point, there are timeless and practical tactics you can employ. Use them repeatedly for maximum impact.

Take the heat out of the situation

Disruptive behaviour has a myriad of origins. Sometimes students come in with an axe to grind and are looking for a confrontation. At other times, they might feel unfairly treated and are not particularly resilient because of other influences beyond their control.

Or, they may want to chat at the back and do not care if it annoys the teacher, as in reality, they are just showing off to their peers.

Any attempt to “confront” these students could end up in a stand-off, that you as a teacher might lose. We all know of teachers who have lost such a stand-off. It can do terrible harm to reputations, destroy the climate for learning and it makes future behaviour issues even more difficult to address, as the authority is lost.

One method to get around the stand-off is to politely and with a smile, invite them for a quick chat in the corridor. This takes them away from the gallery they are playing to. Once you have their full attention you can spend time getting to the root of the issue without them losing face. Be patient and seek to understand them – they will appreciate you for it (eventually).

Contact parents (do it before you think you need to)

Parents do not want to receive a surprise call about their son or daughter’s behaviour. Not only does it give them little chance to respond to the issue thoughtfully, but they will often go on the defensive. This is not useful for the parent, the teacher, or the child, as it just kicks the problem further down the lane, to be dealt with later on (possibly too late). If you see that a particular student might be prone to disruptive behaviour, then a quick five-minute telephone call to a parent/carer might be enough to put the brakes on.

Students invariably behave better when they know parents and teachers are working in tandem and are in frequent contact with each other. “Praise calls” to parents can also be an excellent way to develop that rapport that you may need to call upon later on, when the telephone call might not be so positive.

Identify the key players

In any classroom, there are some individual students who can change the general atmosphere. Identify them and pay particular attention to the way they enter the room at the beginning of the lesson.

This might seem as though I am advocating pandering to certain students, but I am not. Sometimes, it is easier to deal with whole-class behaviour when one or two influential peers are already playing by your rules.

As they enter, quietly ask them about their day, or give them a simple physical task that they cannot help but succeed in, e.g. giving out the books.

If they know you care, they might not see you as part of their “problem” that day. Sometimes, giving them a quick psychological win can act as a catalyst for further positive behaviour, which in turn influences others too.

Over time, this simple act can build positive relationships, that require less and less effort on your part to maintain.

Observe other teachers

It seems obvious when looking for good behaviour managers that you would seek out experienced teachers first. This is indeed useful, as it can give you a glimpse of your future self. However, part of the reason why students can misbehave for NQTs is precisely because you are an NQT. Teachers new to the school do not have that reputation, those relationships, or (sometimes) that sense of gravitas, that years in the classroom brings. As such, you would be much better off watching a fellow NQT manage disruption. After all, they are truly in your shoes. If they can do it, then so can you! And if they struggle, can you work together to develop strategies and support one another?

Conclusion

You should view behaviour management as a career-long professional skill that you will continue to develop as you gain experience. Be fair, consistent and maintain high standards. Over time, this builds positive reputations and ultimately relationships, creating the right climate for learning. It is hard-won, but well worth the battle.

Ideas for Stretch and Challenge in KS3

Ideas for Stretch and Challenge in KS3

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in May 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.

In my best lessons, all of my students are pushed to their limits. This can be academically, socially or even physically. To aim for anything else is to entirely miss the point of education.

The trouble is though, “teaching to the top” can be difficult to do, both from a planning viewpoint – how can I really challenge my most able students? – and from a workload viewpoint – how can I find the time to consistently plan a range of activities for all abilities, let alone teach them and then give meaningful feedback?

Add into the mix that at key stage 3 particularly, students are more often taught in mixed attainment classes; this alone can make differentiation seem like an impossible task. Even more so if you were to succumb to the all-too-common pressure that teachers place on themselves to do their absolute best for every child, regardless of the cost to their own wellbeing.

Then there is the total lack of imagination shown by many resource-creators in the education sector, who have tied their activities purely to exam board criteria. This is pointless. I do not just want my students to be good at exams. It leaves them with an impoverished curriculum and often just an arbitrary set of facts. Instead, I want them to flourish in my subject and become experts who answer with deep knowledge, flair and creativity, irrespective of which exam they eventually sit.

However, because there are hundreds of fantastic ways to differentiate, simply figuring out what is “best” can leave me with analysis-paralysis for hours, days or even weeks!

Well, no more. Having tried and tested many techniques myself, I have (for now) settled on a few that strike the balance between pushing students to their limits as well as being sustainable in the sense of the workload they create. They combine rigour, depth and that controversial and emotionally loaded word “engagement”, allowing students to push boundaries in a positive way.

There is no “best” way overall, but there are ways that consistently work well. So, below is my curated list of excellent ways to stretch and challenge at key stage 3.

Activity 1: Scenario questions

Everyone loves a story. So when your task involves the students as decision-makers in a scenario, they immerse themselves in much more creative answers than they might otherwise come up with.

They are able to see alternative points of view a little more clearly and this helps them to add weight to analysis and evaluation in their arguments. More importantly than that, the students begin to see the world from beyond their own perspective, something that we as adults forget to do now and again.

Scenario tasks work best when students have already learnt something about the topic. In religious studies, this could be an ethical theory on how to behave. In Geography, it could be the effects of movement in tectonic plates. In Physics it could be how different forces act on a given object. In Art, it could be the rules of a given style, such as Cubism. In Maths, it could be diameter, area and volume.

Once students have learnt the basics, they are then given a scenario which requires them to make decisions – where not only do they apply their knowledge, but they also have to justify why they chose a certain option over a different one.

Combining this application with evaluation can really test the abilities of students. They need to not only show their understanding, but to become more confident decision-makers and advocates for a certain argument or approach in the process.

Possible scenarios might include:

  • Create a bird’s-eye-view layout of a theme park, using pre-selected 2D shapes of a given size, placed inside a strict perimeter.
  • Design and build a bridge out of straws strong enough to carry the weight of an egg.
  • After reading profiles of 10 characters, each with positive and negative attributes, decide who to throw out of the lifeboat to prevent it sinking!
  • Write a one-minute piece of music to inspire a seven-year-old child to dance.
  • Write an emergency news bulletin in response to a natural disaster, giving important practical advice on what local people should do.

Students then have to present their designs and decisions, justifying not only why they chose them, but also why they did not choose the alternatives. They should then be encouraged to critique their own and each other’s decisions, which will add further depth to their understanding of the judgements made.

Activity 2: The ultimate question – what difference does it make?

When I am coming towards the end of a topic, I usually pose the following question to my students: “What difference does it make?”

An alternative version is “why should you care?” (although this can come across a little sarcastic!). I ask this question to give students the opportunity to see where this topic sits in the broader context.

For example, in Religious Studies, you might be teaching the topic of “pilgrimage”. Students would learn how people of different faiths go on pilgrimage and what the similarities and differences are between their experiences. The question “what difference does it make?” prompts the students to go beyond describing and explaining pilgrimages, to evaluating their purpose.

The question gets them to explore not why people go on pilgrimage, but how it can change them. It can also provoke other questions like “Why might pilgrimages be seen as pointless in the 21st century?” or “Can you be a proper Christian/Jew/Muslim if you have never been on a pilgrimage?”

All in all, this one question can be an excellent way to get your students to evaluate the topic and to go beyond what they have studied so far.

Activity 3: Essay rebuilding

Many of my higher attaining students find writing essays no trouble at all, once they have been given the information they need.

However, they often create formulaic answers, which do not really show the depth of their knowledge or show the versatility of their arguing skills that are often evident in verbal questioning during the lesson.

I have a solution to this. It demonstrates on paper just how nimble students’ arguments are and how well they really know their stuff.

  1. Take a pre-written, non-perfect answer (pinch one from last year’s students or write one yourself if you must).
  2. Cut it into strips. The more strips there are, the greater the challenge.
  3. Hand over the randomly sorted strips to a team of students, who then have to re-assemble the essay in the correct order.
  4. Students stick the essay pieces in order, onto a larger sheet of paper (A3 is good, but the bigger, the better).
  5. Finally, they annotate around the edges of the essay, evaluating and judging the quality of the individual pieces (e.g. “strong argument because…”, or “this needs evidence to prove xxx here”, etc).
  6. Once they have finished, invite another student or a team of students to critique the newly rebuilt essay. They can then add their own evaluative judgements on the order of the pieces and on any feedback that the first team missed.
  7. To add further challenge, teams of students can be pitted against each other to re-assemble the same essay. The quality of debate held by the students – who do not want to lose the race or get it wrong – is phenomenal.
  8. Finally, students present their decisions to the class, explaining their rationales and suggesting how the essay should really have been written.

Now over to you…

In the end, stretch and challenge is about showing students that there is more that they can do. Even the simple act of showing them that more is possible is often enough for students to permit themselves to try and go that little bit further.

So why not try one of these simple strategies today? Go on, stretch and challenge yourself. You know you can.

Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

Effective Classroom Questioning Strategies

This article was written for SecEd magazine and first published in January 2019.  You can read the original version on the SecEd website here.  

Earlier in my career, I used to ask all of the wrong questions and when I asked the right ones, I asked them in the wrong order. The result was predictably bleak. My students still learned, but at times it took far longer than it should have done and in some cases, very little learning happened at all. This was down to me (most of the time).

I’m sure that most of us have felt guilty for letting our students down when we’ve taught a lesson that just didn’t do what we wanted it to do. But rather than spend time navel-gazing, it’s important that we instead address one of the most fundamental parts of our teaching. No, not the worksheets, or the PowerPoints, or even the homework. It’s our questioning. It’s easy to think that we’ve got our craft down to an art. But is questioning more of a science?

In my own experience, asking the right questions at the right time, to the right people, in the right way, is often what transforms a lesson from mediocre to truly excellent. Not only that, but there’s a way to do it well and with consistency, without your students tiring of formulaic lessons.

What’s the purpose of asking questions?

There are many reasons why we ask questions in class, whether it’s to check the level of understanding, stretch answers further, or to help develop confidence in our quieter students. A key component to effective questioning, though, is identifying why you are asking the question in the first place.

This is where “planning for questions” comes in. When I plan a topic, I always begin by deciding what my students need to know by the end and what skills I want them to be able to demonstrate. Only then can I decide which questions are more important than others. For example, in Religious Studies, I teach the nature of religious experience and how far it proves the existence of an afterlife. In order to teach this, I need students to be able to answer questions such as:

  • What defines a religious experience?
  • What are the different types of religious experience?
  • What common features do different types of religious experiences have?
  • How do religious experiences manifest themselves in different religions and cultures?
  • Why do people believe that religious experiences are convincing as evidence for an afterlife?
  • Why do people believe that religious experiences are not convincing as evidence for an afterlife?
  • How convincing is religious experience as an explanation for an afterlife?
  • How far does a belief in religious experiences impact the lives of believers?

Each question is designed to build upon the knowledge and skills that were learnt and developed in response to the previous question. By the end, I can be much more certain that students have an excellent understanding of the topic. Moreover, if a student was unable to answer a specific question, I’d easily be able to identify the reason for it, just by working through the previous questions, to see where they began to struggle.

What About Higher-Order vs Lower-Order Questions?

In the past, it was argued by some that higher-order questions, which require students to analyse and evaluate, were more important than lower-order questions, which simply sought to develop a basic understanding.

This is wrong.

Without first establishing a basic level of understanding of the main points, it’s pointless to ask the higher-order questions. After all, you can’t evaluate the persuasiveness of religious experience, without first knowing the key features, which you then need to critically analyse. All students need to master those basics, regardless of their prior attainment or levels of ability, before they move on to more complex analysis and evaluation. Knowledge comes first: you can’t apply skills in a vacuum.

That being said, higher-order questions can make a huge difference to students who would otherwise give simplistic and short answers. The question “Was the Treaty of Versailles significant in causing the Second World War?” elicits a much simpler response than “How significant was the Treaty of Versailles in causing the Second World War?” Students who would give a brief yes/no response to the first question would have to justify and evaluate their reasoning in answer to the second question.

What difference does effective questioning make?

Effective questioning, if viewed as part of a feedback dialogue between the teacher and the students, adds as much as the equivalent of eight months worth of teaching to students receiving it. This is according to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Toolkit and you can read more on it here. In my own experience as a classroom teacher, effective questioning makes a huge difference. Not only to the quality of teaching and learning, but it also cuts out activities that don’t contribute to the true purpose of the lesson or topic being learnt. Consequently, effective questioning reduces unnecessary workload – the Holy Grail in teaching today!

How should the questions be asked?

When asking questions, it’s important that you give your students time to think before answering. One way to do this is to give them some key questions in advance, either on the board or on a worksheet. Whether you do this or not, you should always wait for an answer, even if it means creating an uncomfortable silence for a few extra seconds. We can often be guilty of jumping in too soon if a student doesn’t answer. But this can be detrimental as it allows students to effectively opt-out of answering if they know you’ll do it for them. Instead, if you really have to, try rephrasing the question and ask something specific about part of the answer you want them to give. By narrowing your question in this way, a confused student might be able to give a more confident answer. From there, you can then ask a follow-up question which builds on what they have already said.

The follow-up question could also be asked to a different student, to keep the rest of the class on their toes. The popular strategy of “pose, pause, pounce, bounce” is a really simple and powerful questioning tool, which you and your students will find increasingly effective the more often you use it. First, pose the question to the class, then pause, allowing the class to think of their response. After this you “pounce” and ask a specific student for their answer. You can then “bounce” to another student to answer a follow-up question.

What about those students who still don’t answer?

Some students just don’t want to answer questions in front of their peers. More often than not it’s a confidence issue. It’s easy to just let these students live an easy life. However, for these students to thrive over the long-term, it’s vital that you keep asking them questions, rather than leaving them out. Ask them simple questions to get them used to speaking in front of others. The lower the stakes, the more they will feel they can answer without the crippling fear of getting it wrong in front of others. Over time (this could be weeks or even months), gradually ask them more challenging questions as their confidence grows.

How much time should you spend on questioning in your lessons?

As much time as possible!

I’ve found over the years, that students perform much better when they’ve spent a significant amount of time answering and debating the answers to questions during the lesson. Having a range of different answers helps them to develop their own understanding, particularly of complex topics and gives them models to base their own answers on. It’s also an incredible way to build engagement in the lesson, as students feel as though they have some ownership over the direction of the lesson and are able to “try out” their answers before committing them to paper in high-stakes assessments, where it really counts.

Effective classroom questioning strategies are the lifeblood of many of the most engaging and thought-provoking lessons I’ve taught and observed. If I focus on nothing else but this, my students will receive an enriching curriculum that stimulates and challenges them. Oh, and they’ll also be well-prepared for the rigour of their exams (after all, that’s quite important too).

Any questions?

I hope so!

Becoming A Research-Informed Teacher

research-informed teaching

Becoming Research-Informed

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).

[Contains affiliate links]

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).

That’s all.

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.

Andy

P.S. You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

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

high ability students

Guest Post by Stephanie Anne Dudley

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

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

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

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

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

So what has changed?

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

Why the push?

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

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

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

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

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

9 top tips for teaching high ability students

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

1. Thinking Hard Strategies

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

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

2. IRIS Connect

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

3. Bibles

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

4. Tuition

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

5. High ability subject entitlement

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

6. Having great expectations

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

7. Exam specialists from AQA

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

8. Less writing, more talking

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

9. Boys

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

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

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

As Del Boy says:

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

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

Yet.

References:

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

Author Bio:

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

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