Teaching: Leading Learning at #TLT16

I have always been interested in leadership, probably even before I started teaching. I’ve always been an organiser, and I’ve enjoyed getting people involved in a project and seeing it through to realisation. As a teacher, I was quick to take on extra: I took on my first responsibility after two years; I was second in English after three; I was Head of English after five. I truth, that last jump was probably two years too soon, but I learned an awful lot from my mistakes in those two years!

I started this blog in December 2012 to share my experiences of senior leadership as a Deputy Head. I called it Teaching: Leading Learning without hesitation. The name of the blog stems from the long held belief that teaching is itself a leadership role, and that if you teach well you already have the skillset of an effective leader. In my session at #TLT16 I set out to explore how my experience as a teacher has prepared me for Headship, and the lessons my experience as a new Headteacher has for teachers.

Leadership behaviours in teaching

leadershipbehaviours

Going through the now defunct Leading From the Middle, several home-grown leadership development courses and, more recently, NPQH, I’ve read a lot about different leadership styles and behaviours. It’s interesting to look beyond education and think about business models of leadership, and whether they have relevance to us in the public sector. Hence my plundering of Zenger Folkman’s generous free-to-access resource library, where I found the “Top 9 Leadership Behaviours That Drive Employee Commitment.” They are:

  1. Inspire and motivate others
  2. Drive for results
  3. Strategic perspective
  4. Collaboration
  5. Walk the talk
  6. Trust
  7. Develops and supports others
  8. Building relationships
  9. Courage

These are qualities that have relevance to educational leadership but also, clearly, to classroom teaching.

Inspire and motivate others

This is clearly the role of the leader: to bring people with you on the journey. And it is the role of the classroom teacher too. To spark the interest of your learners, to get the best out of them, and to do your best to make sure that they want to do their best too.

Drive for results

We’re in an outcomes business, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Results bring choice, raise aspiration and open doors. It’s the role of the school leader to evaluate every initiative, intervention and idea in terms of its impact on results, stopping the things that don’t help and doing the things that do. It’s the same for the classroom teacher. We must ask ourselves: what can I do that will make the biggest difference to the students’ outcomes?

Strategic perspective

Stonemason

Why do you do what you do? (source)

The leader’s role is to hold and share the vision, based on core values, and align everything in the organisation towards achieving that vision. The teacher’s role is the same: to know how this activity fits into this lesson, which fits into this week, which fits into this scheme of learning, which fits into the long term plan, which contributes to this young person’s experience of this subject across their schooling, which shapes the adult they will become. Where does what you are doing today fit into the bigger picture? Think about how this ten-minute activity contributes to the cathedral that you are building.

Collaboration

Geese

Leadership lessons from geese (source)

A leader doesn’t fly solo. The leader is part of a team. We achieve what we achieve together. And we recognise that we can’t know and do it all, so we call in help, advice and support when we need it. The teacher is no different. The class must work together – the culture must be right. And, when it’s needed, it is a sign of strength in the teacher to seek help, advice and support.

Walk the talk

We all know of inauthentic leaders who don’t walk the talk. Words are hollow and empty when leaders are dishonest or do not act with integrity. Classrooms work the same way. When you say you’ll read their work, you have to read it. The students’ faith in you comes from you modelling the behaviours that you expect.

Trust

This comes from walking the talk. Trust is built over time by leaders who look, listen and learn, leading to an understanding of the issues facing those you lead. Then, it comes from actions rooted in integrity, with a clear and transparent rationale consistent with the vision and values you espouse. The same with the classroom teacher. If you say something is going to happen, it happens. You don’t let your students down. You are consistent, constant, reliable. You win their trust.

Develop and support others

headstanrads

The National standards of excellence for headteachers, Domain Two, standard 5, says that excellent headteachers will:

Identify emerging talents, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning.

This is a vital part of any leader’s role, but the process of developing and supporting others is what a teacher does. It is the job.

Building relationships

Relationships lead to trust. This is how things get done – not by ordering people around, but by building relationships with colleagues which bring about commitment to the shared enterprise. Am I talking about leadership? Or teaching? Or both?

Courage

 

typorama

Mark Twain: always good for a quote

Joanna Postlethwaite put me on to this quotation in her “Head in Heels” session at #WomenEd. It’s a different take on the “do the hard things first” I’ve used before, and it’s about not shying away from the most difficult tasks. If challenging situations aren’t grasped and resolved, they will fester. If you don’t eat that frog now, it’ll grow – and then you’ll never be able to stomach it. The same in your classroom – whatever you tolerate, that’s where your expectations sit. If there’s a problem, tackle it. Don’t let things go, or you’ll struggle to get them back.

Spheres of influence

spheresofinfluence

In leadership, and in teaching, it pays to focus your attention where you will have the most influence. In both cases, this is the inner two circles in the diagram above: the areas where you have complete control, and the area where you have direct influence. You can’t control everything. But what you will find is that, if you are outward facing and focused on outcomes, the energy you are expending on the inner two circles will have an influence on the third. And the third, on the fourth. What you’re doing with your students in your classroom matters. What you’re doing with your team in your department matters. What I’m doing with my school matters. We all influence one another. We all matter.

 Download the slides from my #TLT16 session here (Dropbox link)

 

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#HeForShe Education Pledge: No Haters


A year ago I published my post #HeForShe, or I am a feminist to affirm my commitment to gender equality publicly. Since that time I have kept to the movement’s four core commitments, to:

  1. Express zero tolerance for discrimination and violence against women and girls
  2. Believe in equal access to social, political and economic opportunities
  3. Understand that taking a stand for women and girls is taking a stand for humanity
  4. Speak up when you see physical, emotional or sexual harassment


I’ve also been inspired over the past year by the growth of WomenEd and other movements such as the Leading Women’s Alliance, Token Man, This Girl Can, and others. It was a catch up on the WomenEd Yammer and StaffRm threads that led me back to the #HeForShe Education page and their suggestions for action that I can take to help further gender equality in my field. 

#HeForShe makes three suggestions under their Be The Change banner: 

  1. That’s not okay: What does it mean to act “like a girl” or “like a man”? Call out gender-biased language from students and teachers alike. Ask the speaker to think about how these comments reinforce gender stereotypes.
  2. No Haters: Online bullies want your silence. Enlist your friends and followers to send messages of support to victims of social media trolling. You’ll help turn the internet into a safe space for everyone.
  3. Teach a teacher: Empower educators to create equality in the classroom. Get the UNESCO Guide for Gender Equality in Teacher Education Policy and Practices, a step-by-step guide for including gender equality issues in teacher training.


These are all great commitments, and I am happy to enact them all. However, I was particularly struck by the No Haters commitment as a really positive step that I can do more to affirm. I see a lot of negative behaviour on Twitter and in other online spaces. There seems to be an increasing proportion of educators who spend their time scanning their timelines for ideas they can attack, criticise, take down, or belittle. They are always ready to say “that won’t work” or “you shouldn’t do that” or “you are wrong.” And these people fall on both sides of the traditional/progressive divide. If you teach at Michaela and share your practice online, it’s time to batten down the hatches for the “you’re damaging children” onslaught – when they quite clearly care very, very deeply about the children they teach. Similarly, if you dare to suggest that an open ended creative project might be a good idea, or that children should enjoy their learning, there are those who are only too ready to tell you that you’re wasting your time. I don’t get involved in these threads too often, as I swear by “don’t feed the trolls” in the online sphere, but I always feel that I’m not really honoring my “no bystanders” commitment to speak up when I see harassment occurring. 


What I do know, however, that it stops people from sharing their practice online. I know it, because it’s stopped me. I am a straight white cisgendered male Headteacher, educated at an all-boys independent school and Oxford, which pretty much fills my privilege and entitlement bingo card. Yet I know that there are tweets I’ve written and deleted, articles I’ve read and saved, but not shared, and blog posts I’ve thought about and shelved, because I was nervous about the reaction. Because I didn’t want the hassle. Because it affects me personally when people are horrible to me – online or IRL. If that is my experience, with my full house of privilege and entitlement, how stifling could the gladiatorial atmosphere of edu-Twitter be to others?

For me, Twitter and blogging should be about sharing practice and discussing ideas, without fear. In that way, it should be like my classroom. Everyone in my classroom should have the confidence to venture their tentative, half-formed idea, to think it through with the help of their supportive classmates who will add to, build on and develop that tiny seed, to see if it could grow into something stronger and more robust. The critique and advice my students receive from me and their peers helps them improve. I would not tolerate someone belittling and ridiculing their idea – and to belittle and ridicule the student themselves would be a really serious matter. On Twitter we are dealing with grown adults, professionals even, and I can’t send them out or put them in detention – I’m not the Twitter police. So instead I send messages of support to those I see being attacked. Not necessarily in the public sphere – I’m still not in the business of feeding the trolls, and I don’t want to add fuel to the flame war – but to make the Internet a safer space. To thank them for sharing their ideas. To let them know that there is positivity and humanity online, and to try and build a constructive web. 

Above all, it’s important to remember that nobody got into teaching to try to and damage the children, to make them less smart, to stop them learning. We’re all in this to do our best. So let’s help one another, not tear each other down. 

My First Lesson

Today I saw the new batch of PGCE students on their first day in our school. It’s always great to see the latest generation of teachers taking their first steps to join our great profession – especially now, when so much of the public narrative is around the challenges and problems we are facing. It gives me hope! It also reminds me of my first steps into teaching, and drove me back to my old PGCE files to recall my first lesson.

This is what I looked like in 1996. There's no excuse, really, is there?

This is what I looked like in 1996. It’s hard to know where to start. The outfit? The hair? The unfocused gaze? There’s no excuse, really, is there?

My secondary English PGCE course began with a compulsory two-week primary experience. I still think this is a brilliant idea; the more we can do to establish cross-phase thinking the better, and where better to start than right at the beginning?

My Primary School Experience Journal

My Primary School Experience Journal

I was sent to a primary school on the outskirts of Nottingham with Vicky, another secondary English student, and attached to a mixed Year 5/6 class. I had all sorts of  tasks to do: observing a pupil, observing a task, investigating equal opportunities and so on, before I got started on some small group work. I remember helping the class teacher hand-crank the Banda machine to get my worksheets off to do some technical accuracy work with a group of six hand-picked students. Here’s my crib sheet…

Hand-cranked worksheet in Banda-purple with red pen annotations

Hand-cranked worksheet in Banda-purple with red pen annotations

And then, in the last days, time to take the whole class. I was going to get them to do some creative writing based on a piece of music. I cranked the Banda machine, I planned my lesson with the class teacher, I psyched myself up. Then, the class teacher stepped out. It was over to me.

Worksheet from my first ever full-class lesson

Worksheet from my first ever full-class lesson

I don’t remember much about the lesson, if I’m honest. What I do remember – what I’ll never forget – was the debrief with the teacher afterwards. “How do you think it went?” she asked, kindly. “It was okay…” I said, hesitantly. “And were you comfortable with the noise level?” she asked. A sure sign of a skilful teacher: giving me the opportunity to learn from failure and improve. Here’s what I wrote in my evaluation:

Evaluation of my first lesson

Evaluation of my first lesson

  • Lesson 1: experienced teachers make it look “deceptively easy.” The children listen, attentively, and do as instructed without question. This does not happen without a lot of ground work!
  • Lesson 2: don’t rush. Establish the ground rules. Explain the task carefully. Take your time!
  • Lesson 3: model the behaviour you want to see. The way you are is reflected back at you in the behaviour of the children. If you’re unsettled and anxious, they will be too.
  • Lesson 4: evaluate your practice. Go back and have another go, working on what didn’t go well the first time. It gets better.

My primary school experience journal ended with a series of reflection tasks. The final question was: “How do you now see yourself as a beginning teacher?” Here’s what I wrote:

The end of my primary experience journal, September 1996

The end of my primary experience journal, September 1996

Ahead of me now I see a lot of hard work; an almost infeasible amount. However, my work with LF has given me a set of goals, and another role model to emulate, and my enjoyment of the experience has proved that no matter how high the mountains of work, the reward of a child proud of his or her success or achievement makes it all worthwhile.

Although I looked ridiculous, I’m still quite proud of the 1996 version of me. He was right.

The power of practice

Our fabulous second in English is planning a scheme of work to reinforce and develop technical accuracy. She asked me if I knew of any videos which could help demonstrate the importance of repetitive practice on performance. I asked Twitter:

And here’s what came back!

First, the hardy perennial Austin’s Butterfly, in which Ron Berger demonstrates the impact of redrafting:

Next, via @chrisedwardsuk, Jonny Wilkinson practises stress kicks in rugby for Gillette #spon #ad:

I’m not sure many (any!) current students would remember the transcendental power of David Beckham’s 2001 free kick against Greece, but this video (suggested by @LearningFocus) brought it all back to me – a vital goal forged on the practice pitch:

Although, watching it back, it’s worrying how many he missed…

This one was completely new to me, so thanks to @MrPigottMaths for flagging it! Sam Priestley attempted to go from beginner to expert in a year in table tennis through constant, daily deliberate practice:

His (#spoiler) success has spawned the Expert in a Year website with additional challenges. A great resource!

Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code website is a similarly rich resource for the power of practice. @ImSporticus flagged this musical example of a clarinettist after 200, 1000 and 3000 hours of practice, and I’m still stunned by this single-handed gridiron catch from Odell Beckham Jr for the New York Giants:

But of course it was the result of hours of practice of exactly that type of catch:

The connection is highlighted by Daniel Coyle here – I’m sure there’s a lesson in connecting the two Beckhams across the Atlantic!

Next up is the lovely GiveIt100 site suggested by @HooperClara and @coatgal inviting people to share a short video every day as they practice something for 100 days. There are many powerful examples; here’s one on the guitar:

Finally, @Ms_Jenkinz shared this unbelievably cute timelapse of a toddler learning to walk:

I melted at this point.

Any other video examples of practice makes perfect? Share them in the comments please! And try to use the correct practice/practise…it’s taken me ages to check mine!

All I Know Now about advice for teenagers

I remember being a teenager. It was a while ago now, but the maelstrom of growing up is still very immediate. In fact, I don’t think it really stops. It’s a myth that you emerge from your teens as a fully formed mature adult. I’m still learning, changing, developing every day, connecting new experiences and ideas with old ones to update and develop my own personal map of the world – and I stopped being a teenager in 1994. Take my last metaphor, for example – I robbed it from a TED talk I watched yesterday by John Green on Paper Towns and Why Learning Is Awesome, in which he likens learning to a cartographic enterprise. I liked it and I’ve already woven it into my own way of thinking about education.

The same thing happened as I was reading Carrie Hope Fletcher‘s book All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up GracefullyCarrie is a polymath: currently starring as Eponine in the West End production of Les Miserablesshe also runs a YouTube channel with over half a million subscribers on which she sings, talks about books, conducts an ongoing “Dear Tom” video conversation with rock star brother Tom from McFly/McBusted, and makes vlogs full of advice and thoughts about life, relationships and her experiences.

One of these videos, Honorary Big Sisterprovoked the All I Know Now blog which became the book I read at the end of the summer term. In it, Fletcher offers her take on growing up from her own perspective – the coverline bills it as “The essential guide to surviving ‘the Teen Age'”. The point that Carrie makes in the video, to her largely teenage audience, is that:

it’s always harder to talk to people who are older than us, who we see as authoritative figures. People who we feel judge us or look down on us for the silly decisions we make as teenagers. Namely, our parents. We see our parents as people who couldn’t possibly understand what we’re going through because it was forever ago that they were teenagers and times have changed since then.

Substitute “teachers” for “parents” and you have the reason that I’m so interested in Carrie’s channel, blog and book. We do, I think, a great job as teachers of providing advice, guidance and structures for the teenagers we teach to help them grow up safely. Most parents, though with some horrifying exceptions, also do the best job they can. But there is always this chasm dividing them and us: we’re grown-ups. We can’t possibly understand what it’s like for them.

Quotation-Jeffrey-Eugenides-problems-Meetville-Quotes-52341

Click for source

This is where the internet comes in. The online age has created new communities, especially for teenagers. As John Green said:

these places exist, they still exist. They exist in corners of the Internet, where old men fear to tread.

Teens watch YouTube more than television. They connect with vloggers. The teenagers in my classrooms spend hours with Dan and Phil, Zoella, Jack and Dean, Sprinkle of Glitter and the rest, watching their channels and following them across the media. Events like Summer in the City draw massive crowds. They’re turning to the online world for advice and guidance from personalities they see as understanding them, from their world – #relatable, if you like.

There are dangers to this approach. Many vloggers and online celebrities have abused their position and the fans who idolise them. But these bad apples make Carrie Fletcher and her ilk all the more valuable. Carrie takes her position as a role model seriously, and has shouldered the “honorary big sister” yoke willingly and enthusiastically, online and in book form. And reading All I Know Now was a real pleasure. Her advice, simply put and peppered with anecdote and aside, is wise and sensible, taking in friendships, bullying, relationships, ambition and success. Perhaps most powerfully, she devotes a whole section to life online:

Her guide to Internetiquette is absolutely brilliant. It should be required reading before anyone is allowed to sign up for any social media account. I could recommend it to some tweeting teachers in fact. And this is the point – although I’m completely out of the target audience bracket, twenty years beyond my own Teen Age, I found myself nodding along to Carrie’s advice – and taking some of it myself to weave into my map of the world. In particular, her section on “it’s easier said than done” has become a little mantra for me – “nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy.”

My tweet joked about putting Carrie onto the school curriculum, but of course that would kill it stone dead. The minute her advice is endorsed by an old grown-up like a teacher, it would become immediately invalid. Luckily, no young people are likely to read this endorsement. They’re all too busy watching YouTube. But, hopefully, some of them will subscribe to Carrie and read her book. If they’re getting advice like hers from the internet, they’re in safe hands.

Getting revision right

This year we have taken a strategic approach to revision with Year 11. We have been trying to make the most of everything we have learned over the past few years about the learning process, memory, recall and deliberate practice to deliver a consistent message to all students. This has involved borrowing many ideas from colleagues up and down the country – and beyond! Here’s what we’ve been up to.

How to revise – students

We borrowed from Shaun Allison’s excellent blog Supporting Learning Through Effective Revision Techniques to reformulate our “How to revise” session for Year 11 students this year. Based on the research conducted by Dunlosky, Willingham et al we advise that highlighting, reading through your notes, and summarising were not the most effective revision techniques. For revision to be effective it must involve thought – students have to process the information to stand the best chance of retaining it. We advised:

  • Chunking and interleaving revision
  • Self-testing
  • Distributed practice
  • Interrogation – asking “why?”
  • Self-Explanation (the PQRST technique)
  • Transforming information

In order to deliver the message we took advantage of an off-timetable slot to split the year into smaller groups, bringing in as many SLT, pastoral leaders co-tutors, and additional staff to reduce class sizes. Students were issued with individual revision packs containing calendars, planners, a pack of flashcards, and copies of the revision advice session slides, before rotating through three workshops. You can find all of the materials from our workshops below:

How to revise – families

We borrowed this idea from Andy Day’s Relating to a revision plan – it’s a family affairHis idea of bringing in families to help them understand effective revision certainly chimed with our experience, which was of parents who were telling us “we want to help, but we don’t know how.” We ran a morning session for families of Year 11 on 14th March:

The event was really well attended and the feedback from families was glowing: “a great investment of our time and a credit to the school’s investment in learning” said one evaluation. We also adapted Stuart Lock’s Revision Advice for Parents  post into a handout for all families in Year 11:

It was vital for us to close the loop between home and school, so that the advice students were getting from their families reinforced the messages they were getting from school. Clarifying expectations and sharing best practice was a really helpful process.

Covering the curriculum angle

This year we are keeping our students with us in school for longer. Students will still have study leave, but we want to maximise the contact time we have with them to ensure that they are revising effectively. This is always a tricky balance, but we think we’ve got it right this year. We’ve also put on our traditional Easter Study Camp, a week of taught and supervised revision over the Easter break to make the most of the time over the holidays. We’ve collated the extra-curricular revision sessions on offer into a single timetable so students know what’s on offer. I issued Andy Day‘s subject revision checklist to curriculum leaders to ensure that everyone had all the angles covered. And finally, we updated our online Revision Centre with all the resources available, including an subject-specific collection of past papers, mark schemes and revision resources for Study Camp collated by our excellent Head of Computing @morewebber.

Covering the pastoral angle

We have been running our Attitude Determines Altitude programme with Year 11 all year, and this has positively impacted on student approaches. Head of Year Phil Edwards and I have been master planning the interventions and messages for Year 11 since September through assemblies (including the key message Don’t Settle), tutor activities and interventions, all with a view to getting the attitude right – it’s all about the effort. One glance through Phil’s twitter feed will show you how consistent that message is! However, we’ve also been mindful of the need to relax and take time out, and we’ve put on a stress-management group to help those who may be feeling the pressure.

Motivation – the Fix Up Team

Ever since I saw Action Jackson lift the room at #TMNSL last year, I knew I had to get the Fix Up Team into school. This year it happened, and the brilliant Caspian (#KingCas) came in to do an hour’s assembly with Year 11.

The haven’t stopped talking (and singing) about it since. Having an external speaker in – especially one as engaging and powerful as this – makes all the difference. They’ve heard it from us a thousand times, but hearing it from a “real” person somehow brings it home!

Motivation – Proud Letters

Further to reinforce the connection between home and school, and to send the students off to Easter with a positive attitude, we ran our Proud Letters programme for the second year. This great initiative sees families write a letter in secret to their young people, explaining how proud they are of them and what their hopes and expectations are over the coming months and years. We delivered them on the last day before Easter to boost the students into the break. Again, it helps to show that home and school are working together in partnership to deliver a consistent, positive message about success.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The aim has been to align all of the resources we have available to help the students make the most of these crucial final months. I think this image, printed on all of the individual revision packs, sums up our approach perfectly:

Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do

Colour Coded Wet Rats – improving analytical writing in English

Back in December I blogged about my use of colour coded self-assessment with my GCSE Media Studies class, and I promised a follow-up as I applied the model to English. Here is the result!

Colour coded self-assessment is a technique I stole from Louise Pope (@philosophypope), our incredible Head of PSHRE and member of my teaching and learning team. The aim is to get students to identify where they have met the success criteria for a piece of work using coloured highlighting or underlining. Making it visual in this way enables them to spot patterns. For example, they might be hitting one aspect all the time, but another only sporadically or not at all. Having highlighted their first draft, students can then make improvements in their redrafts focused on expanding on the areas they didn’t hit so often the first time.

This year I have a wonderful Year 10 GCSE English Language and Literature group, and we have been working on Romeo and Juliet for the past term. Their understanding of the play was strong, they were engaged and focused. When writing about the play, they knew all about PEE paragraphs but their explanations just weren’t full and detailed enough. Luckily, we have appointed a fantastic new second in English this year, who has revolutionised our teaching of analytical writing with WET RATS.

I worry that I’m late to the party here, and that English teachers up and down the country have been using this technique for years and I’ve somehow been missing out. But WET RATS was new to me, and it has transformed the way my students write about literature. Here is what WET RATS are:

Romeo and Juliet

The mnemonic is used purely for the explanation part of a PEE paragraph. Students don’t need to to use all of the WET RATS in every paragraph, but it gives them options for things to write about. I taught it by modelling how a paragraph might expand from a single quotation in Romeo and Juliet: 

My paragraph was constructed with the students – it’s not intended as an examplar! Also, it’s important that not all of the WETRATS need to be included in a paragraph. I only did that here in order to demonstrate them, and I’m very conscious that my point about “structure” is weak!

Following on from this we have used WETRATS several times to increase familiarity with the mnemonic and the technique itself. This culminated in a full essay on how Shakespeare creates sympathy for Juliet in Act 3 Scene 5 of the play. I’ve used this essay question many times in teaching the play, but the quality of the analysis my students produced was a real step up from their earlier work. We were on our way!

Of course, as a strong proponent of Ron Berger’s Ethic of Excellence approach, the first draft is only the beginning (I’ve seen Austin’s Butterfly!) So after the students had completed their drafts, I got them to colour code each element of the WETRATS across their essays. Here is a gallery of some of their work:

The process of colour coding was invaluable. Firstly, it gave them a specific purpose and focus for critically re-reading their own work – a world away from “check your spellings”! Secondly, it caused them to highlight (literally!) which aspects of the success criteria they were hitting more or less often, identifying clear areas for development and well as strengths. And thirdly, when I came to mark their work I already had a scaffold around which to build my feedback. Interestingly, some of the feedback was along the lines of “you’ve clearly written about structure here, but you haven’t highlighted this section.” This may identify a misconception about what “structure” means as a concept in literature (possibly due to my poor modelling of it in the demonstration), or possibly lazy self-assessment. In either case, something to address!

My second experiment with colour-coded self-assessment has been even more successful than the first, as well as helping the students to engage fully with the WETRATS technique. As with any scaffold, the key will be to take it away gradually so the students can write this well independently – I’m with Tom Sherrington on this one! But at this early stage, performance and the students’ awareness of their own learning and progress is markedly better. And more colourful!

Why I think Teach First is a good thing

Last week I saw this video advert – “We Are Teach First”:

The generalisations were off-putting. The character of “Rachel” and her school are trite stereotypes, and the use of statistics slapdash. I know that some people are worried by Teach First, and watching this ad might not help. It’s easy to see it as patronising. But despite this broad brush-strokes advertising campaign, I think Teach First is a good thing. Here’s why.

Making teaching a competitive graduate career

When I graduated from Oxford, I was the only one going on to a PGCE with state school teaching in mind (you can read about my experiences here). Each year I return to my Oxford college for a careers forum, where alumni speak to undergraduates about where their degrees took them and offer advice to those just about to start their journeys. The first year I went to extol the virtues of teaching, I spoke to one undergraduate interesting in teaching. This year, I was told by the tutors that Teach First was the single biggest destination for graduates from my college in the past academic year. That means that high achieving, driven graduates with exceptional subject knowledge are pouring in to state schools as opposed to management consultancy firms, whereas previously they weren’t. This has got to be a good thing, for them and for the students they teach.

The sense of moral purpose

towards-a-day

You don’t often get organisations working with genuine moral purpose, but Teach First is one. It’s setting out to make a difference and to correct an injustice. Whilst many may take issue with its methods, its heart is in the right place – on its sleeve.

They don’t just teach first

One of the major criticisms of Teach First is the name, which seems to imply that teaching is merely a stepping stone to a “proper” career, like some sort of extended gap year. Well, that’s just not the case.

As this from Laura McInerney shows, most of them stay in teaching. These are graduates who might not have been there in the first place, were it not for Teach First.

I’d rather have bankers that taught first

Teach-First

As case studies like this of Lena Khudeza show, some Teach Firsters do use the programme as a stepping stone to something else. And why not? For me, teaching a vocation – I can’t see myself doing anything else, and I don’t want to. But not everyone is like me. Why can’t teaching be something you do – and do well – for a few years before trying something else? We welcome teachers who have spent time outside of education into our schools, as they bring an enriched experience into the classroom. I’m sure the reverse is true.  I’d certainly rather have bankers and management consultants who understand the impact of poverty and deprivation having seen it first hand than those who have only ever breathed the rarefied air of privilege. Maybe, when they’re in their Canary Wharf offices, they’ll think of the students they taught and make different – better – decisions.

Teach Firsters enrich the debate

Much has been made of the precociousness of some Teach First graduates, particularly on Twitter, but those arguments seem to me to miss the point. People can say what they like on Twitter (and they frequently do) – but you don’t need to listen. You curate your own timeline. What I’ve found is that many of the Teach Firsters I follow and read have really interesting, thoughtful and perceptive things to say. Who says you need to have taught for twenty years before you’re entitled to an opinion? Okay – don’t answer that. But I value the perspective of those new to the profession just as much as those who have a wealth of experience. Coming into schools fresh, from a different angle, can uncover assumptions and myths, and help us all to move forward. Being challenged about what you believe can make you re-evaluate and either change, or defend, your position. This can only be healthy. And “Teach Firsters” are no more a homogeneous group than “PE Teachers” – they come in many varieties.

The analysis shows the benefit

Extract from IFS Report R100

Extract from IFS Report R100

Teach First is expensive, there’s no doubt about it. It costs £9k to train a PGCE student (a third of which is paid by the student themselves), and around £26k for a Teach First trainee. But, given that it costs £270k to train a doctor (source), maybe Teach First is investing the right amount in training teachers, and the PGCE has been doing it on a shoestring. After all, training professionals should be something our society invests heavily in…shouldn’t it? And the recent paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that, for the schools eligible for the programme, the benefits were considerable:

For most routes, the net benefit to schools is small in comparison with the costs for central government. The notable exception to this is Teach First, where the largest net benefit to schools is reported.

I wish it had been around years ago

My PGCE served me well. I have read some horror stories about inadequate support, dreadful training, and incompetent administration, but mine was pretty good. I was – and am – happy with the way I was trained. But, had Teach First been an option when I was an undergraduate, I would have leapt at it.

Please also read Kev Bartle’s excellent You’re my Teach First, my Teach Last, my Teach Everything which covers this topic much better than I can!

Colour coded self-assessment

This year every member of our teaching staff belongs to a Teaching and Learning team. These cross curricular groups are working together to improve pedagogy as described in my post Teaching and Learning Leaders. There are six teams: Research, Feedback, Independence, Engagement, Differentiation and Mindsets, and the work of each team is posted on our Echewcation teaching and learning blog.

I belong to the mindset team, and this term I have been working with colleagues from Maths and Languages on using self-assessment to improve redrafting. The concept is based on Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence, and the principles of improving work over time through specific feedback. This is best encapsulated by his famous “Austin’s Butterfly” example – mandatory viewing for all teachers! Just in case you haven’t seen it:

In Berger’s example, the work is improved through kind, specific and helpful peer feedback. I worked on this principle last year (see my post on Closing the Gap Marking and Feedback), and this year I have been looking for ways to encourage students to be more independently reflective on the quality of their initial drafts so that they can see how to improve. The principle we have been exploring in our teaching and learning triad uses colour codes for students to self assess their drafts.

Students use colours to identify successes

Students use colours to identify successes and drive progress

The idea came from our Head of RE and PSHE, Lou Pope (@philosophypope on Twitter), who had used the technique with her groups. When she explained it to the Teaching and Learning Team, I knew I had to give it a go! Here’s how it works:

  • Students complete a first draft of a task, with clear success criteria established
  • They go through their drafts, highlighting where they have met each criterion in a different colour
  • They then reflect on the pattern of colours – which criteria have they consistently met? Which have they met the least? Whereabouts in the work have they achieved the most success? And the least?
  • Redraft…and repeat until excellent.

Photo 11-06-2014 18 11 17

I liked this approach on several levels. Firstly, the act of colour coding the draft forces the student to evaluate every aspect. If they’re not highlighting part of their work, what is it doing there? How is it contributing to the success of the piece overall? Secondly, the visual nature of the finished product was very appealing. It would be easy to see the balance within students’ work of one element over another, and for students themselves to recognise what they needed to do more (or less) of.

I decided to run a trial with my Year 10 GCSE Media Studies group, who were working towards a controlled assessment in Advertising and Marketing based on perfume adverts. The students have never studied Media formally before, so they are still getting to grips with the conventions and demands of the subject, but they are making superb progress. As part of the assignment they need to analyse two existing adverts. I got them to complete this through marginal annotation, then unleashed the coloured pencils! Students had to choose four colours and highlight where they had:

  • used media terminology to identify technical features
  • explored the connotations of the technical features
  • commented on representation
  • commented on the impact of the advert on a specific audience

The gallery below shows a selection of the students’ drafts with their highlighting:

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After the highlighting process, the students evaluated which success criteria they had covered in detail, which only touched on, or which they had omitted completely. They then  began a second draft, some using the same adverts as in their first draft and others choosing to to apply what they had learned to new texts. The new drafts are barely recognisable – they are light years ahead of the first versions, and the students are really proud of the progress they have made. I will update this post with some of the improved work in the next week!

My next step is to apply this to my GCSE English class as they complete their next assignment, in a bid to help them to move towards becoming the reflective, self-improving learners that our Dweck and Berger-inspired approach is aiming for.

Colour coded self-assessment – highly recommended!

YouTube Day with Poppy, Jack and Dean

It’s one of the undeniable privileges of being a teacher to watch students you’ve taught go on to make successes of themselves. There’s pride of course, and also relief that you didn’t make a complete hash of it and ruin their lives. On Friday last, three ex-students of mine from Media A-Level past came back to school to work with current students on the course – I can’t recommend it highly enough!

I taught Jack Howard and Dean Dobbs when I worked in the East Midlands. During our A Level classes we often watched the latest funny sketch they’d made for their YouTube channel OMFGItsJackandDean – now re-branded Jack and Dean. Their channel now has nearly 400,000 subscribers and their sketches have had over 22 million views. They have over 200,000 Twitter followers between them, which puts even Tom Sherrington‘s follower count into perspective. They’re presenting a weekly show for Radio 1 on the BBC iPlayer, they’ve played a series of live dates including shows at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals – in short, they’re doing very well for themselves! Students I teach have actually heard of them. It’s very strange.

Poppy Dodgson was a more recent graduate of my A-Level group, and was in Year 13 the last time Jack and Dean visited. She’d already started to make videos on her poppylikesyou channel, and has since gone on to study Art at university, specialising in installations incorporating video.

We set the day up so that all students taking Media got a session with the YouTubers. For the GCSE students this was a chance to see one possible end point for the GCSE they had chosen, and also to learn some tricks of the trade. Jack carefully explained shot composition using their videos as examples, and took questions from the floor. For the A-Level students, it was a chance to get real examples of how the media works in the online age and how self-publication and dedication has led to a career. Also, for me, it was great to hear my determined insistence on meticulous planning of video shoots with storyboards, shot lists, schedules and risk assessments supported by the YouTubers, who gave the voice of experience to those just starting out!

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At lunchtime our guests agreed to a meet-and-greet with students not taking media, either as a result of being in the lower years of school or through some poor decision making around options time…the queue stretched all the way around the block – it was quite strange to see students I’d taught held in what can only be described as adulation!

The afternoon session was perhaps the most useful of all. Following a great discussion of music video (during which Poppy shared her A-level coursework video and expertise), the current students loaded up their work in progress and got feedback and critique from those who had been there, done that, and gone on to the next level.

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I’m very luck to have taught students such as these – past and present – but any teacher in any subject can benefit from staying in touch with ex-students. Whilst the magic dust of celebrity definitely helped the message to stick, there was huge benefit for the students to see that the work done in school genuinely leads somewhere, and to hear advice offered by their teachers endorsed by voices of recent graduates. Over the coming weeks we’ll be asking current Year 12 students to visit Year 11 classes to discuss approaches to revision and exam preparation, using the same principle – “we were you not so long ago, and look at us now! Here’s the advice we wish we’d had…”

Thank you so much to Poppy, Dean and Jack for their time and efforts. Here’s to the next YouTube day!