25 May Teaching better. My pedagogical to-do listreasons to love teaching but one that has sustained me is that constant challenge to teach better. My entire experience of teaching has been that my lessons never seem to go to plan; it’s never quite right. I’m always thinking that, if perhaps I’d done something else instead, it might have been a better lesson. I used to worry about that – but now I see it as normal and healthy. Of course, every so often, I deliver a belter – where it all just sings beautifully; a perfect symphony of learning. But that’s rare.
I wrote a basic Teaching To-Do list at the start of the year but, recently, as ever, I’ve been absorbing more ideas from all around me. Some affirm things I think I do already; others cut through my armour, making me think I really need to do things a bit differently.
Here’s my current pedagogical to-do list.
1. Teaching for Memory
This is an area I’m exploring but need to go much further with. I already do fairly frequent micro-tests and have started to insist students give presentations from memory but it needs to be more systematic. I need to plan the interleaving element better and extend the range of things I expect students to recall including more explanations alongside definitions, terminology and so on. Bodil Isaksen’s recent blog on revisiting past content is excellent; I want to get better at all of this.
2. Reading in class
Following the work I’ve been doing with my Physics colleagues Ossama and Tim – as featured in Ossama’s presentation here – I’m convinced that I should be making reading texts a routine feature of my lessons. I could mix up the textbook with some other articles but actually, making reading the textbook a positive, normal experience would go a long way. It will throw up all kinds of words and phrases I probably assume my student already know. I know I need to teach them more explicitly how to access online materials too – reading for meaning and making notes. Can Year 8 do this? Yes – but only if I teach them exactly what to do. Too often I cut them adrift on a wide-open finding out task; the usual suspects flounder – it’s not good enough.
3. More practice
I find that science books and sources of questions are not good at drilling similar questions. Maths textbooks are usually far better. My students need to do more of the same kinds of questions so that they get better at similar skills and embed their knowledge. We flit about too much; too much time is spent on discussion in relation to time on practice. I need to spend more of my time sourcing or generating the questions I need. (TestBase is great – but why does it take up 10 pages to collect enough questions together?)
4. Better scaffolding and progression
A presentation about progression at our TeachMeet by Sean, a PE teacher, got me thinking. I tend to teach to the top; I’m convinced this the best thing to do – to pitch everything up. I don’t tend to provide differentiated support sheets or gap-fills for weaker students; they all get it raw; deep-end. Generally this works and they surprise themselves but the truth is that this is more often a planning short-cut than a principled decision. A small number of students in my class need more scaffolding; I need to think more about breaking down the science concepts and tasks into steps – like the trampolining routines. I’m super-conscious about not dumbing it down for them but this is different – sometimes a few students just don’t seem on the same page at all. This needs attention.
5. Structured speech events
This phrase has been introduced to me by Andrew, our resident rhetoric and debating expert and English teacher. Instead of ‘group discussion’ where some people dominate whilst others withdraw, we need to structure opportunities for all students to participate. This could be a formal debate, oral presentations or other structures where students have set roles and timed opportunities to speak. This is one area that I know about but have yet to fully deliver on. It’s a question of finding the right opportunity. We’re doing Forces now – not much to debate. However, I think some structured expositions of key concepts – some answers to problems perhaps – may do the trick.
6. Better feedback routines
If I’m totally honest, my marking has been erratic this year. I nearly said ‘a shambles’ but that’s too strong. I’ve been flitting about, trying out different things. I did one-to-one feedback over three lessons; peer review; various DIRT lessons for re-drafting – and a bit of standard teacher marking. Deep down I believe that if I mark tests and do everything else verbally, I’ve got the workload-to-impact ratio about right. The problem is that the students don’t really have a routine; they don’t know what to expect. I want to do better – pick three feedback modes and do them systematically.
7. Engaging with the SEN Information
A recent discussion with our SENCo reminded me that it’s been a while since I updated my knowledge of all the students in my class in terms of prior attainment and their SEN status. This information comes at you during the year and you need to sit down and properly engage. It can come as a surprise sometimes when you read a Personal Action Plan for a student on the SEN register – there are all kinds of suggestions there, some of which you may not be acting on. If you only look at this stuff at the start of the year, information overload kicks in and it’s all too easy to let all of this detail wash over you. I’m going to have a fresh trawl of the info on my Year 8s to make sure I’m doing everything I should be.
8. Giving metacognition a whirl
John Tomsett’s post on his Economics revision got me thinking. I don’t do this enough if at all. I’m a stickler for model answers – training my students to follow my models; the way I set things out, insisting on details and routines. BUT – I think they interpret this more in terms of presentation rather than the underlying thinking. I need to make the connection more explicit, showing them how I approach problems, sharing my thinking. I think Year 8 would benefit from this just as much as exam classes. I’m going to give it a whirl ahead of the next round of tests.
That’s enough. Any more and I wouldn’t have a hope of actually changing my practice. Even this might be too many – let’s see.