The less time spent making lots of worksheets and single use resources, the more time can be spent on planning, assessment and feedback. I also realised that tidying my office at home that I’m the proud owner of an extensive collection of sticky notes: index markers, A5, square, plastic markers, different colours, different shapes. These are all ideas for the humble post-it note that I’ve collected over the years from other excellent teachers. Feel free to suggest more and I’ll add them and give credit.
Glossary – Students write subject terms and definitions they forget/struggle with on the post it and put it inside their book as a quick reference.
Punctuation checklist – Students write a punctuation check list on the post it and tick off each punctuation mark they’ve used correctly to ensure they have full variety.
Retention – At the end of each logical section, ask weaker readers to write the main idea as a topic sentence and stick it at the side of the section to refer back to.
Vocabulary – Students write synonyms on a post it and read their sentence back with each word in the ‘improved word’ spot before selecting one. Useful for discussing connotations and encouraging the appropriate vocabulary choice, not just any fancy sounding word from a thesaurus.
Having already blogged on why I don’t think ‘whatever it takes‘ is always the best way to view intervention, I presented on preventative intervention strategies at Red House School TeachMeet earlier this week.
We’re in the middle of exam season and there’s a lot of last minute pushes, final revision sessions, drop ins and other inteventions. But it’s also the time of year where teachers can feel flustered and overwhelmed with the amount of last minute things to tick off the list.
But with increased discussion about workload, retention and recruitment as well as shift towards linear exams, it’s an ideal opportunity to consider if the way things have always been done is the most effective: for staff and students.
1. Track data at a student, class and year level. Then do something with it.
There’s no point having data coming our our ears if we don’t do something with it. By recording data and linking it to key skills, AOs or question types intervention lessons/starters can be planned to address the weakness over time so students are confident, independent learners.
2. Add some power to your marking.
Decide on a marking focus each fortnight (e.g. PP, SEND, HA) and place their books at the top. The books will still get marked but your most focused energy is put on a different focus each time.
Or, ask students to place their books onto two piles based on whether they understand/don’t. Mark the students who are unsure first and address any misconceptions they may have through a differentiated starter or a small group input during class time.
Get students to write out their previous target at the start of the next piece of work.
Before students say they’re finished, they have to identify with a highlighter where they’ve acted on their target. For exam classes, students could also label where they’ve hit the assessment objectives.
3. Create a culture of learning from the day students enter your room.
Self service board: Place extension material, catch-up work, wider subject material on a board so students can help themselves.
Drop in time: Rather than extensive revision sessions after school that can become additional lessons, offer 1-1s or small group drop-ins over time.
The language of excellence: Sometimes the language we use can go a long way in creating expectations. e.g. If you think you need to take it away and proof read, then I’m not going to notice if you ‘forget to hand your book in’.
Reading lists: Encourage students to read widely and offer a range of book types.
Independent study packs: Have material available for home study. They can also be useful for students who miss lessons or have alternative education arrangements.
4. And the big one: make KS3 count.
It also goes without saying that this year’s Y7s are the Y11s of the future, so closing progress gaps at KS3 through high-challenge curriculum, early intervention will prevent a significant chunk of the last minute chaos at GCSE. Excellence is a habit. If we intervene early and set a standard of excellence then there’s no reason for staff and students to be exhausted by exam season of Y11.
Finally, the future’s bright if we take time to create it.
I used to believe that’whatever it takes‘ was a sign of commitment and high expectations. I don’t any more. ‘Whatever it takes‘ risks increasing teacher workload for limited gain, allows students to abdicate responsibility for their own learning and can promote a culture of low expectations.
‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’
This quotation tends to lend itself to the idea that curriculum, assessment and differentiation should lead us to expect, and accept, different things for different students due to an understanding of individual differences. And there’s a place for that – if every student left school at the same point, somebody’s been failed somewhere along the line. All students have different skills, attributes and talents and it’s reasonable to expect schools to nurture students in a way that enables each student to achieve.
The problem is that this idea can be over-simplified to the ideas in this cartoon.
In practice what can happen is that aspirations are capped because the decision is made ‘you won’t be very good at climbing a tree, so we’ll not introduce you to a tree at all‘. Or because certain students don’t succeed very well in extended writing, or because they’re bottom set, or kinaesthetic learners, we’ll remove the extended writing or highly scaffold it in the name of fairness. As long as all learners feel they’ve achieved then that’s all that matters, whether the achievement is real or not.
“Inspectors reported concerns about Key Stage 3 in one in five of the routine inspections analysed, particularly in relation to the slow progress made in English and mathematics and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils.” (Ofsted, KS3 ‘The Wasted Years’, 2015)
When I trained, the common approach to differentiation was to teach to the middle, stretch the top and support the bottom. The (anecdotal) result? Lots of time-consuming creation of single-use resources, extension tasks that lack rigour or provide ‘more of the same’ or support pathways that remove the complex thinking – and that’s before you have to cater for the range of learning styles in your class! As a trainee teacher in an era when teachers were told ‘Ofsted want progress every 10/15/20 minutes’, it felt like there was a perverse incentive to make the visible learning as easy as possible to show.There were weeks where I’d spend hours making different worksheets for different tables, parallel tasks and card sorts that I’d tell myself I’d use again (but inevitably wouldn’t).
Then I was given the piece of advice that changed my approach to differentiation (and workload): a resource should never take you longer to make than the students to use.
When looking at examiners’ reports at KS5, there’s been a welcome move in recent years warning staff not to send students into exams with pre-prepared essay frames, writing templates and other formulaic crutches designed to get students through exams with the minimum of independent thought. Aside from my personal feelings about endless writing frames, they send the message to students that ‘you can’t do it on your own’. Students can become reliant on them and then panic and go into learned helplessness when you suggest that they write an essay independently – worse when it’s accompanied with cries of ‘but Mr/Mrs so-and-so gives us starters!‘.
At KS5 this is well overdue but with shifts in GCSE exams to new specifications, I’m inclined to say that this is a very welcome shift away from teachers dragging students through with check-lists and crib sheets, and towards a curriculum that values students’ independent application of knowledge. On #EngChatUK there was a lot of pre-specification worries, which seem (largely) to have worked themselves out. (Whilst planning this blog I found a new post by Andy Warner on the new GCSEs which is worth a read here)
The relevance to Key Stage 3 is to work backwards from KS5. If we’re going to ensure that KS3 is challenging, engaging and unapologetically academic, then there needs to be time set aside for promoting the value of scholarship and high-level thinking. In KS3: The Wasted Years, Ofsted mention that it is the ‘most able whose progress was particularly affected when secondary schools did not build on prior learning.’
Using driving questions to structure and support learning ensures that all students make rapid and sustained progress.
In earlier blog posts I’ve been exploring the ways that KS3 can be reclaimed to have a positive impact on student achievement over time. Ofsted’s document KS3: The Wasted Years explores the issues affecting KS3 at the moment and, to me, gives very clear guidance to schools about what is required for them to be successful.
Firstly, Ofsted state that ‘[successful schools] ensure that pupils are well aware of their school’s high expectations for behaviour and conduct, and they have a clear understanding of pupils’ achievements in primary school and build on them from day one.’ (Ofsted, 2015). For more on this see the earlier posts in this series.
If we want to see students make expected or more than expected progress at KS4, we need to get in early on and identify knowledge gaps, effort issues and behaviour issues before they become a massive problem. It sounds very common sense: intervene at KS3 to prevent putting a sticky plaster on a gaping progress wound at KS4.
In a time when Ofsted no longer grade individual lessons and there’s a move towards demonstrating ‘progress over time’, a new focus for observation, scrutiny and inspection has been identified: marking.
The major problem with this focus on marking is that – like when ‘Ofsted wants to see…’ was the be all and end all of lesson planning leading to VAK learning styles, thinking hats and brain gym (because we all know that without moving around the brain won’t get enough oxygen) – marking risks becoming a tick-box, ‘prove we’re doing our job’ exercise where the primary people involved (student and teacher) aren’t the primary audience for the feedback being given.
It’s worth pointing out that Ofsted do not have a particular expectation with marking, they don’t have a set expectation about the frequency or detail of marking in exercise books, nor do they want to see ‘excessive written dialogue’ with students. This should be an announcement that makes teachers cheer, but it doesn’t because the general message of Ofsted appears to have been corrupted and manipulated into another stick to hit teachers with – namely that in order to show progress over time, your marking has to be excessively detailed with little tricks to show students are acting on feedback.
There are a number of problems with this approach:
It assumes that the only way that meaningful feedback can be given is written
If (1) is true, then all verbal feedback must be recorded with verbal feedback stamps (see @TeacherToolkit’s brilliant post about this here)
That the only way to show student progress is if their response is close to the feedback given
It risks creating a ridiculous culture of marking martyrdom where the ‘brilliant marking’ is usually the most detailed, most tick-boxy because it looks pretty on a page, thus having a negative impact on work-life balance and staff well being.
Then I’ll explain why I’d like to rediscover a sincere ‘well done’.
In this series of blogposts I’m exploring ways that KS3 can be reclaimed rather than being viewed as a second priority behind KS4/5. To go further, what I’m suggesting is that if schools want to ensure maximum progress gains at KS4, then targeted investment in KS3 is essential.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the nature of engagement and relevance in the eduTwittersphere in recent months and it’s clear that these concepts raise a range of issues to be explored.
Sometimes I find that engagement is often tied up in discussions of relevance and self-esteem and many other concepts that shift the focus of learning away from the student and on to the teacher. When engagement becomes synonymous with ‘entertaining’ and ‘fun’, there’s an implication that if there’s an issue with achievement or student behaviour, it can be explained away as ‘the child only behaved that way because they found the lesson boring’. This approach fundamentally undermines teaching staff and excuses poor behaviour. It gives students an opt out and acts as a stick to hit teaching staff with – hardly conducive to developing a high performing team. Positive behaviour for learning should be non-negotiable, regardless how entertaining students find the lesson. In this post, I’ll be exploring why challenge can help foster engagement and how through praise we can promote engagement within an academic environment.
There’s been a lot of focus on KS3 and the role it plays in achievement at KS4. Sometimes I wonder if due to pressures in the upper school, KS3 risks becoming the neglected sibling of KS4/5. It shouldn’t be. If KS3 is purposeful, challenging and engaging, the chances of having the progress gaps to be filled in KS4 will be drastically reduced. In short, the key to success at KS4 is strong KS3 provision.
The keys to success at KS3 are:
This post will focus on the first area: challenge.