The Muse is a regular publication from the staff at Cramlington Learning Village. It is one of the many ways we share great practice within and beyond the school, and we hope readers of this site will take some ideas, try them out, reflect and share just as we have dome in these pages. Hard copy editions of The Muse are published roughly quarterly.
When we were told that we were to be getting our own classrooms this year, I was so excited to get stuck into creating some displays and making my classroom the best environment for my students. I was most excited to have classroom routines that I could keep up and not gradually forget about (mostly due to being consistently late to my next lesson after the casual sprint from the JLV to the SLV). So, like the keen bean that I am, I came in for a few days in the summer holidays to set some things up. I started my first display board, which I know you will have all read about in the Maths department Mojo Moments published earlier this year. I was focussed on changing the mind set of students so that I could finally hear the back of flippant comments like “eh, how can she just do everything and I can’t?” and “I give up. Too hard” and create a more positive learning environment for everybody involved. I thought this may be something that had an effect at the start of the year and would fade out, but the students have really surprised me. I still have students hear a negative comment from one of their peers and they turn around and patronisingly quote a phrase from the wall which they should use instead. I realise that the students are mostly saying this in jest, but it has had a really positive impact on students’ mind set. I rarely hear any of the phrases which I was so sick of hearing last year anymore and students always have somewhere to get an upgrade question to extend or challenge their thinking. Time well spent.
Change your mindset display
I also, I suppose quite controversially, spent some time in September creating little laminated CLV shields with the names of each student from my Y11 class lovingly typed out on top and laminated for good measure to start my Y11 shrine (my students actually still call this wall their shrine…). I popped the shields up in the different columns indicating where their most recent assessment placed them in relation to their target grade. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a pretty sight at first, but what has surprised me most is the motivation that has come from having a paper shield with their name on stuck on the wall underneath a sign which says ‘more than two grades from target’. It has had a really positive effect on my higher attaining students, but my PP students responded really well to this too. I have students who attend Maths club every week religiously because they are “going to move that bloody shield eventually”. After every assessment, I allow 5 minutes of carnage to erupt in my classroom as the students run to the back wall to proudly move their shields – Kira Shieber even videoed the occasion and sent it to other Y11 students! The students are proud of their shield now (have a look at how far the classes have come in the photos!) From a teacher’s point of view, this also allows me to be constantly aware of how students are performing and a quick glance to the back wall reminds me who my key focus students are.
This all sounds very well and good, but then we had the CPD training delivered by Trish and Elaine. I thought I was quite good at updating the displays so that they were constantly relevant to the topics and lessons that I was teaching and the students that I was aiming to impact, but, where is the students’ input here? Did I have their work on my walls? No, it was all my bright ideas. I went away that evening and thought about how I could incorporate their work into my displays without having a display that I needed to constantly update (e.g. work of the week). My idea, was to create a wall of revision ideas. I would start off the wall, with the generic revision materials that we as Maths teachers find ourselves constantly bleating on about in the week leading up to assessments, but then I would ask students for their ideas too. The result is in the picture below! I stuck up my pieces but then students would tell me how they made use of the revision cards, or the revision tab on Frog so I added in some top tips. A few students have contributed their own revision materials which I have scanned or photographed and put on the wall too with a little caption from the student themselves. I have included a pouch of blank revision timetables for students to take too, to help them organise their revision across all subjects, which have gone down a storm.
How do you measure the impact this has? My Y11 students have performed better than they ever have in the latest assessment. I attributed this to us having finished the course and revision season kicking in, but students have commented on how they used ‘Emily’s strategy’ with the revision cards, or ‘Kira’s notes pages’ which they find really helpful.
So there you have it, a display with no fuss, which is easy to install and update, with a positive impact on student’s work and achievements.
– Lyndsay Jubb
In the PE department, extension tasks are in the lead- here are a few ideas picked up from the market place:
Extension folders: full of laminated GCSE exam questions from the new spec for those students finished with a GSCE task.
Chalk on a table tennis table: teachers write different learning objectives and questions on each table e.g. ‘did your ball bounce twice’ or ‘did it go up six inches’ – teaching the students the rules in a ‘tiny but huge’ way. This can also be used to present learning objectives in rooms without projectors or white boards.
And finally…using toy soldiers as targets: Giving students an aim!
For the excellent Teach meet in November, I spoke about the ways MFL have adapted marking to the new grade system, particularly when marking written and spoken work.
Feedback sheets are made up of the criteria for content on one side, grammar on the other with the grades in the middle. On the feedback sheets, we highlight in green the content and grammar included, making the reasoning behind the grade awarded clear to the student and anyone that is looking at the work.
It also allows us to highlight in pink anything that could have been added, or that wasn’t accurate, so the student can focus on those aspects to upgrade their work.
We have also produced feedback sheets for peer assessment, which include specific examples of the language features needed to achieve each grade. In this way, students simply have to locate the examples in the piece of writing/speaking and highlight them in green if found.
A couple of years ago, when Geoff Barton did our conference keynote, he showed us this quotation, from Myhill and Fisher: “Spoken language forms a constraint, a ceiling not only on the ability to comprehend but also on the ability to write, beyond which literacy cannot progress” This idea really stuck with me; I hadn’t been teaching long and as a non-Geordie I think I was especially nervous about correcting students’ speech. At the same time I was expecting them to write much more accurately than they spoke, perhaps unfairly. Since then, I have made an effort to correct students’ grammar in speech as well as their writing, whenever errors cropped up.
Early this term, I was yet again correcting a Year 7 student who had asked to “lend” a pen and ended up explaining my reasoning more generally to the whole class. We came up with the slogan “Talk Right; Write Right” to act as a reminder of how important formal and correct speech is in the classroom. Then, to follow this up more explicitly, I started all of my lessons on Monday with this activity.
It was interesting that different groups focused on different negatives in this very typical conversation. My bottom set year 10, some of whom have a tendency to demonstrate a poor attitude to learning themselves, all decided that Jenny was being really rude when she says “dunno”. Whereas, Year 7 were just concerned that she didn’t know how to articulate this as a complete sentence. Each class then came up with their own rules for speech in the classroom that we have tried to follow too. In Year 8 lessons, we decided to take a hint from Jamie Thom’s excellent blog and nominate a ‘full sentence monitor’ who would point out that an answer was incomplete. The best way to do this turned out to have the monitor silently stand up until the student completed the answer, this way seemed slightly less critical and certainly less likely to interrupt the flow of discussion. In my year 10 lessons, where poor grammar and slang are more of a concern than developed answers, I have just been pointing to the ‘Talk Right, Write Right’ sign to prompt students to correct their answers. While the standard of talk in my class discussions is still not perfect, students do now understand why I am expecting them to correct their speech.
For the inspiring Teach Meet he organised, Stu Kemp talked about solutions to a range of issues we face daily. Here are some of his ruminations:
Bottom set year 9:
Entrance policy – They cross the ‘learning threshold’ of my lab.
They have 60 seconds to get their folders out.
Open their book.
Get on with connect/create a summary of last lesson.
All in silence, they must be silent!
Exit policy – They must be sitting down, they must be silent.
I will not talk until all rulers, pens, etc. are away.
Movement in class – Do it like bacteria – quietly. Chairs cannot be scraped. Must be lifted.
Work hard on the relationships
Be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise. However, if students don’t connect with your human qualities- let them know.
‘I work for you. You work for yourself.’
Marking and feedback:
Photocopy brilliant work with your feedback on it.
Hand it out; show the kids what great work looks like.
Ask the kids to make improvements based on what they know is great work.
When they improve their work, make sure they add the word ‘improvements’.
Get the pens out and live mark their work. When you are live marking they must be silent.
DIRT time is important:
When you introduce a new concept, check at least 3 times with three different students. Saves constant micro-
teaching and repetition.
Every subject has concepts that take many steps to grasp, or skills that take hours to hone. Instead of always providing a different extension activity, why not offer an extension project- something for the students to work away at over the term or the year?
Finished? No. Never.
And finally, remind your students (and yourself, at times):
As an NQT I suffered from a tragic and deadly case of praisealitus. At every possible moment I would exclaim loudly and gleefully: “fantastic”, “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “superb”, “wonderful”. They were tossed around like confetti, sprouted in response to even the most incoherent of grunted answers. My students’ workbooks would be scrawled with more hyperbole: “I absolutely love this” was a particular favourite. Then one day, my arch nemesis Danielle decided to inform me about the reality of my condition. Rolling her eyes with impeccable talent (again) she looked at me scathingly: “Is anything not excellent?”
While I admit that Danielle intimidated/terrified me on a number of levels, she really had me there. How do you counter that? Other than letting the ground metaphorically open me up, I decided there and then that I would no longer be so thoughtless with my praise. No: I would now become a sophisticated, nuanced user of praise. How to reach those lofty heights was another question.
Fast forward five years and I am intrigued to see how far, or if, I have developed on this mission. Before I do, a point of clarity: I am very aware of the value of praise in the classroom and I am by no means rejecting it. It is vital in both building successful relationships and motivating students, crucial in creating a positive and optimist classroom culture. We all love being praised, we all love being recognised for things we have done well. It is a huge part of nurturing our self-esteem and confidence. We all, however, can spot disingenuous and flippant praise a mile off – and we know how it makes us feel about our efforts. Young people are no different; my conversations with students this week have, somewhat disconcertingly, reiterated to me their capacity to see through any lack of sincerity in the classroom.
Now to the ‘Praiseometer’. I asked a student in each of my classes to complete the ‘Praiseometer’ for an identified twenty minute period in the lesson. They had to listen
Looking carefully at the results of this (I am aware this is not the most sophisticated of evidenced based endeavours!) it was clear was that I continue to fall into the trap of unspecified praise. In one twenty minute section I used “good” fifteen times. Fifteen times! Also being more self-conscious about my own use of praise this week than usual, I recognised my desire to reassert the positive, to be relentlessly optimistic and to seek to find the things to praise in the classroom. That youthful desire to please and fear of crushing students motivation is still very much a part of my lessons.
There are worse things to be doing, but my reflections this week have left me with six key priorities. They are also taken from brief conversations with each class about what they valued in terms of praise (I did do some teaching this week, not just talk/think about praise!) It represents a final and conclusive list that can drive my praise mission:
Honest praise: Over-inflation is dangerous and detrimental in any context. If I tell the students they are “outstanding” when really they have given me something mediocre I am only serving to confuse them about my expectations. My praise needs to be seriously tempered and a focus on the reality of what is being offered to me. I need to communicate high expectations about what “outstanding” looks like in my classroom – and make this something that students are relentlessly striving to attain. The ubiquity of “good” in my classroom is something for me to reflect on. It will only serve to confuse my pupils: how do they know when I think something is really effective? What is my criteria for “good work” and are they really matching this? The cognitive scientist Daniel T Willingham surmises: “To motivate students—especially older students who are more discerning and better able to appreciate the differences between what is said and what is meant—teachers need to avoid praise that is not truthful, is designed to control behaviour, or has not been earned.”
Specific praise: We know that high quality feedback is vital to learning and clarity in the classroom. Any praise that is offered has to be specific: “that is good because… that is strong as you have used… you have responded to that well because…”. Training students to do this to their own and each others’ work is also useful and vital in moving peer and self assessment from perfunctory to effective. As an English teacher I also feel responsible for developing students’ literacy: offering detailed and precise verbal responses is something I am coaching young people to do, so I should also be modelling this in my own praise and feedback. This is also clear in marking: writing “good” in the margin is utterly pointless. They need to recognise why something is good – even if they go back themselves afterwards and write down what they did effectively. Linking the praise to the objective of the lesson (one of Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach like a Champion techniques) is also very useful for clarity: it helps in ensuring there is a consistency and a drive to the lesson and so that students know exactly what you want them to achieve. Daniel Goleman’s masterful ‘Emotional Intelligence’ clarifies: “specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say that vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.”
Behavioural praise: Praise for behaviour is hugely illuminating and useful in the classroom. It also prevents the diatribe of negativity that can dominate in more challenging groups. It models to students expectations and celebrates a positive classroom culture. Spotting what is going right, rather than going wrong and specifically praising it models the behaviours that I might want my harder to reach students to demonstrate. This needs to be based on high expectations – I am not advocating praising students for merely taking a pen out. It is about setting the bar very high then recognising when students are striving to achieve it. This excellent post by Tom Sherrington captures this approach.
Effort praise: Praise needs to be earned and to be richly deserved. More importantly it should be about process and effort rather than what might be perceived as ability. My naive NQT self was actually demotivating students quite drastically – making them at the very most ambivalent about striving to achieve their very best but certainly unclear about what they could potentially achieve. Carol Dweck’s TED talk on praise and mindset will, of course, explain this far better than I could attempt.
Differentiated praise: Sensitivity and empathy is again core when considering how to praise students meaningfully. In my own classes I know the students who would curl up into a ball of embarrassment if I publicly acknowledge and praise them. They are my students who need quiet and focused moments of sincere praise. Despite being so fixated on praise this week, I got this horribly wrong on Tuesday when I showed the wonderful Amy in Year 11’s homework, four pages of research on ‘Inspector Calls’, to the class. She was mortified! Conversely, I also know I need to feed some of my other students’ desire for public recognition – using moments to recognise their efforts in front of their peers is what they need. Ryan – in the same class – was beaming when I later in the week showered him with praise for his knowledge of ‘Moonshine’ (he knew it was homemade and illicit alcohol, I had no idea!)
Unexpected praise: Predictability is the curse of any classroom. Students in my classroom are probably keeping their own tally of how many times I say “good” in the lesson. Praise will now be much more spontaneous and earned, not predictably at the end of all responses offered. I want students to be working hard to gain some positive recognition, not expect it.
Praisealitus is a condition that needs careful monitoring. Praise needs to be a part of our genetic makeup as teachers; I am certainly not hunting for a vaccination (last one, promise). Rather, we are looking to regulate and reflect on its impact; allow it to seep in only of moments of true merit and not for triviality. It serves its function in many different levels, most profoundly when it enables and encourages effort in its different forms.
Thanks for reading; some useful points of reference:
Doug Lemov ‘Teach like a Champion 2.0’
Daniel Goleman: ‘Emotional Intelligence’
Carol S Dweck ‘Mindset’
How Praise Can Motivate—or Stifle by Daniel T. Willingham (see link)
Steve uses google classroom to mark all his work online, using a rubric to quickly mark the work students have completed on google docs and shared with him. Steve asks his students to complete all their work on Chromebooks. To show progress to Ofsted, the students complete a cycle. Every three lessons, Steve plans a feedback session in which students have to work on the comments that has been made on their word. All work is date and time stamped, so students have to do the work.
The media department have been using google docs for four years and the advantages are obvious, as listed below:
- Google drive is universal and can be accessed anywhere, on any device, at any time (perhaps not always an advantage…)
- Teachers can immediately check who is working and who is off task
- Very organised, no more messy folders
- No work goes missing when students have home learning
- Uniform work, teachers can ensure gold standard work
- Work that is overwritten by accident can be restored
Try google docs today!