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.
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!
We all learn the most when we’re challenged. Those of you who listened to Will Ord’s key-note at the school conference a couple of years ago heard lots about putting students in the ‘pit’ in order to help them out, to encourage a growth mindset and demonstrate that learning begins with confusion or even failure. The beauty of a World Challenge expedition is that the ‘challengers’ have to help themselves out. They are well and truly outside of their comfort zones, dealing with language barriers and culture shock in developing countries where sometimes very little goes to plan. They lead the expedition, with two of them taking charge each day and organising team decisions. Two become accountants, take all of our money at the beginning of the trip and work out how to spend it. Each evening, they lead a reflection on that day’s progress, on things they’ve achieved and things they need to improve. While it is clear that employers and universities value the skills developed (one student was accepted on a university course she didn’t have the grades for as soon as she mentioned World Challenge), we have seen expeditions have perhaps a more profound impact too.
Girls in Morocco washing clothes by hand for the first time ever!
The next day’s team leaders planning late into the night…
There have been a number of times during the five expeditions we’ve ‘led’ when students have managed to ‘fail’ in sometimes spectacular ways. In every single case, the fact that we restrained ourselves from intervening meant that they were much more independent and careful for the rest of the expedition, and hopefully beyond.
- Waiting for a bus in Malaysia for nearly two hours, despite the fact that the buses weren’t running in ramadan (as it clearly said on the timetable).
- Poor map reading leading to going into Spain instead of onto Gibraltar and wondering why people only spoke Spanish in a country that was part of the UK.
- Turning a 6 hour trek into a 14 hour one, during which three students cried continually. (All later apologised to the team.)
- Writing the word ‘one’ under the number ‘two’ on the mural on Peace Perfect School in Ghana.
- Forgetting to book accommodation until they asked where we were staying.
- Leaving litter behind on a campsite the day after they had taught a lesson about littering to the rural community in the Himalayan foothills.
- Not waking anyone up on the night train to Delhi until we were already pulling into the most chaotic station in the world at 2am.
- Forgetting to book a bus until it didn’t show up.
- Losing the team leader pack, including the budget sheets, contacts and itinerary.
- Not picking up the money at Heathrow for our Malawi expedition.
At times it has been a struggle for both Laura and I to take enough of a step back, but this struggle has definitely improved my practice in the classroom too. These examples of ‘failures’ are all things that the students continued to talk about long after the event, so the learning sticks in a very useful way. The Malaysia group read everything carefully from that point on and the Malawi accountants were so meticulous that they saved enough money to fund an extra safari activity for the whole team as well as provide more resources to the nursery school before we left. This has definitely changed the way I behave in a classroom too; while we need to make students experience in school positive, letting them fail, as long as we reflect on and make use of these failures, can only be a valuable thing. When I first started teaching I was definitely a little afraid of telling students that they’d made mistakes, but now I like to embrace and celebrate them as a first step to doing better. This is surely the best way to develop a growth mindset, especially in the high achieving sixth formers who we tend to take on expedition, since this group are often least familiar with failure and most fixed in their mindsets.
Callum and Gyan proving they could be resourceful.
Last year, I looked at the impact of our expeditions for the PEG looking at learning communities. We surveyed students before and after expedition. One of the most interesting findings of these surveys was the difference between the things they said they were looking forward to before the expedition and the things that they said were the best part of it afterwards. Beforehand 78% said they were looking forward to “making a difference” or “helping people less fortunate”, whereas, after the expedition, they clearly demonstrated a much more realistic understanding of their experiences during a very short community project. 85% mentioned something about “learning from” or “getting to know” the people. They also mention working “with” rather than “for” in almost all responses. Most satisfying though, was that 78% also used the words “reflect”, “learning”, “pushing myself” or “difficult” to describe what was best about expedition, while none of them expected this to be the best thing about the experience before they went; the expedition had made them realise the value of learning through challenges.
Working “with”- students learn skills from local workers.
Some musings from ‘challengers’:
“I don’t think I could ever have learned so much in two weeks at school, these lessons will last me a lifetime.”
“Being pushed out of your comfort zone, being uncomfortable, makes you realise what type of person you are.”
“It sounds cliche, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that teaches you valuable life lessons. You develop as a person and create unforgettable memories!”
“It was the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done.”
“I didn’t realise I haven’t ever really pushed myself before, so it was hard. There were times on expedition that I didn’t think I could go on, but I did, so now I know that I can.”
Overcoming the language barrier with smiles.
“A real sense of satisfaction that we’d managed to do a good job in the end.”
Time for reflection…
“It just makes you realise how greedy humans are doesn’t it.”You might expect that the best thing about safari in Liwonde National Park at the end of the exhausting two week expedition would be the close encounters with beautiful herds of elephants and incomprehensibly graceful hippos in the wild. Perhaps it would be waking up in a tent to the sounds of bee-eaters and barbets. Or maybe taking a sunset boat journey. Yet the moment that stands out involved no wildlife at all. Sitting in the jeep as the guide explained why they had to make a rhino enclosure within the National Park to protect dwindling numbers of black rhino, Laura and I listened in to a conversation between two students who weren’t really friends before expedition. It was the kind of conversation we all love to hear in a classroom; they were linking things they’d learned in Science at school to new information that our guide Tom was so keen to provide, they were questioning each other and linking their experiences in the community to their lives in the UK. Without any prompting, they had taken this quiet time in a natural environment as a chance to reflect and review their own experiences.