What World Challenge Expeditions have taught me: failure is the way forward by Cathy Williams

 

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.

cw1Girls in Morocco washing clothes by hand for the first time ever!

cw2The next day’s team leaders planning late into the night…

Epic Fails:

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Turning a 6 hour trek into a 14 hour one, during which three students cried continually. (All later apologised to the team.)
  4. Writing the word ‘one’ under the number ‘two’ on the mural on Peace Perfect School in Ghana.
  5. Forgetting to book accommodation until they asked where we were staying.
  6. Leaving litter behind on a campsite the day after they had taught a lesson about littering to the rural community in the Himalayan foothills.
  7. 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.
  8. Forgetting to book a bus until it didn’t show up.
  9. Losing the team leader pack, including the budget sheets, contacts and itinerary.
  10. Not picking up the money at Heathrow for our Malawi expedition.

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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.

cw4Callum 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.

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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.”

Cw6Overcoming the language barrier with smiles.

cw7“A real sense of satisfaction that we’d managed to do a good job in the end.”

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Time for reflection…

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“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.

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Literacy Bookmarks by Zoe Taylor

Keeping track of literacy targets can be difficult- for the teacher as well as the student. This was especially tricky in my low ability year 7 English class, where 12 out of 16 students are SEND and- bizarrely- reading ages range from 6 to 15.

Searching for a solution to this problem, Jayne Claydon and I decided to create a literacy bookmark for each student. We wanted a resource that filled the following criteria:

  • We could easily add/amend student literacy targets across the year
  • The bookmark would indicate to students where they should begin their next piece of work, therefore encouraging gold standard presentation
  • Students could independently check their literacy targets following completion of extended writing
  • Both teacher and LSA could work with students to check they had ‘ticked off’ their literacy targets as part of the proofreading process.

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At first, targets were generic. For example, students were encouraged to orally rehearse their writing and check their individual spelling list. As the year progressed, Jayne and I could make this more personalised, adding new areas of concern where we saw them develop and crossing off targets that students had met. At the end of the year, we found many benefits to using this system. For example, where Google Docs can be useful to track this sort of data, the bookmarks were ‘live’ and easily visible to students. Additionally, when amending IEPs at the end of the year, we already had a wealth of information on the bookmarks about student literacy targets. I would definitely recommend trialling these literacy bookmarks with key students in your classes- they made a big difference to the way we tracked and used data in the classroom.

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Kemp’s Musings – Part 2

Due to the popularity of last issue, here is a second collection of Dr. Kemp’s musings to peruse:

Image 1- We all need a reminder from Rita. If you haven’t already, watch this!

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Image 2- Key messages for the students and maybe even the adults?

Image 3- Next time you are planning a lesson, remember this: If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

Change it up, take a risk.

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Image 4- Do teachers who make mistakes make better teachers?

I guess they do, but only if they put effort into correcting the mistake.

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Image 5- Which one can you have a big say in? More than one hexagon? Have a think on it.  Follow @headguruteacher

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Image 6- A big bag of balls.

Put answers on them, lob them at the students and then ask the students to generate appropriate questions.

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Image 7- How many ways could you use  whiteboard dice? 4000?

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Image 8- Students shrink their learning, another student then expands it.

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Kemp’s Musings

A collection of what Dr. Kemp has been doing, thinking about, reading and musing over the past couple of weeks- food for thought!

Image 1- Hexagons

Key Word LinksJazzing up the old hexagons. This makes planning easy, life easy, and learning. Challenging – lovely!

Image 2- ‘Bridging the Disadvantage Chasm’

bridging the disadvantage

Search ‘Bridging the Disadvantage Chasm’ on the headguruteacher blog. It’s well worth a read. Might get you thinking.

Image 3 – John Holt

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Image 4 – Aim Higher

aim higher

I need to get my aim higher box finished. Surely you’ll never get stuck with extension tasks again?

Image 5 – My Favourite Mistakes

my favourite mistakes

Have a pop at this, it worked wonders for me this month.

Image 6- Starting with the end in mind

starting with the end in mine

Image 7- Pressure

year 11

Our year 11 students are here at the moment. How did you feel when you were doing this?

Image 8 – A spark robin

Definitely need to remember this in the coming month or 3.

Image 9 – Tick allthe boxes

tick box

A tick box for some, a welcome reminder for others? Helped me out whilst on both sides of the fence the other day.

Image 10 – Alert!

alert

Is this encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning? Discuss, or better still, use if you fancy.

 

Golden Nuggets to Beat the Winter Blues (From the Musette)

January and February. The void. The dark months. Together they stand at the start of the year dividing the good times with the bad – or at least that is how it feels. It’s dark in the mornings, dark in the evenings, relentlessly busy and that ‘still refreshed from the last holiday’ booster effect has long since gone. Sometimes, as a result of the way students and teachers are feeling at this time, classroom climate in January and February can have a little less sparkle than it typically has the rest of the year and when visiting lessons we sometimes pick up a sense of teachers and students grinding their way through their day and through specification content on the way towards the next assessment, or with the summer exams in mind.

No bad thing necessarily, but it’s not the way in every classroom. In our learning walks and observations recently we have walked into a number of classrooms where the climate in the room was striking. Environments of palpable enthusiasm, curiosity, passion for learning and, well, joy.

In this collection of mini-blogs from the teaching and learning team we share our golden nuggets with you for keeping the winter blues out of the classroom – these are the tactics, strategies and teacher behaviours we have overtly used ourselves and have seen others use to infectiously lift the climate in the classroom, even when the focus has shifted to drill and practice.

The joy and love of your subject – Jamie Thom

At times the reason why we started teaching can be lost in a maze of accountability, marking and pressure. Fundamentally most of us enter teaching because of a passion for two things: working with young people and our subject. Reconnecting with this most basic of motivations can have a real impact in how we feel about our work on a daily basis. The classroom is our empire to translate to others this palpable joy and enthusiasm for the content of our lessons. Where else do we have the privilege of selfishly indulging in waxing lyrically about the wonders of our subjects? We all know and recognise the glazed adult expression that appears if we try (perhaps that is just me and poetry)! Here are some tips that might help in ensuring that our students understand the value we have for our subject:

  • Set the tone at the start of lessons, explain to the students how you are going to be covering some fascinating things today, share your passion with them for what they are going to be exploring for seventy five minutes. This is your moment to capture them!
  • Have one thing in every lesson that you are going to get very excited about. It might be a student’s answer, it might be a particularly troublesome formula, it might be an experiment. It has to be a light bulb moment that gets you hugely excited, convey it in your language. Lose all inhibitions for that moment, show how you can be moved by the content of your lesson.
  • Be armed with a dizzying array of words that translate your passion: fantastic, outstanding, amazing, brilliant, wonderful, superb, and splendid. Vary these each lesson to keep your students guessing.
  • Show off the depth and detail of your subject knowledge; students love that they are in the hands of a confident expert. Build a sense of mystery about your knowledge, hold back from revealing everything. When they see that you are a master of your subject they will be hanging on every word, desperate to hear your knowledge nugget for today’s lesson.
  • Use hand gestures and movement around the classroom to illustrate your excitement and enthusiasm.

Leaving Baggage at the Door – Zoe Taylor

We often expect our students to leave their ‘baggage’ at the door when entering our room. If they had a poor test result in another subject, if they are behind target on their behaviour report, if they had an argument with a friend, we often find ourselves saying things like ‘OK, let’s leave that to one side and focus on what we’re doing now’. We expect this rapid ‘switch’ in attitude from teenagers, but in reality we know how hard it is- even as adults- to leave the baggage of our day at the door and deliver an engaging lesson. I struggle with this constantly, especially in the crucial first 20 minutes of a lesson. If something happened over lunch time, I would find myself trying to log Behaviour Trackers in amongst starting my Period 4 lesson. If my lesson for Period 2 didn’t go as planned, the first twenty minutes of Period 3 would be a terrible ‘hangover’ from the previous lesson, where I would churn over what went wrong- all whilst trying to teach a different lesson. This just isn’t possible. The students pick up on it; it stunts what should be an engaging lesson opener and ultimately affects progress. Here’s what’s starting to work for me:

  • Visualise dropping off your ‘baggage’ at the door. This is a new lesson, a blank slate, a fresh start.
  • Focus on the students- engage with them immediately. Their enthusiasm is often the best way to adjust mind-set
  • Be strict with yourself- don’t input behaviour trackers or respond to emails (unless urgent).
  • Finally, be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes; we don’t need to spend the rest of our day punishing ourselves- and students- for them.

Sustaining a positive learning environment – David Gray

Why does the arrival of a classroom climate survey stir a range of emotions? Did you think “this is easy, my year 9 class are awesome, and so this won’t take too long”? Or did the idea of having to formalise the difficulties you have with a challenging group fill you with dread? Perhaps you are slightly Machiavellian about the prospect of being able to name and shame certain individuals whose secondary behaviours continue to infuriate you. Consider how different the classroom climate document would make you feel if you had to focus in on the positives in your classroom, the students who actively participate, and the individuals who have overcome difficulties in your subjects.

Ask yourself the following questions; How much ownership of the classroom space do students have? Are classroom displays merely wallpaper, or are the classroom teacher and students regularly interacting with the wall space? Are you more focused on the use of sanctions in lessons or do you spend more time highlighting positive learner behaviours? Remember rewards????

Try one of the following next week and see if it makes a difference to your lessons:

  • Use the class blog to post celebrations of exemplar work and classroom success.
  • Search for the best qualities in every student. Look for opportunities to recognise and value their qualities (remember to thank them for their contributions)
  • Use inclusive language to build a positive community. ‘Together’, ‘support’ and ‘team’ set a positive tone.
  • Good learners never run out of questions. They are never satisfied with how much they know about anything. They are pulled around by questions—the ones they still can’t answer, or can only answer part way, or the ones without very good answers. Make use of your question wall to co-construct future learning. This will foster a sense of curiosity and interest in your subject.
  • Treat the end of a lesson like an EastEnders cliff-hanger (cue theme tune). Provide closure with every lesson, e.g. “Next time we will…..”, “Please read….”, “Share one new thing you learned today…” or “Find a video clip that shows….” This is a great way to build anticipation and a reason for students to be excited about coming to your next class!

I would like to pass my thanks to Jamie, Zoe and David for their reflecting on and sharing what they explicitly do to lift the climate in their classroom. In terms of my own practice I always have a couple of phrases going around in my head, picked up from people I have admired over the years. The first is from Alistair Smith, who often starts his training days by saying ‘If you are having a good time, make sure you let your face know about it’. I have been trying to make this a virtue these last few months when teaching my two bottom set classes. I love teaching them (they are not always easy) but there are so many students in there who just fundamentally want to be liked by their teacher. They are highly attuned to our teacher behaviours and so I make a conscious effort to communicate to them that ‘I like you, and I like being here with you’ which I do by smiling with my face and eyes. I always really make sure I mean it too because they see right through it when the face is smiling but the eyes aren’t.

The second line that goes through my head is from the fabulous Spence Rogers. A few years ago I was lucky enough to listen to him at a conference, talking about unlocking intrinsic motivation in students. On one slide he simply had the words on the screen ‘Say thank you, every chance you get’. I was reminded lately on the importance of this when reading a blog by Doug Lemov (Mr Teach Like a Champion) in which he emphasises the importance of building the self-esteem of their free school meal students and of modelling the behaviours you want more of in the classroom. At the Uncommon Schools they explicitly emphasise in their CPD the importance of thanking the students for not only being helpful, but also for asking or answering questions in class. At our teaching and learning conference in October, we also heard from Darrell about the importance of ending our classroom management exchanges with ‘thank you’. Two powerful words. I have learned that the more I say them in class the more likely students are to reciprocate, and even if they don’t, at the very least I find it nourishes my own soul that wee bit and it all helps to communicate to our students that being a teacher in the classroom with them is a fine way to spend your time.

Thank you for reading this!

Ken

Upgrade Marking with David Gray

 

Groundhog guilt

I don’t know anyone that looks at a pile of books and thinks way-hey! … but when teachers don’t mark frequently, books become full of dross. Students think: ‘Why bother if no one is looking?’

Do you have that sinking ‘groundhog day’ feeling every couple of weeks when you realise that you seem to be falling behind in your marking? Are you counting down the days until the next half term, not because you need to recharge your batteries, but because this is always an opportunity to get caught up on your books? Upgrading could help to re-energise the way in which teachers and students engage in the marking and feedback dialogue.

Using Upgrading to Close the Gap

Marking is a hugely important source of feedback- provided that we keep the volume of marking in proportion to the level of impact it can have in improving learning outcomes.

Following the recent English review, Amy McVay shared some advice and guidance received from the reviewer about marking and how it should always be focused on ‘upgrading’ a student’s subject knowledge, conceptual understanding, or literacy (and numeracy) skills.

Instead of ‘here’s a spelling mistake, write it out three times’, direct students to ‘upgrade’ their vocabulary by correcting the spelling and creating a definition of the word. Alternatively, ask them to use the correct spelling when writing a written reflection of their work.

The main principle of upgrading is that students need to close the gap between the work they have done originally and a higher level of work suggested by the feedback that they receive. Even if a student has completed work correctly, the upgrade feedback could take the form of a further question or challenge. In Maths this could take the form of a using a particular skill and applying this to a different mathematical concept (e.g. listing multiples to adding fractions).

In the best cases the teacher should use their expert knowledge to set a challenge pitched above the current grade/level of the individual. Upgraded marking need not always be this sophisticated. Where a student has answered a question, or completed their yellow box, with a short response, the teacher can challenge them to upgrade their answer by justifying, convincing and explaining their reasoning. An example could be, ‘How would you explain this to a year 6 student?’, ‘Plan to teach this lesson to someone at home’.

Errors and misconceptions should not only be identified, but unpacked, explored and celebrated. Invite students to upgrade their errors by annotating them; e.g. identify your grammatical error, correct and explain. Often if a student has a particular misconception, they may find it difficult to unpack this on their own. As the classroom teacher you may have identified them for some in class intervention, or referenced another student to coach them (e.g. see Sophie to go over this and summarise her advice), or directed them to an online resource (e.g. look at section …. on the grammar guide in the literacy toolkit). You can also ask students to upgrade their work to gold standard by asking them to self assess against the criteria, identify what is missing and then making the necessary improvements.

Trendy Terminology

Since the start of term, my marking has featured an array of ‘skills checks’, ‘probing questions’ and ‘next steps’. In my marking solitude I have often looked to these buzz words with comfort, to remind myself that I am doing what ‘good teachers do’. This however wasn’t met with the same affection from my students. In a recent year 11 class we discussed the meaning of the word ‘upgrade’ and I shared how I would be marking their work in the future. Like the latest iphone 6s (or whatever it is), the upgrade feedback is more developed, more efficient, well developed and the next level. Students are now asking to be set an ‘upgrade challenge’. As the classroom teacher I find myself having to carefully consider the kind of ‘upgrade’ feedback I am going to give  and the affect the student response will have on their learning (rather than simply going through the motions of using the marking policy).

Narrowing your ‘in-class’ gap

What about the students that are falling behind in your class? The students who need the most help and the most feedback are those who are least able to engage with written comments in order to secure improvement. The students who need the least help are those best able to engage with written comments. Feedback must be actionable, so that pupils can immediately put into practice the advice and guidance they are given on how to improve and so that the feedback is not ignored.

Consider those students that struggle to respond and plan to ‘drop in’ on them at some point during DIRT time (dedicated improvement reflection). As you proactively circulate your classroom, try to identify these ‘academic hotspots’ and work with the student to upgrade their work.

News from the Marketplace- Progress and Differentiation

Progress and differentiation

Much like Will Mays’ personalised name cards, Tony Brown’s lolly sticks allow him to target the students he needs to focus on and shows any observer how well he knows the class. These sticks, one for each student, let Tony know who is pupil premium (small coloured spot), who is SEN (different coloured spot) etc. They are also painted in the SISRA colours, so that Tony’s questioning is consistently differentiated and student centred.

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Pros

  • A good way to get to know the students
  • A tool to remind you of the importance of differentiation first thing at the beginning of the year
  • Personalised, but the students aren’t aware of the significance of the colours, dots etc.

Cons

  • Some preparation needed. Tony says that this is the first thing he does when preparing for his classes in September and that it definitely helps him get to know the students.

Progress tracker

For every lesson, Tony produces a progress tracker that allow students to review their learning at different points of the lesson, whilst simultaneously allowing him to view their understanding. Each tracker starts with key questions that will be considered throughout the lesson. Students will write down what they know (or rather that they know very little or nothing about the topic) and then these questions will be picked up and built upon as the lesson continues. The review points can be combined with questioning, ensuring that Tony is able to gauge and measure learning and progress at multiple points of the lesson.

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Pros

  • Students show that their knowledge is sustained
  • Can be used as a conversation aid between student and observer, as students are able to explain exactly what they have been studying
  • This follows similar structure to the Learning Cycle
  • The first question can refer back to previous lesson, whilst the plenary can look forward to the next part of the topic