Sunday, 23 February 2014

Role-modelling learning

Once every half term at CHS, the Pedagogy Leaders organise a Teacher Learning Community (TLC) meeting for our staff as part of our continuing professional development. Staff have a choice of six TLCs to join, and we have already met for three sessions so far this academic year.

TLCs provide a unique opportunity for cross-curricular collaboration and discussion about stuff that really matters (AKA Learning and Teaching), and the group of staff that I work with certainly bring a lot to the table. What I really love is the diversity of experience in the group: different subject backgrounds, number of years in the profession, approaches to teaching, classroom priorities, positions of responsibility, shoe size… basically everything! These wonderfully quirky differences all contribute to highly textured and thought-provoking conversations about all things pedagogical. Over the course of the year, the aim is to share existing good practice and learn from one another by drawing upon others’ experiences, whilst paying close attention to improving literacy across the school and raising the number of A/A* grades.

One of our meetings focused specifically on ‘role-modelling learning’. In true Accelerated Learning Cycle style, the ‘Connection’ came in the form of two video clips from YouTube of how to make a tuna sandwich. Please feel free to get in the spirit and click on the links to watch them yourself!

Afterwards, we thought about the following questions: 1) How important is it to role-model learning? 2) What makes for effective role-modelling of learning?

Research has shown that modelling is an effective instructional strategy in that it allows students to observe the teacher’s thought processes. Using this type of instruction, teachers engage students in imitation of particular behaviours that encourage learning (Bandura, 1986). According to social learning theorist Albert Bandura, ‘learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action’ (Bandura, 1977).

Following the sharing of some useful input and personal experiences from members of the group, attention turned to five distinct types of modelling for the ‘Activation’ portion of the TLC:
  • Disposition modelling - teachers and students convey personal values or ways of thinking.
  • Task and performance modelling - the teacher demonstrates a task students will be expected to do on their own.
  • Meta-cognitive modelling - this demonstrates how to think in lessons that focus on interpreting information and data, analysing statements, and making conclusions about what has been learned.
  • Modelling as a scaffolding technique - teachers must consider students’ position in the learning process. Teachers first model the task for students, and then students begin the assigned task and work through the task at their own pace.
  • Student-centred modelling - teachers can often call on students to model expected behaviours or thought processes. In student-centred modelling, teachers engage students who have mastered specific concepts or learning outcomes in the task of modelling for their peers.

In pairs, staff were assigned one of these types of modelling, along with a clear definition of its purpose, and were given around 20 minutes to design a learning activity to be delivered in the style of their given approach. This task was quite open-ended, except for the fact that the activities needed to be something that they could actually use for a real lesson, rather than basing it upon a hypothetical classroom situation.

The end results were tremendously creative. The ‘Demonstration’ element showcased activities ranging from the modelling and eventual assigning of specific roles to students working collaboratively in an art lesson, such as a Resources Manager and a Timekeeper (inspired by @thelazyteacher and his handbook – thanks Jim), to the teacher showing eager students how to use a microscope correctly for the first time.
Even after the TLC meeting had come to an end, days later in fact, group members were clearly still thinking about the conversations from the session, and were kind enough to get in touch and share with me what they had been developing in their departments since we met.

Over in economics, for example, SWh commented on her use of meta-cognitive modelling to translate information in a text (past paper) to economic theory.  The students were required to explain clearly what economic theory would predict what will happen in a given situation, such as bad weather will damage crops.  There is a step-by-step sequence of events which can be demonstrated graphically, so this sort of modelling was adopted to talk through the steps while doing the graphs.

In another economics lesson, JGb showed his students a model answer, which was followed by a detailed discussion of what students would include in each paragraph and what graph would need to be drawn before it appeared on the board. The students then attempted a similar question which required the same structure in their answer, and the majority produced a good answer having already gone through the thought process of how to answer the question.

Now over to the MFL department. HTl and JGl had developed graded modelling activities for the purpose of scaffolding learning, aiming to simultaneously build up students’ confidence in using the target language and focus on consolidating their written literacy. Firstly, students were provided with a model paragraph describing their school in Spanish, and were asked to make it a higher quality paragraph by adding or improving the variety of connectives within the text.

Secondly, students were provided with jumbled sentences that they needed to re-order in order for the paragraph to make logical sense.

This was followed by a cloze text activity, further differentiated by either showing or concealing a choice of words to fill the gaps.

The final activity was more open-ended. Students had a set of Spanish sentence starters (with English translations) and were encouraged to invent their own endings, with the added option of using vocabulary lists or dictionaries to support them if necessary.

The wonderful thing about all of these superb examples of supporting and advancing students’ learning through modelling is that these sorts of things are going on in classrooms across CHS all the time. Of course, what had been discussed and demonstrated in the TLC helped remind staff of how powerful effective modelling can be in the classroom, and perhaps sparked a renewed emphasis on its importance and on-going development to help make marginal gains. But it was great to hear from the teachers in the group that this session had helped confirm in their minds that what they were already doing in their lessons was truly making a difference to support their students to make meaningful progress. The ‘Consolidation’ phase continues...

Ultimately, this TLC was not about requiring teachers to re-invent the wheel. Rather, it was an opportunity, a space, an hour of reflection, to help make explicit and reiterate the importance of the little things that we do instinctively every day; the things that regularly make a real difference to the learning that takes place in our classrooms.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Subject Specific Literacy INSET

On the first day back from Christmas break we had an INSET designed around ‘Literacy for Life’.  As one of the pedagogy leaders at our school I took a seminar on using key words to structure and develop writing.  I teamed up with a pedagogy leader from last year Rebecca Howard and not only did we co-lead the seminar; we are also co-writing this blog.

We wanted to make the seminar as accessible for everyone as possible and make staff at our school consider their own subjects’ literacy and what was important to them.   There are many whole school literacy approaches which are very effective but as a teacher in our school I thought the most important thing to me would be to consider subject specific literacy. Focussing on the specialist terminology and getting students to sound like a specialist in their particular subjects.

We started the session by getting teachers to write on post it notes, the key literacy aspects of their subject , and sticking them on ‘literacy umbrellas’ followed by a discussion on the key literacy areas to improve in their subject.

The discussion went from spelling, punctuation to structuring essays and student’s ability to read and understand questions. Staff also shared some of the best practice they used in their departments. Some of the most common ideas were exam question practice; having students review a range of exemplar answers, helping the students structure their answers; one teacher’s mantra was ensuring students always considered Clarity, Accuracy, Detail, often used in conjunction with PEEL – point, evidence, explain, link, repeating and reviewing key words through own teaching and the use of a key word glossaries; some had designed their own which they gave to students, some gave space to the back or front of the books for key words to be updated as and when. I knew there were going to be so many good ideas that people in the school had that I purposefully left extra time for tables to discuss and share with the whole group.

In our activation section I shared my conversations with other subjects around school and the types of techniques and strategies that other departments were using. These built on the best practice from the discussion and gave staff a whole school picture of subject specific literacy. Rebecca then shared the techniques she has used in History. 

Over to Rebecca:
As Tom has mentioned we considered the most valuable part of the session to be teachers sharing and discussing their own excellent practice in terms of literacy. Therefore we wanted to provide our session’s participants with an opportunity to discuss and share strategies and ideas after having scrutinised the collated resources from both Canons and current pedagogy, for example blogs and twitter links. With this priority in mind I contributed to the activation section of the session with a few strategies that we use in Humanities to develop, support and challenge students’ literacy skills.  Below is a summary of the main points made during the session.

When discussing a focus for the session Tom and I began with the idea of using key words and phrases to help develop students’ writing. Writing is a complex process involving several stages, as Geoff Barton (Don’t Call it Literacy! 2013) states, writing involves :

         Modelling (the teacher sharing information about a text)

       Joint construction (teacher and pupil working together to create a text in the spirit of collaboration)

       Independent construction (pupils constructing a text independently)

Barton also goes on to highlight five crucial areas that ‘every teacher ought to know about writing’:

  1. Remember The Matthew Effect: ‘ The [word/literacy] rich will get richer and the [word/literacy] poor will get poorer.’ Therefore deliberately teaching writing skills will decrease existing inequalities.
  2. Presentation matters.
  3. Demonstrating writing matters. This means modelling and demonstrating, making mistakes and correcting them.
  4. Structure matters. This means mastering paragraphs, sentence structures and connectives.
  5. Vocabulary matters. The precision and complexity of the words we use marks the difference between the amateur and the expert. Teaching complex words to pupils you may consider less able is crucial as they may be the ones who benefit the most.

I wanted to focus firstly on strategies relating to the last point: ‘Vocabulary matters’ and ways in which we teach students to value and develop their vocabulary in Humanities.  I am certain these ideas are neither unique nor the best, however they have proven invaluable to us in Humanities, especially for students undertaking the rigorous study of History where literacy and language mastery are the absolute cornerstone of becoming expert in the subject.  Some strategies we use in this area are:

1. Key words and glossaries

Highlighting relevant, complex and /or subject specific terms at the start of (and during!) every lesson helps to develop students’ vocabulary. All students use the back of their books as a glossary of key terms. More recently we have begun to use half termly glossary quizzes or key word bingo to further consolidate understanding and enhance impact by referring back to previous new words.

2. Key word boxes

We always endeavour to make more complex vocabulary explicit, visible and easily available to students when they are tackling a written task. We actively encourage students to use them in their speaking and writing.

3. Key phrases

In a similar way to key words we make more complex phrases explicit, visible and easily available to students when they are tackling a written task as well as actively encouraging students to use them in their writing after experimenting verbally.  We have found that new vocabulary and phrases can help students (especially our students, who mostly speak English as an additional language) to express existing ideas for which they do not yet have words. In addition this helps students to develop new ideas which they did not previously hold.  For me this highlights our crucial responsibility to commit to making such this a priority for our students.  (Inspired from James Woodcock’s Teaching History (119) article: ‘Does the linguistic release the conceptual?’)

In History, we want our students to think and write like expert historians, employing subject specific language confidently.  This required careful consideration and research into the kind of language and phrases expert historians use in order to share these with our students. We concluded that in order for students to be able to think and write like historians they often need to demonstrate an air of uncertainty about the points they can make from the evidence they have been presented with. They also need to be able to make appropriate judgements that they can substantiate.  

Below is an example of a resource developed to support students in developing such tendencies.

3. Key phrase mats resource: How to make beautiful (inspired by Berger!) judgements in History.

Making judgements that can be substantiated is a crucial skill we want our students to be able to develop. It challenging to weigh up both sides of an issue or claim and formulate a judgement therefore such skills are often seen at the higher end of mark schemes.

We find our students make such judgements cognitively yet do not always have the appropriate langue to be able to express their understanding. We wanted to give students appropriate and expert phrases to help them express such ideas for which they may not yet have the vocabulary.

In History  (as in many other subjects) a key feature of our questions require students to make a judgement on the extent to which they believe something, or how far they agree. Some common question stems are below:
  • How certain are you about…..?
  • To what extent….?
  • How much do you agree about…..?
  • How far does the evidence suggest….?
  • How effective/reliable?
  • What rating would you give?

In the vast majority of cases we found that students were responding with answers that demonstrated understanding but where mastery of academic language was missing.  Common student (verbal) responses to the aforementioned questions were for example:

  • ‘It’s about 50/50’
  • ‘About 50%’
  • ‘Half half’
  • ‘I’m 25% sure’
  • ‘It’s 100%’

Therefore to support students in developing more academic language and inspired by researched literacy mats including Dale Banham’s, we developed a literacy mat to help students get better at making expert judgements. We wanted it to enable students to consider the strength and validity of their arguments and the strength of the evidence they have been presented with. The result is the resource below, kindly spruced up and laminated by Dan Fowler. It has been such a valuable resource and we use it more than even expected. In an ideal world we want to move to having these permanently  stuck to the desks to consistently support speaking and writing.  To hear students in year 8 respond verbally with answers such as ‘ this profoundly indicates that….’ has been really rewarding. It has also made a positve impact in students writing and students often ask for them specifically. 

Please find below some visual examples of the resources we use. The judgements mat is the first item below.

Next we focussed on Barton’s second of his ‘Five things every teacher should know about writing’: Structure matters. A key theme of the INSET and good practice in general in terms of literacy appears to making strategies we already employ to support literacy that may be implicit, really explicit to students. With this in mind we looked at some Humanities resources that exemplify this, where scaffolding and sentence starters are used and explicitly referred to before students write to reinforce expectations.

Making the implicit explicit (Didau, 2013) : Scaffolding and sentence starters

We initially discussed how resources that we already use for writing can be easily altered to make the development of academic literacy more explicit through, for example, scaffolding, the use of sentence starters and giving examples of key phrases needed for particular purposes.

We looked at a basic and fairly typical resource used for writing, where students investigate a range of options in order to evaluate how effective something is.  We then discussed how we could alter this resource slightly to:

(a) support students in structuring their written responses
(b) encourage students to use more academic language

Please find the two resources used in the session below. The latter being more explicit and signposting exactly what is expected from students’ writing with sentence starters and encouraging them to refer to the judgements mat.

As I am sure you aware there was a lot to take in.  For the consolidation phase we had prepared many different resources from various places including literacy maps, journals, blogs, subject specific research material on literacy strategies and ideas on how to improve literacy in various subjects.  We gave staff a chance to peruse and then they completed a sheet on the area they wanted to improve and the strategies they would take from the session.  In hindsight I wish we made more of an effort to fully engage staff with the resources and it was something to improve on for next time.
The session was really useful for me and even though I was leading the session I was able to take a lot of ideas from other more experienced teachers.  I am going to increase the amount of practice questions we do and spend more time explicitly teaching the literacy of the questions, focussing on key words and students’ understanding of the question.  I am very passionate about subject specific literacy and think it is very important that this is improved alongside whole school literacy approaches.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Canons Creative Writing Club

The Creative Writing Club at Canons was set up several years ago to provide a space for students to develop their Creative Writing skills. I have taken over the club during this academic year, and from the very beginning have been amazed by the talent and work being produced by its members. These are students who come to have fun, but are also interested in crafting and developing their skills, and they return faithfully every week in order to work on their writing. They also enjoy writing creatively in a structured school setting with no concerns about mark schemes and rules passed on from an exam board. Students find it freeing to be able to take their work in any direction that they might choose.

Since my tenure began, we have worked on different mini-projects together. I have tried to vary these projects in order to appeal to different members of the Club. It is not simply a case of the students turning up and writing in silence- I also want them to read different examples of literature, and learn different approaches to writing creatively.

We started the term by reading the short story The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs. The students used the story as a basis for their own short stories about wishes going wrong. Another reason for choosing this story in particular was to get students to read a piece of 19th Century fiction with words they might not have come across before, in order to help them to develop their vocabulary.

Members have also made up three different ‘elements’- for example ‘a stolen ring, a fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger’- which another student had to use for inspiration for a short story or poem. This gave students a chance to think outside the box, and use their imaginations fully.

Students often enter National Competitions and have their work printed in the School Newspaper. I also plan to create an Anthology this year of their work. The other great positive with Creative Writing Club is the friendships that have been formed between students from different year groups. They all have something in common- the sincere wish to write.

Setting up a Creative Writing Club is relatively easy, and the rewards and growth of the students are well worth it. I now pass over to some of the members of the Club, with their own thoughts:


Student S, Year 10

I’ve been at the club since the beginning. When I first heard about the club, I thought that it would be a great way of having the opportunity to express myself through creative writing. Ever since then, I’ve always enjoyed coming to Creative Writing Club because I find it easier to write next to fellow creative writers. I wrote this haiku poem which is about how words can create worlds and characters that transcend reality:

Pen clasped in one hand,

Black ink sprawled against thin sheets,

Lives and worlds are made


Student L, Year 9

I was introduced to the Creative Club by our Librarian, Miss Franklin as I was waiting to take a book out of the library. When I met the club members for the first time we all became friends. After that I introduced one of my friends to the club and then we started to make our memories together. This poem is about all the things that I remember and happened at the Creative Writing Club and what it means to me:

Miracles in Room 1

We meet each other in room 1,

Where the miracles are written.

We salute each other with a big smile and say,

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

If there are no hopes and dreams,

There will be no ideas to create miracles.



Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Promoting Positive Behaviour

Like most NQT’s, I was eager to learn and eager to improve my teaching. I wanted to become a consistently outstanding teacher. However, as observations of colleagues and regular staff training gave me more and more new teaching ideas to consider, I quickly found myself becoming overwhelmed and unsure of how I could implement all of these concepts at once. I soon realised that I needed to focus on one aspect of my teaching at a time.

A formal observation that I had as part of my application for the Ped Leaders post soon gave me a focus. My lesson was judged to be good with outstanding features. I was disappointed not to have achieved an outstanding, but agreed that my behaviour management was not as effective as it should be. There was one particular class with whom I felt behaviour was a problem. I had actually begun to dread the lessons I had with them!

I consequently began to ask colleagues about behaviour management strategies that worked for them and found out about ideas that I could try with my class. I regularly observed colleagues from a range of subjects who were renowned for their outstanding behaviour management and made it the focus of the fort-nightly coaching conversations I had with one particular colleague. Discussing the issue was not easy, as I felt embarrassed.  In truth, it is rare to come across teachers who confess to having problems with behaviour, as I suppose teachers fear that they may be judged as being a ‘failing teacher’. I really did feel that I must be the only person struggling to deal with the behaviour of my students.

Never the less, for each of my lessons I would come up with a grand plan for ‘taming’ this class and would feel optimistic that I would finally crack it. One week I would use the schools ‘ladder of consequence’ but when that didn’t work, the following week I would focus my attention on the handful of well-behaved students, showering them with praise in the hope that the more challenging students would follow suit in order to gain my attention. However, behaviour remained a problem and I would come away feeling a failure, not sure of what to do next. Each lesson, I tried something new.

I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. I had trained to become a teacher for four years and had learned about effective behaviour management strategies. Clear boundaries, high expectations, consistency, challenge for all, seating plans, warnings followed by sanctions. Each of these strategies was so straightforward on paper, but in reality I felt unsure of what to do!

I spent more time reflecting on the lessons I had taught this class, and after yet another conversation with a colleague about how I could tackle the problem, I realised that in attempting to improve behaviour, I was failing to be consistent, as I had been trying different strategies in every lesson. When things were going really badly, I wasn’t even enforcing strategies for a whole lesson, let alone a series of lessons.

I realised that it was about finding what made this particular class ‘tick’. What could I enforce that would make them want to change their behaviour, that would make them want to avoid sanctions? For this particular class, I discovered that it was not just about having sanctions for the class as a whole but also for individuals focused on their love for the practical element of PE. Throughout every lesson, I now tally up the minutes of a chosen activity that every student in the class will do at the beginning of the practical session, as a result of poor behaviour during the first hour of theory. I have found this to really improve the focus of students. It provides them with a challenge that immediately engages them, particularly as it involves an element of competition and also enables them to see progress week on week. Individual students are given a warning and then miss ten minutes of practical, followed by removal from the lesson and then detention if the warning has not been sufficient.

This strategy works effectively with this particular group. However, with another class it does not. Instead the use of a stopwatch to tally up the time they waste is what makes them ‘tick’. The class remain behind at the end of the lesson for double the time accumulated. Whilst they stayed behind for seven minutes the first time I tried this approach, they now average just eighteen seconds per lesson.

I am now finally seeing an improvement in behaviour with even my most difficult class, and can see that ‘consistency’ when it comes to behaviour management does not necessarily mean a one size fits all approach.  Strategies need to be tailored to individual classes. Once the most effective approach has been found, it is imperative that the teacher is consistent with it.

Now in my second year of teaching, I can finally see why those with more experience say that teaching becomes easier with time. Having worked for just over a year at improving my behaviour management, I recently received an outstanding judgement for a formal observation, where positive comments were made about my effective behaviour management. Both delighted and relieved to have made progress, I of course realise that there is still room for improvement and this will continue to take time and effort.