Whole class engagement

What to do with a Y9 lower band class lacking in motivation to learn? Well, I tried one strategy with a level of success, and planned a second with the class teacher.

Strategy = Home and Expert groups, with a Dweck inspired pre-task chat about the importance of whole group buy-in. Each member fo the class had a 2-sided poetry placemat (below) which they had 2 cycles of info gathering and sharing poetry techniques to complete. I worked hard with the pre-identified, work-shy boys to ensure the rest of the group we’re disadvantaged. The majority of the class performed well, particularly in the 2nd cycle. Having split friendships/communes/allies/parters up, I wonder on reflection if friendships groups would have been a better way to approach this, since friends are more likely to support each others learning efforts. Or just talk. Tough call. The boys who didn’t buy in at least, with supervision, became experts and shared info, but failed to capture techniques shared by other classmates. So as not to penalise the keen beans, I made the info and placemat available online and set a homework to add further details to the mats.

Poetry PlacematPoetry Placemat 2

Strategy = Hearts then Minds. Fresh and green perhaps, but this is off the back of the CRB training, and taking stock generally, and trying to win this group back round to English rather than feed them to the machine. They most engaged during the last few lessons of Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – having accessed a theme they found to be personally interesting and relevant. With this info on board, I’m working to build on our EI/PLC project about inequality and social awareness, and the SOW about unseen poetry, which I’m focussing on poems from other cultures with congruous themes. Result? Bring a folk singer into a lesson to sing protest lyrics, inspire the class to write their own, using their placemats for technical direction, and then grade their commentary for reading levels.  So, after that we’ll do a persuasive writing project about supporting poverty abroad, and I’ve hopefully hit all the assessment bases, put some energy back in the class and tied it up with an appropriately thematic ribbon. Mixed metaphors much?! The class have made great vocab progress, with increasing sophistication in word choice however, the er, cherry on top of this mid term plan will be grammatical. I’m thinking a huge push on extended starters with grit for grammar – particularly punctuation, sentence construction (adverbial starters) and conjunctions to aid argument expression and develop.


Pimp my planner!

After reading Jackie Beere on the perfect Ofsted lesson, I made my Lovely Lesson wheel, printed off some of my favourite planning prompts from David Didau, borrowed a Teach Toolkit 5 minute planning prompt I found online and hey presto! Stimulus and focus for some purposeful, prompter, planning. I hope!


The Pod of Glory, and Inclusion, Equality & Diversion


Long blog coming up. I’m in Uni reflection mode.

I even spent some time in a big soft private pod chair in the library, with a laptop point and a purple cushion -lush! Nearly as cool as this stylish seating offering…



Well, the IED conference has just drawn to close, and I was really impressed by the quality, depth and enthusiasm of the speakers. My head is full of little parcels of info and ideas that I hope to unwrap properly at some point.

Lesley Powell’s keynote lecture on Socio-economic considerations and subsequent improvement strategies at Shotten Hall. Can I say I loved this without sounding too gushy?!

I said it. I loved this. Centred around the importance of aspiration, and the employment of innovation, creative and often unconventional intervention, future focussed investment and holistic pupil progress, I was really impressed and impacted.

Prior to teacher training, I worked for Creativity Culture and Education, who ran, and evaluated, the Creative Partnerships programme – so I’m already sold on the use of the arts and creative practitioners to drive the aspirations and subsequent achievements (not to mention economic gain – PWC gave our pupils a huge ROI of 16 points – way above national average). I’ve also spent the last 10 years working with inner-city youth to inspire improvement in their life circumstance and skills, so I was really, hmmmm, fired up I suppose, to see this in action alongside proven pupil progress in a school that won;t pay lip service to deprivation, looking instead to foster an environment of belief, that provides a framework to dream of achievement.

With half the school nearly on FSM, and gritty Ever6 stats indicated the longevity of the issue, it almost reduces the risk of focussing on, and possibly isolating pupils in less privileged scenarios, and potentially exacerbating their feeling of social exclusion.

Lesley also talked about behavioral concerns, emotional baggage and talked about always allowing pupils an exit route – which is some excellent advice I’ve been given before in the context of parenting. Moreover, her slides, from an OFSTED view, on progression and excellence were practical and useful.

I am going to ask if I can visit, and certainly, I’ve been prompted to think about the role of teacher-practioner -pioneer and how my skill set matches different school profiles and pupils. What kind of pupil, and progress is my teaching most aligned toward?


I developed an awareness of the increasing significance of IED on the Ofsted agenda, and the range of susceptible children, from a variety of Protected Characteristics that I might have considered in the classroom.

Those which were most greatly unpacked were probably sexual orientation and disability from a Learning barriers perspective – with the former being most provoking in terms of my preparedness to challenge cultural prevalent yet nevertheless offensive language that cultivates homophobic bullying.

I also enjoyed thinking about EAL provision – the seminar and lecture included some simple, ‘problematic’ pupil engaging strategies that are actually transferable, and highlighted the intelligence that exists in a home language, and should be assumed in the second language, even through tests aren’t able to indicate this clearly, so stretch and challenge is crucial. Interestingly a lot of EAL students are also G&T, and with some additional provision and planning (Google translate, translated keywords, buddying, visual stimulus), can progress well alongside their language development, and actually, with the increase in vernacular tolerance, are less diverse in language ability from their monolingual peers than I might assume. Plus, they often have something to offer – use their context to educate the class about the wider world, for instance.

I’ve been most exposed to, and will continue to be most exposed to pupils identified by the Disability Characteristic.

I’m spending my short placement at a school with a higher FSM%, so will use the opportunity to seek out aspirational strategies through professional dialogue where possible, since I don’t have any observation time at this school. The Head of T&L at my SD school suggested I spend some time at a school in a school with significantly more soci-eco issues to take into account, and Ill set this up once I’ve returned.

My main focus then, will be working with the SEN team, requesting additional training and exploring resources for literacy improvement strategies – particularly spelling and grammar – in my lower ability classes, whilst negotiating the challenge of pupil perceived stigmatization – hopefully a whole class approach to this with differentiated outcomes will alleviate this, or differentiated homework so that SEN scaffolded techniques are undertaken in individual settings. I also found Gina’s advice on working with LSA very valuable, as was her challenge to be aware of the prevailing existence of girls with unidentified learning needs, due to their early socialising skills – certainly this has brought to mind 1 Y9 pupil that I’m going to request is assessed.

Great conference, with speakers who were truly knowledgeable with excellent and inspiring models of practice- so much to take away and reflect on, and I hope I have the opportunity to go to similarly focused conferences in the future.

w/c 12 Nov: Weekly Reflection: Wise Words from Mz Wintour

“It’s always about timing” she said.
If it’s too soon, no one understands. If it’s too late, everyone’s forgotten.”

This week I’ll be focussing on Standard T4 – Effective Planning,with an emphasis on TIMING. With 100m lesson cycles, you wouldn’t imagine this to be a problem, but the ideal lesson plan follows a double learning loop, which, coupled with extensive SOWS, has left me prising in my plenaries with seconds to spare. I’m aiming to talk less, cut out unnecessary class feedback (i.e after every activity, they don;t actually need to respond back to the front, if Ive circulated and dealt with misconceptions etc) and be more ruthless about how much of the SOW lesson plans I try and teach – and also to what level – a lot of things I’ve pitched prohibitively too high, and need to work on ways to chunk learning in a staggered approach toward the difficult concepts.

My week B is also much heavier, with A Level and Y10 classes too (I team-teach the Y10 class and assist with A Level, although the teacher has suggested I try my hand at some parts of the lesson.) So my holistic timing was out of line too – lessons are still taking me a long time to develop, so I had some crazy late nights toward the end. Multiple music practices for a wedding this weekend didn’t help either, and my poor voice has taken a battering that even Voula-cises and Vocalzone couldn’t  really help with. Still, the more time I get under my belt, the better I’m getting.

Classroom Management (T7)
Feedback on last weeks focus is really positive though – and I got ‘outstanding’ feedback on my year 9 class! Was so so so delighted, as a lot of my effort last week went into working with the class teacher to develop strategies for managing the class, played it a lot stricter and stronger without loosing rapport with the class, who were much more attentive and progressed really well during my lessons with them this week. Even handled a repeatedly aggressive and argumentative pupil on report without faltering, and it’s boosted my confidence lots.

Pupil Progression (T2)
Moreover, its enabled me to plan for their progression, which has been on my mind a lot since my recent training gave me access to their statistics. Each pupil is supposed to make 3 levels of progress this year, but every one of them is already behind their targets from year 8.

I came up with these target cards (based on last lesson, where we determined what these were using the AF grids), which I also use to determine seating for the lesson. They remind pupils of simple ways they can progress, and I’m working on some sort of sticker on card system for their little victories.

Assessment (T6)
I also marked my first batch of assessed PEE work, which will be used to set year 7 levels thus far. Took ages, but feel like I got to grips with it by the end. Marking the end product has also really developed my understanding of the process of TEACHING it. That might sound obvious, but I’ll be able now to work out what level of output I’m looking for, look at the AF descriptor, and design tasks and teaching toward this.

I really put  a lot of thought into the targets for each pupil too, which I’m now aware of and can again, tailor my teaching toward individuals. I’m contemplating setting different homework depending on their targets too. As it’s a shared class, it;s a while until I see them again, so really hoping my ideas on helping the class respond to my feedback are still pertinent.

Right. Must sleep before  it all starts again tomorrow…

Indiana: glass half full

Half term! And what a way to walk into it – literally – as Friday consisted of the school sponsored 8 mile walk in the morning, followed by my first observed lesson with 7O in the afternoon. There was an amazing department lunch in between, but I was kind of focussed on getting my board made up and resources ready etc. I’m going to be using my Uni blog to really scrutinise my observations, but happy to say here that a lot of things went really well, and there are a lot of things I can improve too!

T4: Planning, Objectives and Resources
One of the key things I realised is that one of my strengths is also a challenge… having worked with graphics and copy, I really enjoy the creativity of putting together resources to support learning – but this can take quite a while too. With this lesson I wanted to scaffold it appropriately with options to tailor how much support I gave within the lesson, and most importantly for this class, maintain momentum. So I let them try some higher level thinking without much input, but when it became clear that they were struggling too much, I pulled the class back together and modelled a solution, which helped.  I also chose a sort of SOLO (Biggs and Collis) inspired worksheet, so that the class stayed focussed enough to progress, process well and produce a quality outcome.

T1: Setting High Expectations 
I was keen to set high expectations of the class. I did identify a prohibitor to learning and explained to the class that we needed to work on it, so that transitions in between activities became quicker and smoother so we could learn better. I used marble in, marble out approach to indicate their behavioural success, which did improve.

Prior to this, the week has felt a bit intense – had a lot of different and chunky chapters to get through. At school, I was really trying to get to grips with the content and SOWs for the classes I’m inheriting so that I could discuss lesson plans for my return after half term. 2 of the classes I have are shared with other teachers, and one of these is a 3 way split, so some some serious planning time was snatched at in between books, breaks etc. I also had to gather the first tranche of data for my research project. Had a heavy week with church things too, so was out at meetings and meant a fair bit of midnight/morning oil got burnt. And so did my voice by the end of the week. NOT WISE. Turns out sleep is for teachers, and singers – not sure how band will go tomorrow!!

PLC and T7 – Classroom Management
Learning highlights included a drama focussed lesson that really saw some teamwork emerging in a tougher class, and a chance for me to put my classroom management skills into play … I was asked to supervise a segment with 14 Y9 self-aware but pretty silly pupils who had to throw a foam ball around a circle in the hallway in between classrooms.Quietly. The 2 on report were definitely testing me but I did OK mixing the hard line up with some humour, and definitely feel my relationship with the class is developing without me having to compromise on control. Finding this is easier with younger classes, although do have to assert myself in different ways depending on the class, and finding Y10 another kettle of fish – but that’s team taught so I’m able to mirror, model and hopefully compliment the main teacher, whose got a great style – strong but with some banter!

At Uni, we had peer reviews of TLC1 (Thinking Through Teaching essay) and PLC1 (Professional Learning in Context – a group research project). I also had my first tutorial which involved quite a bit of preparation, but was a really great, positive and productive session. I felt focussed toward the rest of the term. We also sent reps to the first student council – I think the main area for concern has been not having an actual English Tutor on the course. It’s hard to say what the impact of this has been without having experienced it any other way. I suppose I did expect a bit more subject specific teaching at Uni about the English curriculum, English pedagogy and practice, exams, options etc. There’s been some great Drama stuff, and perhaps the Friday sessions for the PGCE students are more orientated toward this. It’s no biggie really, just puts the onus on us to be super proactive about filling in any knowledge gaps,and thats just good practice to get into.

Oops. This is a lot longer than intended. Again, Turns out I really do like reflecting!! Happy half-hols all.

Indiana: bread, butter and brûlée

So much to say! Here goes…

If I could summarise the week in three words they would be…


Let’s break it down…

I have a place for EVERYTHING. Which is at right angles to everything ELSE. However teaching is stretching even my abilities to be in the right place, time with the right kit and right kids.

I’ve decided that the best way to stay organise, in spite of having to teach from a variety of classrooms, is a box on wheels that’ll be my base, basically. I’m going to copy another teachers ideas to have pre-assembled kit bags per table grouping with prit stick, gels pens etc so that pupils can quickly get to work on activities and exercises.

I’m also trying very hard to stay on top of the Uni workload to free up time to be with the kids, but also in recognition of the extra work that planning full lessons will have, and wanting to be able to focus on this. So TTT is done and dusted (subject to peer review) and my group has made a cracking start on PLC1, with a view to analysing the first phase  of our collated data over the half term.

Doing TTT has made me question the gap between pedagogy in theory and in practice -there isn’t really time to consider how true to Enlightenment principles the lesson plan held. I suppose it’s all buried deep in each teachers motivations and approach to how they envisage their pupils progressing. It’s the methods that are more obvious, and not necessarily coherently group-able into a particular stream of practice either. It seems the most successful pedagogy is ‘Best-Fit’ – to the time of day, the class, the subject -whatever method is needed in the moment; active learning, De Bono’s hats, questioning techniques, Kagan’s consensus placemats, peer coaching or maybe some minister’s cat quizzing… the list is impressive and interchangeable.

My focus this week has been Classroom Management and the teaching persona, following some great training on this at both Uni and in school. I’ve been particularly observing teacher led routines in the classroom as well as techniques and expectations. As a result I’m developing my own set of expectations, which I’ll introduce as I take on classes more fully. I’ve had the opportunity to teach in or manage elements of classes this week, and have done so without any great crisis of confidence, and successfully corrected behaviour so I hope I’m not just getting a novelty response!

In response to my training, I’ve also made a real effort to get to know pupils, standing at the door to greet and say goodbye, asking questions, having conversations, showing interest, staying professional. This has been brilliant actually -it’s helped me learn names and faces much more quickly, and helped me really start caring about pupil progress.

Here’s some shots from a recent segment I did in a lesson on extracting meaning from words. I opened with a personal story that seemed to be engaging, then tempted the class with some chocolate market research which translated into processing the concept for the Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, and got some evidence of engagement and understanding. The class teacher helped me adapt the segment in anticipation of behavioural concerns,  and I added some scaffolding for one of the tasks to facilitate lower abilities (T4: Work collaboratively to adapt school resources where appropriate). Here’s some shots from the power point and whiteboard…

I continue to enjoy the relational element of working in a vibrant department with inspiring teachers and am becoming more confident in engaging in teacher dialogue where possible too.

Gems of advice this week include (all seem to be T2/ pupil-progress related)

  • Remembering that at this stage (Y8), the text is a vehicle for learning skills so concentrate on developing these to encourage pupil progression, rather than getting too strung up on the particulars of the plot.
  • Reflection on feedback is really important – build this into your routine so that pupils learn to automatically respond to your feedback.
  • Don’t plough through a SOW if homework indicates a lack of understanding – stop and consolidate this before progressing
  • Create space for emotional reflection too – how did this grade make you feel? Link to growth mindset and encourage First Attempt In Learning
  • Tailor tailor tailor. Plan lessons with anticipation of abilities. Know and SHOW how you’re doing this, but never dumb down and go for stretch and challenge.

I also met up with a group of prospective teachers taking place in an observation day with my Professional Mentor, and gave them a quick low down on the School Direct programme and answered a few questions. It was a good chance to reflect actually…
School Direct Pros..
– Feel professional, like a recognised teacher and part of a staff team by being in school right from the start
– By returning to Home school after Feb half Term, you are already more focussed on facilitating pupil development than getting too strung up on your own practice, since you’ll be picking up your original classes again (T2)
– Being in Uni led training less encourages you to take a pro-active role in your own training, since you are responsible for asking your mentor for self-identified training needs.


I’ve been given my final timetable, which I should add that I really do like -both the classes and the balance, which is weighted toward week B teaching, but this gives me plenty of time to be a week ahead of myself – and I took time this week assemble all the class lists and seating plans and check my pupils through the SEN database. One of my classes in particular has about a quarter of children highlighted as needing additional attention or having action plans requiring progression reports. We had SEN training this week, and I downloaded some info on how to tailor learning toward struggling learners, but I also have asecond observation with our specialist SEN English teacher today, and will ask her for help and advice too. I know this will take time initially, but become more natural as I spend more time with the same learners.

Loosely connected to this theme is my very interesting observations with Drama and Physics – both excellent examples of active and engaging learning. I requested the Physics observation because the teacher is practicing Kagan’s Collaborative Learning – which I’m interested in, and enjoyed seeing successfully at work within a different assessment framework.  The drama teacher and I discussed the separation of Shakespeare from Drama back into the English classroom, and I’ve asked to go back and watch her teaching Macbeth to lower Y10 set later in the year. I also spied one of my tougher classes really engaging with the drama lesson in the next studio, so asked my mentor if I could go and observe them in action too. I want them to know, that I know, they CAN do active learning, and that I expect the same from them in my more Voula-esque lessons.

And so to my last point….

Differing advice. On the one hand we’re encouraged to try new things this year, to experiment with pedagogy, establish lessons in our own style with fresh ideas. Part of me is conscious that potential employers at our placement schools may be looking for evidence of initiative and innovation in my practice. On the other hand, teachers remind us that this is the year to get the basics under out belt, Nothing fancy, just solid, straight forward teaching that facilitates learning, and to wait until our NQT year to try new ideas. Bread and butter teaching, hold the creme brûlée. Obviously we’re still getting our feet under the table, but I’m still wondering how the rest of the year will go. I guess they’re both puddings and pretty tasty either way…


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Me and the minis

A little bit about me

I'm training as a teacher on the School Direct route. It's new this year and puts me in the classroom more than a traditional PGCE. I'm also training for a marathon and really enjoy running. But not so much in winter. I've been blessed with a gorgeous hub and 2 awesome kids who are 3 and 1 and being total dudes about me going back to work full-time. And that is pretty much that.