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.


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.