Shiny New Term

 

So we start a new school year, and as ever, we reflect on what worked and didn’t work across the last year. Boy was it a tough year; we were sailing into the unknown, hoping that what we were doing was right. After three days of little sleep, the GCSE results were published. It was all ok. I had two year 11 classes and they had done me proud, in particular, my 1/2/3 and a smattering of 4s class had absolutely smashed it. We had 5s and 6s. I proudly hugged crying students, who were so dumbfounded by their success, that all ‘coolness’ had disappeared. It felt good.

I work in a ‘challenging’ school, with over 50% of our students having English as an Additional Language and with a well above average PP cohort. We have just had the cohort with the lowest points score since 2010 get the highest results. But we can’t just sit on our heels, we have to keep going to work out how to give students the best possible education that we have to offer. But we also can’t burn out. We have to look at ways to make sure that we are all able to stay healthy and sane whilst also knowing that we are doing the best that we can for the students.

I’m not an academic. I’m a teacher who reads and trials ideas and strategies within the context of my classroom, the place where I’m happiest to be. I’ve learnt not to overload myself with new ideas; if I’m overloaded the kids are certainly overloaded. I need to take the things that work, and build on them, and chuck out what doesn’t work and doesn’t matter. I’m a real nitpicker, I dissect everything, and am always looking for ways to get better. So I sat with my exam results this week, and worked out question by question where my students had performed well. I was pleasantly surprised that they were pretty consistent. In fact, their marks for each of the Language papers were spookily close, and if there was anywhere that improvements were to be made, it was the writing tasks on both papers. So some things had worked. So what did I think worked, and what are my plans for the year.

 

Mindset

I become fiercely defensive over my students and I always want each and every one to succeed. When I first started teaching my 1/2/3/a few 4s targets in year 10, I was very aware that many of them felt like they couldn’t do it, that GCSEs were impossible. Many had complex SEN needs, some were EAL, and most were PP – everything that is supposed to be a barrier. But I just told them that we were all aiming for 4s and 5s and we were going to show everyone that we could do it. I kept repeating it. Their end point in my head, was the same as for all other students. I didn’t dumb things down and I never expected less of them, I just sometimes went a bit slower until we had mastered it, I sometimes pushed some of them harder, whilst scaffolding some of them up, but always kept the same end goal in mind. And they believed it. They believed that if they worked hard, they could achieve. We became a unit and on a rainy Wednesday in February half term (my birthday) they turned up for a revision school with a birthday cake for me. They had walked in the rain, with a cake (that got a bit squashed along the way) to come to school in the holiday, because they wanted to do well.

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And they did. I’ll admit that I went home and cried on results day because I had seen 6s on results slips. That may not seem much to some people, but some of these children had arrived at school not even having reached a level 1 in their SATs. So I have learned that it is vitally important to keep the same endpoint in mind for all. Not everyone will succeed, and there were a couple that weren’t ever interested in succeeding, but that we are letting students down if we don’t just expect the same from them, because if we only ever work to a 2 because that’s their target, we don’t know if actually they are capable of so much more, and they do appreciate that you keep that faith. That class will forever remind me of that.

 

Retention and interleaving

I started a personal research project with year 10 in the summer term, looking at interleaving and retention. I also used some of the same ideas with year 11, for revision, but focused mostly on yr 10. I wrote about the project here, if you want to see where the initial ideas stemmed from.

Students learnt quotes each week, and were tested on these. The idea was never that I wanted them just to know lots of quotes, but that they felt confident with the text. Their lessons were also interleaved so that they had lessons each week on prior learning and at the beginning of every lesson, students answered sets of questions on a selection of prior learning. They were also encouraged within lessons to connect across topics. So what did I find out?

Please bear in mind that this is a personal research project, there were lots of variables, it was never going to be perfect as research. I only had the previous year to compare with, so I compared how many quotes had been used in the end of year 10 Literature Paper 1 mock, compared to the same mock at exactly the same time the previous year. It couldn’t be directly comparable, the students were of varying abilities, but I wanted to see if learning the quotes meant that they used the quotes. They had. The orange and blue lines are from the previous year. They were using far less quotes in their answer than the grey and yellow lines, which were this year’s students.

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But did it impact on their marks? Well yes it did. The tables below show the results from 2016. The pink shows how many quotes they used,  the yellow their exam grade. We fine grade, so C is low, B middle and A high.

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I did exactly the same for the 2017 classes. They had performed better overall in the mock and there was a correlation between the amount of quotes used and their exam performance.

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Now please don’t jump on me; there are a huge number of variables. Maybe my overall teaching had improved, the students’ ability did not exactly correlate, there are still students that can’t be bothered, any number of things that make this all a load of rubbish….and yes I know that the exam board say that quotes don’t matter. But, for me, it was about making sure that the students felt confident with the texts and to have studied and analysed the language well enough to go into an exam and have something to write about. I think it does make a difference and, it is something that I will continue with.

So this is how this half term looks for me. They will do a piece of extended writing fortnightly, alongside interleaved lessons, but with An Inspector Calls as their main focus. Each week the homework leads into the following week. This worked well last year, with a high completion rate, once they knew that they would be tested and use what they had competed for homework in lessons.

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For the last half of the summer term, the students had homework booklets that they completed, where everything was designed to lead into the following week. I have slightly changed that this year, so that they are also learning vocabulary relevant to the topics every week, which they will then be tested on. I will also encourage that vocabulary use within lessons. They also have to complete 20 mins on the Bedrock vocabulary programme online every week, as well as completing pages from their Inspector Calls workbook. So this is how this term looks in terms of homework. The initial idea and template has totally been stolen from @evenbetterif

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They have a homework booklet where each week looks like this.

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The vocabulary and definitions are clear. I will have gone through them before they take them home.

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So we will see how that pans out. I’m adapting for year 10 and they will be taught using the same principles and interleaved lessons. I’m not claiming it will be perfect, but I am trying to encourage retention, confidence, challenge and independence. If there is one thing that the results have shown me this year, is that hard work makes the difference. The students know that if they learn and revise as they go along, it will make a difference at the end, and they are happy to go along with ‘Miss’s Project’ because they can see that it works.

 

Marking

I have 4 GCSE classes, and I need to improve on getting feedback to students quicker. There is no point in them waiting a week to get feedback, it needs to be as instant as possible. Last term I trialled whole class feedback, which worked really well. That is something that I want to continue this year. I also want to get better at live marking, so that as many students as possible get their feedback immediately and act on it there and then. I also want to play about with the idea of multiple choice questions as part of feedback. As part of our marking policy, we require students to either go back over their work, or answer questions relating to their work, but I want to look at how this can be tightened even more, so that it is instant and lightens my workload of an evening. I also very much like the idea of comparative judgement, but that is one for persuading those above me….watch this space.

 

Keep it simple

Lessons don’t need to have flashy ppts and millions of resources. There is such a thing as overload, and in the past I’ve been guilty of it. I’m teaching An Inspector Calls this term with me, copies of the text, some slides with vocabulary definitions, the students’ ideas and a lot of enthusiasm. Let’s see how that goes.

 

I wish you all a happy and productive year. Be kind to yourselves this year, don’t overload yourself with ideas, just because everyone seems to be doing them. Pick something that you think will work and see how it goes. I’ll leave the last words to a student. When it is dark and grey and we are tired, remember why we do this…because actually, in the end, education opens doors.

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That’s another one done, thanks to brilliant people.

 

This was too long to write as a tweet…140 characters is never enough to enthuse about something, but just bear with me.

 

I’ve had a tough old timetable this year, a timetable that for staffing reasons, changed from the original and meant that I had 4 GCSE classes. Not that I mind; I live and breathe GCSE and teaching the new specs gave me something to get my teeth into, to constantly have to reflect and adapt and consider the best next move. It also gave me an opportunity to do a spot of research, something that got the old brain whirring again. And to be honest, who doesn’t love rooms full of opinionated 15 year olds? However, it has been hard work, and this isn’t about me, but the wonderful people who have kept me going this year.

 

First of all, running @Team_English1 with @NooPuddles has been utterly wonderful. In a year we have accumulated nearly 9000 followers, meaning we have nearly 9000 people sharing ideas, resources and just generally supporting each other. Never has this been more needed that in the first years of massive changes at KS4 and KS5. Between all of us, we have dropboxes full of thousands of resources covering anything and everything. Every day I wake up to tweets every day from people asking for help and from those that have stepped in and supported them. A trawl through our followers gives a snapshot of what education is all about: trainee teachers, NQTs, RQTs, teachers that have been teaching for years, Teachers in Further Education, Heads of Department, Assistant Heads, Deputy Heads, Headteachers from both Primary and Secondary, Teacher Training accounts and exam boards. The account has been mentioned in school CPD sessions, exam board training sessions and government meetings. We have had messages from people saying that they had been ready to quit teaching, but they had found us and felt revitalised again. That’s pretty special.

 

And all of this is down to you all, people that interact with us every day, to all of you that understand that the greatest thing that you can do as a teacher is step out of the comfort zone of your institution and look at how others do things. You are people that are constantly reflecting and improving, and are as up-to-date with research, ideas and resources as anyone can be. Because in the end it will make you a better teacher, because we are the brain power of many, and as you collapse onto your sofa with your end of year drinks, pat yourselves on the back, and realise what a fantastic community we have made between us. So thank you on behalf of Nikki and I for going with us on this crazy journey with us, a journey that looks ready to lead into exciting things; @Team_English1 and #teamenglish is a force to be reckoned with.

 

Last year I said personal thank you’s to so many people. This year I think that there are too many to mention. I love you all, and so many have helped and supported me this year, I just can’t possibly highlight everyone, you are just all wonderful human beings.

 

But there are a few that I want to mention personally….

 

@Xris32  @mr_englishteach @DoWise and @HuntingEnglish are absolute bastions of the English teacher blogging world. Every single blog they write, gets me thinking, gives me practical ideas that I can go and try the very next day in my classroom and their subject knowledge is second to none. Not only that but they are all jolly nice blokes, who give up time and energy to support and advise. Hats off to you gentlemen.

 

@dutaut is one of the kindest, intelligent men that you could ever have the pleasure to meet. He is one of the most beautiful writers you will ever come across and his sensitivity and humble nature inspires me more than he can ever know. This year he got me to read The Manual of The Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho. It was needed just at that moment….like he had sensitive super-powers or something. So thank you JL.

 

Twitter is an odd thing, and edu-twitter can be both a wonderful and negative place to be in equal measure. But I have had the fortune to interact with some amazing people who support and guide in equal measure. Where else really, can you be mentored and advised by HoDs, SLT and Headteachers  from across the country? People who are impartial, but have your best interests at heart and just want to help you get that little bit further. Some people don’t understand why I would bother with Twitter, but that is why I stay; there is nowhere else that you could get that.

 

So to my final thank you…I have had the utter pleasure to meet some amazing friends via Twitter, people who I talk to every day….and I mean, every day. I talk to them more than members of my own family. They have kept me going more than they will ever know. During this exam marking season these people have kept me sane and supported. They make me laugh and smile and hold one another up when it is needed. Ideas suddenly become resources, bad days are made better. We have had tears, tantrums, job interviews, meltdowns, a lot of exam marking and even a labour…yep. So, a public thanks to my wonderful friends: @MrsSpalding @NooPuddles @evenbetterif @TLPMsF @MsMaster13 @Xris32 @Cornishwelsh @ladybarkbark

@RealGingerella @MasalaNatalie @fod3 @heymrshallahan (resourceasaurus)

@amforrester1 and @FKRitson

 

So we’ve done another year. Well done everyone, ‘cos this was a tough one! Across the country teachers await exam results with trepidation, but for now, relax, raise a glass and get some breath back…we’re going to need it.

Love xxx

Why I love Romeo and Juliet

 

I’ve seen quite a lot of ‘dissing’ of Romeo and Juliet over the last few days, and can’t help but get annoyed on behalf of the tragic duo. I don’t know if this is a general backlash against the exam question, a question that I, and the students I spoke to, really liked. I understand why some didn’t; the extract was small and relatively lacking in language, but everything that was there could be used for a question on masculinity, from ‘naked weapons’ to thumb-biting, to the use of the respectful ‘sir’ to questioning to checking legal positioning. Plus, if students had learned some of the juicer quotes from the rest of the play, there was plenty more language analysis to be had.

I had a training session with AQA about 3 weeks before the exam, which made me change the way that I taught students how to answer the question. At the session, we were told that examiners would want to see that students understood how an extract fitted into the play as a whole, to consider how the character/theme/idea developed across the play, and that therefore the bullet points in the question were not necessarily evenly weighted. An answer, particularly for the higher grades should focus on the development and this may sometimes mean the focus on the whole becomes greater. For example, seeing it as a development, means that you naturally consider what happen before and after the extract, meaning that the analysis of the rest of the play is bound to therefore be longer. To me, that appears to be something that this week’s question was naturally encouraging. Not a bad thing, as surely it is easier to assess a student’s understanding of the play they have been studying if they show they take a holistic approach. The session also made it clear that the higher grades should show a clear opinion on what they had read and be able to discuss alternative interpretations.

But back to my defence of Romeo and Juliet.

It isn’t an ‘easy’ play at all; it is a play which more than any other Shakespeare I have taught, encourages strong personal opinions amongst teenagers. It is a play that is full of beautiful and intriguing uses of language and switches between language forms. It is a play that every time I read it with a class throws up something different, encourages talk, discussion and strong personal opinions. It is a play with themes and ideas that still resonate with young people today. Obsession, sex, relationships with parents, fighting, dishonour, friendships, to name but a few, and certainly where I teach,  there are those students who will later who go through the process of arranged marriage, for which the play opens up a platform for discussion.

When I hear that the play is being taught to younger students in year 7 or 8, or even as I heard recently, in year 6, I wonder, actually what is being taught? Is all Mercutio’s innuendo being missed out, surely the ‘poperin pear’ and mention of Rosaline’s ‘quivering thigh’ are far too intense for year 7?

 

But without discussing this sexualisation of women, how do you have an understanding of whether or not you think Romeo’s love is real or not, compared to what was expected of a man in the Shakespearean era? Is the fact that Romeo bemoans the fact that Rosaline won’t take his gold and wants to stay ‘chaste’ being glossed over in an attempt to prove that it is just a wonderful love story?

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And the whole play starts with some incredibly sexual banter. The more astute student in Monday’s exam, would have further referenced the fact that up until the point where the extract starts, Sampson and Gregory had already almost whipped themselves up into a masculine, penis-related frenzy:

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All of this adds to students’ understanding of the time in which the play was written, the social conventions, the idea of gender and masculinity. Students do relate this to today, to banter amongst friends and it encourages them to question why this is, whether it should be and whether things have actually changed.

And what about the misunderstanding between Romeo and Juliet on the balcony and the fact that she seems to either panic, or become angry (depending on the interpretation) that perhaps Romeo is not as she thinks he might be, but instead wants sex. After listening to him mope about Rosaline not wanting to‘ope her lap to saint-seducing gold’ the average 15 year old has a pretty solid view on this.

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And then we have Juliet’s soliloquy on the night she waits for Romeo. She is scared, nervous and excited to possess the ‘mansion of a love’ It’s about a ‘winning match’ where she will lose her ‘maidenhood’….and the comparison of this being like ‘an impatient child that hath new robes’ only serves to highlight the youth and immaturity of someone about to take part in the most adult and mature act…and without the support and advice of her mother.

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So Romeo and Juliet is just full of sex, basically. This interpretation goes even further…I’m not sure I would want to take it that far, but it’s interesting nonetheless

http://elitedaily.com/life/culture/romeo-and-juliet-not-romantic/1792993/

I’m teaching the play at the moment to 2 classes of year 10s. One of them is a top set, which has allowed me to really push and squeeze lots of interesting ideas out of them. We have reached 3, Scene 1. They know the basic story of the play, but we have been through and annotated and discussed the language in detail. They have fierce opinions on the characters, and I allow them to discuss and argue with each other, because those personal interpretations are so very important for this GCSE. One of the more interesting arguments from the last couple of weeks concerned this:

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One of the the young men in my class, thought that this just added to the comedy in the scene, that had also included Mercutio’s sexual banter towards the Nurse where he had basically described her as an ‘old whore’…year 7 anyone?

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I’d not really thought about it and asked him why he thought it could be seen as comedic. He said that the fact that he had appeared to be romantic and gushing about Juliet, but at the last minute had told the Nurse to wait for a ladder so he could get up to her room that night. The student thought that it said everything about what Romeo really wanted, and was so ridiculously obvious that it was funny and therefore matched the earlier sexual banter from Mercutio.

We also had much discussion about this section where Frair Lawrence suggests that, ‘young men’s love then lies, not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes’ and ask does he think this is real love? What are his motives for marrying them? What are the Friar’s views on women? What do we learn about Elizabethan society?

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And so to language…obviously we have the conversation written as a sonnet

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Which also happens to be full of religious imagery for students to get their teeth into. I’ve had students consider it blasphemous, or see it as love being as important as religion, or as him trying to persuade her through the use of religious imagery…there’s a hundred and one interpretations.

The play is full of light and dark imagery, death imagery, symbolism, sexual imagery, puns, oxymoron and antithesis and some of the most east to learn lines in literary history (which makes it perfect for a closed book exam) It has a prologue which tells us the story, meaning that the scope for dramatic irony is huge. You can talk about the classic 5 part structure:

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Or you can discuss how it fits into the genre of Greek Tragedy…or in fact how it doesn’t. You can discuss whether you think Romeo is a tragic hero, or of in fact you think that he isn’t

This week year 10 and I looked at Act 3, scene 1 and the language within it. We looked at why Mercutio speaks in Prose. What does it tell us about him?

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We thought about how this showed Benvolio was a calmer and more controlled character than Mercutio, and that Mercutio’s uncontrolled, hectic nature was reflected in the way that he spoke in Prose, which was often at odds with the way others spoke. We discussed how this made it more difficult to work out what he might do next, his speech being as erratic and chaotic as his mercurial nature.

Later in the scene, we looked at how Tybalt changes from blank verse to match Mercutio’s Prose and considered why that might be.

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“It’s a bit like when someone says ‘your mum'” a student suggested. “You do the same because at that point you need to be on the same level, so Shakespeare does this to show that Tybalt feels he needs to match Mercutio.” I’m happy with that.

This then led into a conversation about whether Shakespeare could seriously have written all his plays by himself, because it would take an awful lot of work to create all that blank verse, and rhymed verse and sonnet form….they were thinking and questioning and asking.

What about this bit in the same scene? I got the students to tell me what they thought were the important words in this section

They picked the words ‘my’, ‘me’ and ‘I’, and we discussed what it suggested about his character…the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility and instead blames everyone and everything else, including fate. We discussed how earlier in the scene he had told Tybalt to ‘be satisfied’, but had hinted that there was something he didn’t know and aggravated the situation further. There is so much there to unpick, so much to have a personal opinion on, and I lost count of all the times that they related characters and events to things that they had experienced within their own realm of existence.

I could go on forever, I love this play, and I love the reaction it provokes with teenagers. Do I think it should be taught to year 7? If it is, then much of the actual, important stuff is clearly being glossed over. It is so much more than a love story, it is a comment on gender, it is a comment on patriarchal society, it is an argument as to whether love and infatuation are the same thing. We wonder whether Mercutio’s rants about whether he ‘consort’st’ with Romeo and his utter contempt for women are because he is hopelessly in love with Romeo, or because he hates that he has chosen a woman over his friends…’bros before hoes’ is the year 10 phrase of choice. We question Romeo’s real intentions and we wonder whether Juliet is just desperate for some real attention. We question whether Shakespeare wanted to please Elizabeth by making Juliet a woman who takes control of her life at the end, by deciding to end it all and by facing perhaps the bravest death of all.

My personal opinion is that 15 years old is the perfect time to study this play. It is the time when it means something and the time when teenagers are turning a corner in being confident in their opinions. Will I keep teaching it at GCSE? Yes, I bloody well will, because I think it is perfect for the demands of the new GCSE, it is brilliant for language, themes, ideas, alternative interpretations and personal opinions. It is brilliant for tracking a character/theme/idea across the entirety of a play and I will enthuse about it forever.

But that’s just my opinion…

 

And now for something a little bit different….

 

 

I currently teach a lot of GCSE classes – 4 in fact, and for a while now have felt distinctly uneasy that the way our curriculum has been set out, does not support real learning and in particular retention at GCSE with 100% exam qualifications.

What do I mean? Well, I have 2 year 11 classes. One group of 1,2,3 targets with a smattering of 4 and the other, for several different reasons,  are 1-7. At the beginning of year 10 they studied Sign of Four, followed by a bit of Language, followed by Romeo and Juliet. In year 11 they studied Poetry, Blood Brothers and then back to revision. The trouble is, despite running after school revision sessions all the way through year 10 and 11, by the time we got to revision….they had forgotten everything. We have a carousel based revision system, students go to the session, not the teacher – the most popular revision session by far? Sign of Four. It really doesn’t take a genius to work out why….they can’t remember it.

Now, I’m not saying that I had never returned to those texts since they had studied them in year 10, but I don’t think that I had done it in a structured enough way, and I also think that it hadn’t been done in a way that meant that they had to engage properly with the texts. Hands up. So, like many teachers across the land, I started to wonder what was the best way? How can students learn and retain the most knowledge, whilst still practising the skills that they need to succeed and stopping this messy confusion of revision at the end?

The first thing that is really obvious, is that the more confident a student is with a text, the better their exam answers are. The more that they have engaged, even in small chunks, the more analytical their answers. So, therefore the trick surely, is to help students feel confident with texts and content? So how do we do that? Well, repetition for one. I have 2, albeit grown-up children of my own and saw all the way through their schooling that the more things were repeated, the more they remembered them. Take small children, they love things being repeated. My 4 year old nephew will watch the same TV programme over and over again, there is something about repetition that makes them feel comfortable. Why was I not thinking about this in my own lesson planning? So by this time we were about to start the Spring term and I needed to think about how I could get revision right for the students.

The first thing that I implemented was this fabulous idea from Rebecca Foster (@TLPMsF) The 5-a-day starter:

https://thelearningprofession.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/5-a-day-starter/

It’s really simple and once you have made a bank, it’s all there ready. It took me about an hour to make a set for a half term, but there was all my starters made. There are lots of versions knocking about on Twitter now, but please read Rebecca’s original post to get a sense of the ideas behind it. This is an example of how I used it with year 11:

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So my year 11 classes have been doing one of these at the beginning of every lesson for a term now and I’ve noticed that their confidence has absolutely soared, particularly amongst my lower ability set, who love the routine of it and actually really enjoy pushing themselves to remember details. They will often say, ‘that’s like in the starter we did’ or cross match something they have been reminded of in one text to another and crucially, I have seen ideas from the starters in their writing. So that for me, has been something that has worked.

The other thing that I needed to get them doing, was learning quotes. Whether anyone likes this or not, it is an essential part of the new GCSE. I was in perhaps the fortunate position of having taught closed-book literature for a few years, and our students had always performed pretty well in it, which makes me wonder whether closed book actually forces students to have a better understanding of the text, but that’s a whole other argument. The way that I have always used to help students learn quotes was a version of the dual coding technique…so along these lines:

Students would learn the quotes for homework and then they were tested on the quotes, the following week. Works really well, students learnt the quotes and again the lower ability in particular thrived on this idea. My only issues here are that a) I’m doing a lot of work and b) I’m giving them the quotes I want them to learn and with a top set year 10 coming on the heels of these, it made me think about giving students more autonomy in the quotes that they learn.

Students also love Kahoot, and I used that to my advantage. So here, for example, students learn the chapter titles for Sign of Four for homework and the following week were assessed using Kahoot. Each student signed in and I could clearly see who had learnt them and who hadn’t…and they loved the competition of it.

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Kahoot Quiz

So year 11 is ticking along, I have seen improvements in their writing using these strategies, but still I had the rumbling sense that the curriculum map was not conducive to helping students to learn, to feel confident enough that when those 8 hours of exams hit them at the end of year 11, they knew everything that they needed to. So my mind turned towards year 10. I have a top set year 10 and a 2-7 group (I ignore 2 targets by the way, everyone in my classes is aiming for at least  a 5.) I had read a lot of ideas and blogs about interleaving, spacing and retention strategies and made it my mission to become more informed. In particular, I have been really struck by the ideas of The Learning Scientists (@AceThatTest) who make all this sound pretty obvious. Their blog is full of useful material, including downloadable material on interleaving, spaced practice, retrieval practice, all of which is useful to teachers, parents and students.

So I was really interested to attend ResearchEd English and MFL in Oxford a few weeks ago, and in particular, hear Amy Forrester (@amforrester1) talk about how she had used research to rise to the challenges of the new GCSEs. Her talk was exactly what I needed to push myself to have a go at implementing what I knew was right. Amy’s research was just what I needed to hear and is well worth a read.  So I decided to properly give this a go and put ideas into practice. First, a bit of research…

I’ve been reading 2 books that are completely changing the way I think. These may be books that many have read, but they are making me reconsider, after 15 years in education, how students learn, and how I can most help them to retain that knowledge.

Over the last few weeks, I have read some great blogs explaining how they have implemented these ideas. The wonderful Dawn Cox (@MissDCox) first got me thinking about how a curriculum and lessons could be designed with the idea of memory and retention at the heart. This is a great place to start with Dawn, but a trawl through her blog will show how she implements ideas within her lesson.

David Didau has written extensively on this subject, both in his book, What if Everything You Knew About Education was Wrong? and on his blog here.

Damain Benney (@Benneypenyrheol) was good enough to point me in the direction of the work that he has been doing, which I found both helpful and fascinating:

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2016/07/11/spacing-interleaving-the-testing-effect-and-distributed-practice-the-diet-coke-version/

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/trying-to-apply-spacing-in-science/

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/optimal-time-for-spacing-gaps/

https://mrbenney.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/revision-practising-what-i-preach-retrievedonthighlight/

After putting out a request on Twitter @MissWood_Towers really helpfully linked me to these that are also hugely useful:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-interleaving-effect-mixing-it-up-boosts-learning/

https://classteaching.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/spacing-and-interleaving/

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/benefits-spaced-practice-classroom-four-tips-teachers

@judehunton linked me to the Dunlosky article here

I’d also like to thank @ralston_h for the really useful ideas and help that she gave me.

Twitter is a grand place for support when you have an inkling of an idea.

So what have I done, apart from read a fair bit and drink endless cups of coffee? First of all, I completely nicked Kate McCabe’s (@evenbetterif) idea for my year 11s Easter revision.

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Kate skilfully put into practice everything that we had learnt from the ResearchEd conference – short sharp focused tasks. I simply adapted for the texts I taught and gave my year 11s a choice of tasks for each day of the holidays, so even if they did them all, they would only need to spend an hour of their day doing them. The students have really taken to this idea, as their emails in the holidays have delightfully informed me!

Kate’s original document is here….she is a genius at resource making.

And while year 11 are busy revising, my mind has turned to year 10 and what I am going to do now, to boost their confidence in the texts and make sure that they are retaining everything they need to. So here’s what I’ve planned…

I’ve tried to look at how I can interleave this Summer term. Students have already studied Jekyll and Hyde  and have just started Romeo and Juliet. They also did a Language mock in January and will do a Lit Paper 1 mock sometime after half term, probably mid half term when the exams have calmed down, but an actual date is not in place yet. It doesn’t matter if Romeo and Juliet isn’t finished by then, as we will write the mock so that it is an extract that they have covered and they can use what they already know.

So, this is my plan for the term.
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The first half term is fairly simple. The second term, I have taken out the last week for celebration activities etc. and this may need to be changed depending on where the mock lies, but the idea is that they won’t particularly need extra revision sessions, as they will have been returning to the previous text across the half term. So basically they have one lesson a week on something that they have studied earlier in the year. This is how this should work on an approximate lesson by lesson basis.
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Next, I have designed their homework activities to feed into their lessons for the first half term. Each week they will need to get a basic understanding of the scenes we will be studying that week. They will also be expected to learn quotes as they go from what we have studied. One of the tasks they do every week, will also lead into a class assessment e.g the Jekyll and Hyde quotes will lead into the assessment in that lesson, which I have already written, so they are constantly doing things that will lead into something else. They will also complete a Language question a week, apart from the last two weeks, around half term, just so they keep in with the paper, although for some of the language lessons, in the first half term, I will focus on skills that they can use in the paper.
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I then plan to give them a test sheet one lesson ever week where they write down the quotes that they have memorised. They will continue doing their 5-a-day starter questions, they have been doing these all last half term anyway, so know exactly what they have to do. Because of new photocopying limitations, I’ve had to make these smaller, so they have questions stuck in their books that they answer underneath like so:
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So therefore homework’s should lead into lessons, what we do in lessons should feed into homework etc.
So that’s it really. That’s me having a go at starting to put all the reading and research into action. I know there is some disagreement that this is the way forward, but I can honestly say that from what I have read, and from my day to day teaching, I think this is what will support students the most in achieving. Like all of us, the students are always at the centre of what I do and if I need to adapt or change, I will do. Having said that, I think students do need to be challenged, they need to understand that putting in the hard work now will reap dividends later. The new GCSEs don’t allow for last minute panics and ultimately slow and steady will win the race.
My next challenge, is to show the benefits and convince my department that a curriculum that uses, interleaving and spacing would be the ideal…and thank goodness so many out there have research to suggest it would be. I am lucky that I work somewhere that allows me to play around a bit, and trial these things. I’d also like to look at how we assess, look at ideas such as multiple-choice testing and dig much deeper into the idea of threshold concepts and how all this can feed into curriculum design. Yes all this requires a bit of extra work and effort, but if it creates better outcomes for students in the end, it would absolutely be worth it.
I’m just one teacher, in a department of teachers, in a whole profession, but we all have to start somewhere…

Retention and Workload

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I often wonder if I am slightly more militant in my opinions than a lot of people. To me, it always seems the right thing to do and if something annoys me or I feel it is unjustified, I do feel real anger and frustration. Some might think it is the natural fiery red-head in me, but I do feel that it is our responsibility as humans, and as a professional body of people to care about what is happening within our profession, even if it is not happening directly to us. Today’s Education Committee report on the ‘Recruitment and Retention of Teachers‘ at least acknowledges that there is an issue in the profession, whilst not offering much in the way of a solution

I’m happy in my job. I love my job. But, like many, I do feel that the workload is becoming crushingly huge, but to get to the bottom as to why is like a tangled web of confusion…it’s been a general build-up of…well everything really. I’m lucky that I work in a school that is beginning to understand and acknowledge some of this. We have flexibility to trial marking strategies, and assessment, data and mock windows have been looked at in order to attempt not to ‘clog up’ any one section of the year with workload. We now have working groups looking at data, marking and feedback and planning and resources in an attempt to eliminate unnecessary workload. It’s not perfect, but everyone is trying and acknowledging there is a problem. My single biggest issue this year has been GCSE and the marking of mocks, but more of that later.

But I do know that this is not the case everywhere. I know people who are working in what I consider, shocking environments. I have a friend whose contracted hours are 8.30-5 before there is any sort of planning or marking, and their year 11 class results have to be above the national average or they don’t even get a rate of inflation pay rise. Try and go to the union about it…well, put it this way, they are all too scared. I was talking to someone the other week, who had left a job where they worked from 8.30-5 every day, all those hours directed, with their PPA being 4-5. Some of the things that this person was telling me about workload, made me want to explode with anger. How dare people be treated in this way? No prizes for guessing that these were academy chains, although I am equally careful not to suggest that this happens in all academy chains. But it still angered me how utterly horrifying this was and these were people, like me, who were just teachers, trying to do a good job.

The brilliant thing about Twitter, is that it has allowed me to connect with and meet people from across the country, people working in completely different schools and circumstances. There are people on Twitter that I find utterly inspirational, but more and more this year I am getting messages from people who are exhausted, who are spending holidays just trying to catch up with it all, and yes, I do count myself among them this year, and some of these are the people that I find inspirational and brilliant and the teaching profession would be all the poorer for not having them there. But it does give you an insight into the challenges others face and I’m trying not to be so insular in my understanding of what is going on in education. I get, for example, that some people work in schools where behaviour is horrific and can be frightening. I also understand that this is not the case in every school and that there are many schools where it isn’t an issue. I understand what works in one school might not work in another and that each has a unique setting and context and I try to keep an open mind.

So what is happening? I can only tell it from my viewpoint and the people I have spoken to. The first thing is the time spent actually teaching. I did a poll a few months ago asking how much PPA an average teacher gets. The results were pretty much as I thought, I have 3 which is about right for the amount of contracted hours and that’s what came out top, although, added together, 67% of teachers had 2-3 hours of PPA, with Primary seeming to be at the lower end of PPA hours.

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Now for each hour that you teach, there is planning and marking time, therefore it stands to reason that the more hours you teach, you automatically have extra hours of planning and marking and more time stood in front of children. It’s just a fact. And good senior leaders understand and respect that, not faff around with excuses. They get it. Now I do know that there are schools and some commented on the poll to say that they were lucky to have more than the statutory 10% PPA and that’s great, that’s as it should be, but I wonder for some, if that is something that will last over the next 5 years. Schools are about to suffer a crisis in funding. My Head is open and honest about the fact that money is going to be needed to be saved and has already put savings into place. We get it, it’s got to be done.  Just this morning, I was chatting on here about PPA time when someone messaged me to tell me that they had been told that the extra hour PPA on top of the statutory amount they had received for years was going from September. It was either that, or have to lose staff and when schools are up against it, it is kind of understandable. How many teachers are going to see time lost, or class sizes getting bigger? The irony is that this is one of the things that is breaking people. We need time.

So more hours worked means more marking, or at least more looking at students’ work. I am the sole teacher for everything but one of the classes I teach, so a year 7, a year 8, a year 9, 2 year 10s and 2 year 11s. Pretty average, apart from the 4…yes 4…gcse classes, although GCSE is my favourite, so I’m not really moaning. That sense of camaraderie you get with GCSE classes is something I  thrive on, and I think it’s where I ‘fit’ the best. Now, I think I am fairly savvy and I work in an environment where I can trial things, and give feedback in the way that I feel best. My department has been allowed to switch from half-termly assessment points to nine weekly units in KS3. We assess how we see fit as long as they are assessed on both reading and writing AOs in each unit and all AOs across the year. We have a huge range of ability across KS3 (my daughter, who goes to my school, said the other day after watching an intervention session, ‘oh my god there are children in year 7 who cant read the word ‘the.’Yep’) and a high migrant turnover, so it is down to us as professionals to think about how best to assess, and that’s great.  I’ve spent the last 18 months trialling lots of ways to give feedback and quickly, from code feedback to whole class feedback, to in class feedback etc. and it is generally working. I, more often than not, feel more on top of KS3, even though I have upped my game in terms of the amount of extended writing I expect from students.

KS4 however, is a totally different ball game. In English, we are in the first year of walking blindly into the unknown. It reminds me a bit of when I was little and played pin the tail on the donkey at friends’ parties, you felt that slightly sick feeling as you were being spun round and then weren’t really sure where you were. A new specification has meant an increased workload. We are planning from scratch, we are going back and looking at where things haven’t worked and re-jigging, we’re working out how to increase confidence in those skills further down the school, we are looking at how to help students retain lots of information, we have a huge amount of content to get through and we have 2 year groups who have to be continually practising for the demands of 8 hours worth of exam time in English…plus the extra 20 odd hours elsewhere. So it is all bit like a pin the tail on the donkey spin, without my friend’s mum to stop me if I walk into the wall.

And here comes the biggest single addition to my personal workload this year. Mock papers. Naively, I wandered into it thinking it would all be fine, it’s like any other mock…except it takes a million years to mark. We’ve now completed 2 lots of Language mocks, one for year 11 and one for year 10. We don’t mark our own (school policy) just the number of students we teach, so we had to come up with a way that was consistent and quick….code feedback. We have trialled it, played with it, fine tuned and now feel like we have a set of codes that work for us to cover both papers. It is also a really interesting thing to do – get your department together for an hour and work it out, it really helps to focus what is required for each question. So, brilliant, time-saving codes. Every question has a code on the bottom, this is what you need to do to improve for next time and a mark. What you ‘did good’ has a tick. Except it still takes forever to read the papers. This is English – the kids write…and brilliantly, even year 10 wrote an answer…to all the questions. With the greatest will in the world, one paper, therefore takes about 30 minutes. Each student completes 2 papers. That’s about an hour per student. Some of my colleagues said it took them about 40 minutes per paper. But for me, I have about 56 students per year group. So since November, I have had to find 108 hours of extra time to mark mock papers. I’ve experimented lots, with the best way for me being a question at a time rather than a student’s whole paper, but it still takes time. Will it get quicker the more familiar I am with the mark scheme? Possibly.And where has that time inevitably come from? What am I now spending my half term trying to claw a bit a bit of a handle back on? KS3.

When I go back after half term, year 11 will sit their Literature mocks. We will code again and see how long that takes. Each student will write 4 long essay answers and 1 short answer. I’m thinking quite a while. Then year 10 will do another mock, although by that time year 11 will have left, so slightly less pressure, but by the end of the year I will have marked over 400 mock papers. So there’s my pressure. So what’s the answer? The students need to be having a go in timed conditions, and be used to the routine of the exam hall. It’s one of the things they like doing want a much as possible. I have a timer on a ppt that times them writing paragraphs – they love it, because they  need to know their limits in the time available. Now, do we not mark it? I’d dare any school to try that at GCSE level and not get parental complaints. I’m a parent and I would complain. They need some form of feedback. Peer assess? Personally, I can’t stand a mark scheme written in student speak that still makes no sense and as my daughter used to say, ‘my work is always assessed by THAT kid and I learn nothing.’ Verbal feedback? To be done properly it still requires time. I don’t know what the answer is. We are toying with the idea of comparative judgement, but with a large cohort, need to consider logistics carefully and would have to start out small.

I am lucky that I work in a department that sees itself as a team and when things have got tough, the A level teachers have taken on some of the GCSE marking. We see results as team results not individual teachers…and that attitude works for us. In last month’s Ofsted inspection, progress in English was described as being ‘exceptionally strong’ and we know that we can do it, so we need to look at how we can tackle things like the sheer amount of time mock marking takes, without losing the momentum that we have made over the last few years. Because that is what will burn us out if we are not careful.

But I know that there are those that are struggling even more. I see others that are about to start on mock marking that consists of all 4 papers for English, teachers that have been told students need to sit a mock every 2 weeks, teachers that have KS3 assessments set in stone and have to be marked with summative comments, those who have to put data in every 30 seconds and who are teaching huge classes. My militant self gets angry for other people and I worry what will happen if something doesn’t give. We should also be careful not to think that what is happening to others, won’t happen to us. One of the people I talked about at the beginning was happily working one way, then new management came in, infrastructure changed and suddenly work was a very different place. How many schools next year will go into panic mode after GCSE results and feeling the need to prove that they are doing something, up the pressure and workload of teachers? It will take really strong leaders to think about how they can change results without adding to workload.

So time for me to get back to my planning and marking. I’m not a martyr, this constant referring to people trying to do their job as ‘martyrs’ is no good for anyone. I’d love nothing more than to spend my half term doing absolutely diddly squat and loving it and if you can, good for you, you have reached zen level and I’m happy for you, I really am. I’m just trying to get back in a place where I feel like I can go into the next, very busy half term as a fairly sane person, for no one else but me, and hey, during this week I get to do in front of the telly, eating crisps and watching endless episodes of Parks and Recreation so it ain’t all bad. But I will shout about things, and not for me, but for those that are having a really tough time of it, for those that can’t say anything for fear of their jobs, because they do exist and they do do matter because we’re a profession, not a load of people working against each other.

Back to that game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ – I’m the one that sticks it on an ear.

 

‘You’re only as good as the team that you lead’

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I’m writing this blog as ‘just a teacher.’ It’s a bit ironic really; a lot of the time I am quite opinionated, but there is always a little niggle at the back of my mind that I am worth ‘less’ or my opinion is of less value because I am ‘just’ a teacher. I wonder where this comes from? Does it stem from how I’m made to feel, or do I simply put this on myself? If I’m honest I think it is mostly the latter, but it’s there.

So anyway, this morning @Xris32 posted a blog entitled, ‘Saving time and ‘work-shy’ managers.’ The actual crux of the blog was examples of things that Chris has put in place within his department to ensure that they have a good work life balance and to ‘declutter their lives.’ It’s full of excellent ideas…but more of that later. I retweeted it with a comment about leaders leaving work before their staff, and received a barrage of comments back. I’ve since deleted it, simply because I didn’t want Chris to be tagged into all the comments, effectively disagreeing with what I said. But I wanted to make it clear exactly what I meant.

Now, in my defence, I am about to start a week ‘A’ in my timetable, or as I affectionately like to term it, ‘week hell.’ I have 2 PPAs in week A, 14 hours of GCSE lessons, a meeting after school and a revision session after school. This week I also need to mark 40 ish mock paper 1s (another 12 have been taken off me to ease my workload), mark for the 7 classes I teach, have year 9 parents’ evening, run a whole school CPD session on ‘academic vocabulary’, write year 7 reports and have some primary school teachers come and observe me to see how we teach literacy at secondary. It’s a busy week, but we all have busy weeks. I’ll be working hard. So I probably jumped too quickly at the mention in Chris’s blog that, ‘if you have a position of responsibility, you must work harder than those without a position of responsibility.’ Yes! I thought, exactly that. And do you know what, I do agree. If you want to be paid more, if you want to have responsibility, then surely, you have to accept that this comes with an expectation to work more?

Now, I’m in no way criticising the people I work for. At the moment, I have 2 HODs who are sharing the role for a maternity cover. They are utterly amazing, not only in their support, but in the fact that they are always there if you need them. They are also completely aware that the people that they lead have ideas and strategies that are useful and should be listened to and implemented if appropriate. They also, importantly know that a full-time teacher doesn’t get a chance to sit down, talk to others or reflect on the events of that day until they have finished that day and that therefore, there needs to be time at the end of the day to discuss any issues before the next day of teaching. This doesn’t mean staying until 8 o’clock at night, this means allowing a bit of time at the end of the day. Of course, there are days where they might go earlier, but they will also give a heads up that they are and suggest you drop them an email that they can reply to later.

I don’t expect everyone to work like me. I tend to stay late at school. I am not an early bird, so don’t go in early, but I have colleagues that are in at 6. I walk to school, so for me it is important that as much as possible, I am not having to carry a lot home. Therefore, I stay until about 6-7 o’clock so I only have planning at home. I tend to be the last, or one of the last ones at work, but that’s how I do it. The important thing is not that my leaders leave after me, but that they are there for a bit if I need them, and that they check before they go that I’m ok. Which they do.

As teachers, we tend to know other teachers that work in different settings, or we hear of things that happen in other schools. One of the best ideas that I personally have heard of, was that the SLT lead for each department, had to go round and speak to all the members of staff in the departments they lead at the end of the day and check that they are ok, or if there was anything they needed to support them. I liked that idea, and the teachers felt cared about and listened to. The worst examples were teachers where their leaders went home by 4’o clock, leaving teachers to support each other with mini crisis, field angry phone calls from parents wanting to speak to the HOD and generally feeling that it was ‘us’ against ‘them’.

Some of the comments this morning asked, but what about leaders with children? You could equally say, but what about teachers with children? Although this is perhaps slightly off the point, I think we have to be careful not to suggest that workers with children are any more valued than those without and it’s a very fine balance. I have children, yes they’re older but believe it or not, once they were young. I chose to have children, so to a certain extent, it was always my responsibility to try to balance both, as I has made the decision to do both. I had the added ‘bonus’ of being a single parent, and to constantly have to consider what was best at that point in time. It is hard, but that was my choice to be in that situation, and therefore my responsibility to arrange childcare, whilst ensuring that I could do my job. When my children were 2 and 4, I used to work in a department store from 9-5.30 and picked my children up at 6. Every penny I earned went on nursery fees and I lived off tax credits. I’m not a martyr, or claiming to be,  for me it was just important for me to be doing something to give myself some value other than being a mother. I didn’t have to, so it was important for me to remember that I owed the job that paid me, the same as I did my children and it was my responsibility to balance the two. I work with people with young children, and I marvel at how they manage everything, without letting go of the other.  As a teacher, I also have, what many people with children don’t have, and that is long holidays where I could spend time with them. As a child of a Headteacher and a Senco, I can assure you that it in no way damaged me, and in fact I considered myself rather lucky in comparison to my friends. But perhaps this is off topic…

There seems to be a movement, particularly on Twitter, of leaders suggesting that they encourage their staff to have a good work-life balance by going home early. I personally, have a bit of an issue with this. For example, if you have 2 non-contact lessons in a day, you might be able to get the majority of your work done then and not take much home. If you teach all day, then the first moment that you have to do anything is at the end of the day. This seems to get forgotten by *some* leaders who forget what it is like to have a full timetable. The teacher might feel that they have to leave early as that is what the leader wants, but then end up doing just as much work at home. Are the leaders therefore, sure that they have everything in place that their workforce are able to go home early? Surely, therefore, the mark of a good leader is that they introduce strategies, or remove things from the workload of a teacher to encourage work/life balance, but whilst doing so, ensure that they are there when the teacher needs support, and never ever insinuate that you deserve to have a work/life balance, more than considering how to consistently make sure that your staff do, and then wonder where the resentment comes from.

And that is where Chris’ blog is brilliant. He has looked at ways of reducing workload for his staff, and giving them the most important support that he can – extra time, and that is what it should be read for. Look at the amount of time Chris is saving his department – it’s phenomenal. Take that from the blog.  I’m lucky that my HODs too have started to look at ways to save time, or to make things more manageable. This year, all our assessments have been staggered to ensure that we are not inundated at any one time. Teachers have been given the autonomy to assess their classes where and when they see fit across a 9 week unit, as long a they do somewhere. In particular, we have introduced code marking and code targets for mock exams, an idea that I had read about and which my HODs listened to and introduced. I have the autonomy this year to mark exercise books how I see fit, whether it be code marking, whole class feedback, more intensive comment marking, verbal feedback, as long as the marking is useful and effective, it’s all fine. If I need to talk about anything, seek advice or support with classes or students then they are there, and they know and acknowledge, that the work pressures of a full-time teacher are no less important than their own. Perhaps the most important thing is that I feel as if I am part of a team, yes my team has leaders at the helm, but we only work well because we are a team.

So perhaps instead of simply shouting that ‘if I want to go home early, then I should be able to’, consider ‘have I done enough to make sure that my team can go home early too, if they want to?’ Instead of saying ‘I’ve never worked this hard in my life’, consider ‘are my team working too hard and what can I do?’  Surely that’s what good leadership is about, and as the saying goes, ‘you are only as good as the team that you lead.’

But what would I know; I’m ‘just’ a teacher.

 

 

Nurture 16/17

So, we come to the end of another year, and all things considered it has been a bit of a rubbish one if you consider it’s position in the annals of history, but there’s always good if you look hard enough, and here’s the good bits of mine. I’ve written more reasons than I should, but hey, I haven’t got this far in life by blindly following the rules.

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  1. My son is in his second year at uni and my daughter has 3 offers so far for September, including an unconditional. When I step back and look at the young adults they have become, I can’t help but feel immense pride at the utterly wonderful, kind, honest, funny, hardworking and loving human beings they have become. I’ve spent the majority of my life with them as a single parent, circumstances (they didn’t want to know) meant that they have had no contact with their dads, but they have risen above all that and, with the help of grandparents who have been an incredible support, have become the kind of young people that people just….well, like. They have also supported me through some pretty horrible bouts of mental illness – they are my superheroes. With the utter travesties of 2016 of Brexit and Trump, it has been interesting to see what a strong moral compass they both have, but also how unwavering that is. They are also completely and utterly different in personality; they are who they want to be. Stepping back and just watching who your children really are is eye-opening sometimes….do it.
  2. My personal life took a turn upwards. I’m not going to go into it, as it’s not the right time or place, but I’m happy and content…and hopeful.

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3. I wrote a blog the day after the Brexit referendum, because it was a bloody weird day at school. It was picked up by TES here, if you fancy it. What that day, and the weeks and months since, has taught me, is that there is hope for the future. Children are essentially kind and compassionate human beings, and the support and care that they have shown for each other since then, has reminded me of why working with young people is so brilliant. I’ve done other jobs; I wasn’t a qualified teacher until I was 36, trust me, teaching ain’t all that bad. Instead of constantly running down young people, and implying that none of them can behave and that they are all thankless, perhaps some should have a look at what our young people do without being prompted, or count the times that we’re thanked without being made to.There’s quite a bit out there, and I’m glad I noticed it.

4. I’m lucky that I work in a brilliantly supportive department. Yes, we work hard and long hours, but it’s like my second family; we take care of each other and laugh together, and I’m grateful for that.

5.I love Twitter too. There have been times this year when the negativity left me wondering if I wanted to stick with it, but Twitter is a fantastic forum for support and ideas, and there are those that just quietly go about sharing ideas and supporting each other. They are the real face of edutwitter and they are brilliant. There are way too many to possibly mention, but I did talk about some of them here, although this list needs massively updating. I spent a lovely day in the summer with @rachelrossiter @MissDCox  and @FKRitson where I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel’s bookcase beaver and chatting to three of the most inspiring, funny and strong women I could possibly ever meet. I’ve attended NetworkEd, Teaching and Learning Leeds and TLT16 this year and again met some of the brilliant people inspire me every day in the Twittersphere – there has been no better CPD

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6.This year, lovely @NooPuddles asked if I would run  @Team_English1 with her, the idea being that we used it as a space for teachers to connect and support each other and share resources. It has been a fabulous success and we now have 3857 English teachers connecting and sharing ideas. I love retweeting people’s pleas for help and seeing them inundated with resources and ideas. That’s what it’s all about: making people’s lives that little bit easier.

And so what do I want for next year?

  1. For my kids to be happy. My son is 20 next week and across his teenage years seems to have developed a ‘I quite fancy it, so I’ll do it’ attitude. He travelled around Europe over the summer and next year he’s signed up to do Camp America. He works hard on his degree (he’s been writing an essay today, I doubt many students are over Christmas) and works at a school motivating the more difficult year 11 students. He’s an awesome young man and I hope he has a brilliant year. My daughter is feisty and funny and wants to be an Interior Designer. She is one of the best friends I could ever wish for, and her cuddles always appear at exactly the right time. I really hope she does well in her A Levels this year and gets to go to the university she wants to…..and this will leave me on my own for the first time in 20 years, but I’ll be mega happy that they are doing everything that they want to do.
  2. I want the first of the new GCSEs to be ok. Like every English and Maths teacher across the country, I am plucking figures and data out of thin air and just hoping for the best. I want the students to be ok. I want their hard work to pay off and for them not to be used as political pawns for the government to make statements about standards. I want people to stop saying that the GCSEs are easier than the year 6 SATs. They are not. They are really quite hard and students have to sit 8 hours of exams in English alone, answering questions on language, the structure of a text, evaluating, summarising, creative writing and persuasive writing. They have to write an essay on a 19th century novel, an essay on a modern text, an essay on a Shakespeare play, an essay on a poetry anthology as well as analyse and write about unseen poetry. It’s not easy. These 8 hours of English exams are in the same 2 weeks as their Maths and Science exams and overall most students will be sitting 20-30 exams across a few weeks. It’s not easy in the slightest, and all I can hope is that students feel confident and prepared…then we’ll analyse the results to death.
  3. Next year I would love it if I had less conversations with students about racial abuse they receive in their daily lives. I work in a school where 54% of the nearly 2000 students are EAL students, with 71 languages being spoken. I’m proud of that, the school are proud of that and in our little bubble of a community, racist abuse just isn’t an issue. But since Brexit, something that to my mind is pretty horrendous has happened. Students have told me of times where they have been sworn at in the street, shouted at on buses, and in one case a student told me about how he and his friends had things thrown at them by grown adults and told to ‘**** off back to your own country’ because they were talking to each other in Polish. This student will get probably get a 7 or 8 at GCSE, probably more than the person who threw things at him. This is happening to children. Children. I’ve taught refugees, who have arrived here on their own, some with scars from shrapnel from bombs, and they’ve been treated like criminals. I hope for more from this country. I hope that the humanity comes back. I just hope.
  4. I say this every year, but I want to read more. I am going to attempt the 52 book challenge, but with 4 GCSE classes, I may have to count student’s essays in my reading 😉
  5. I’m not going to get involved in Twitter spats. I have this annoying habit of needing to defend people (see above) and just ‘have’ to say something, but when you end up being called ‘abusive’ because you simply comment that as a parent you wouldn’t choose to send your child to a certain school then the world has gone slightly bonkers. Rather than let my heart rate get scarily high with anger, I am learning to mute and be like the proper cool Tweeters who blog brilliant stuff, but whose opinion you are never quite sure of (until they DM you informing you that they actually find it all as ridiculous as you do.) But having said that it would be nice to see things being debated, rather than for people who have a different opinion simply being shot down by loud voices. Because we’re an intelligent profession, and there are brilliant things going on across the country, indeed the world, that we can all learn from…and we don’t all have to agree on everything.
  6. I’m looking forward to more conferences and more meeting and listening to spiffing people.
  7. World peace….I want that. Peace out.