GCSE Intervention: Our Tuesday Writing Paper Sessions.

We do a decent job with our GCSE results. Last year, despite the much-publicised grading debacle, our results were up in Language and Literature.

Obviously we all want to continue that upward trend. However these are uncertain times for English students and their teachers, and it sometimes seems hard to know what to do or how best to secure that improvement.

We run revision sessions after school for pupils to attend but, clearly, that doesn’t always hit the students we may really want to reach. Letters and text messages have gone home to parents and carers and revision materials aplenty have been sourced and distributed.

What else to do?

Looking at our timetable, I noticed we had a slot in which all of our English Language classes were being taught at the same time. It got me thinking about how we could use it for a targeted intervention programme.

We teach in setted groups. Our students’ target grades range from A* to E. Sometimes I question the validity of this: do pupils work better in mixed ability groups? (Perhaps the subject for a different blog.) One thing I am certain of though, is that the old adage ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is often true and so I decided to mix the groups up a bit for their intervention lessons. I looked at the aspirational targets we had for our pupils and re-grouped them according to their 4-levels of progress target. I then discussed the groupings with class teachers and we moved some pupils based on them already outperforming against target data.

This through up some interesting anomalies. For example, we now had a number of set 3 pupils in groups with their set 1 peers etc. We felt this would have a positive impact on those students and so decided to give it a go.

I decided to focus on the writing paper for these sessions. By planning the lessons myself I could ensure that the whole cohort were getting the same messages about technique, tactics etc. Sessions were split into short and punchy sections; I wanted them to be pacy and feel different from ‘normal’ 50 minute lessons.

Session 1: vocabulary and punctuation.

Session 2: using the Toulmin structure in persuasive writing and how to improve content marks.

Session 3: audience, purpose and format and a recap on sessions 1 and 2.

(Subsequent posts will discuss the session content.)

We launched the idea to pupils and class lists went up. This caused some consternation in those who don’t like change, but on the day we had excellent attendance and they found their new rooms with minimum fussing. Pupil feedback after the session was very positive. They felt energised and boosted by the delivery. One pupil, who found herself in a “clever group” (her words!) waited at the end and told her teacher how pleased she was: “because I kept up with them and I know I could do that in my exam now too!”

We have our last session in January just before the exam is due to be sat. The final week in December was hijacked slightly by reward activities and mock exams. I hope to re-energise and inspire them before they go in and do battle with their GCSE-fate.

We will probably continue to use the lesson as a way of reaching the whole cohort in a practical, revision-y way as the year progresses.

 

 

 

This year and next…

Lots of people on Twitter seem to be writing an evaluation of their year & a looking forward to the next with #Nurture1213

So, in no particular order, here’s my contribution: twelve highlights of last year and thirteen hopes for next year.

12 Highlights of 2012:

1. Getting my own place.

Having moved back to my folks’ a few years ago, this felt like a huge step. I initially moved home to be able to afford to complete my GTP. I stayed for financial reasons and, although I love my parents dearly, moving out (again!) was and is just perfect.

2. Becoming Head of Department.

Admittedly this is an acting role during my boss’ maternity leave, but all the same I am enjoying the challenge.

3. Losing weight.

As of 27/12/12, I have lost 30lbs. I feel heaps better for it.

4. Starting to exercise.

I’ve discovered that exercise won’t kill me… although not doing any might!

5. Delivering a literacy INSET at school.

Sometimes I think my colleagues suffer from INSET-ennui, so being asked to present to them in December at the end of a long term was a challenge. Despite a raging flu-induced temperature throughout, I loved it. I’ve had some great feedback from colleagues from a variety of departments and I need to blog about the best bits.

6. Completing my MLDP.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Middle Leadership Development Programme and made some great contacts in local schools. It made me think and helped hone my practice. I have also found it useful to look back on as I have begun my acting Head of Department role this term.

7. Our departmental team.

I’ve taken on the acting Head of Department role and, it has to be said, I couldn’t do it without the support of ‘Team English’ who have been uniformly fantastic. We have a great team and it is a pleasure to work with them. I look forward to 2013, working with them to further improve outcomes for our pupils.

8. Learning to appreciate my family more.

My moving out was postponed by the horrendous flood I had in October 2011. The house was wrecked and lots of my possessions (I was in the process of moving in) were ruined. My family rallied round and were fantastic. From the initial desperate phone calls ankle deep in water, to the time they have taken to help clearing up, sorting stuff out and getting me settled, I couldn’t have asked for a better safety net behind me.

We’re not overly close. We don’t do emotion. I should tell them I’ve written this… but, whilst I pluck up the courage, at least some people know how much I appreciate them!

9. The fantastic wedding of the delicious Katherine and the marvellous Dave.

Two of my friends got married in July. It was the perfect day. The bride looked stunning and, what’s more, it was a loooooong time overdue. So, as the year draws to a close, I offer another virtual toast: “to the bride and groom.”

10. London 2012.

That opening ceremony. That glorious celebration of our past and present. The amazing Olympians and Paralympians. The medals. The once-in-a-lifetime moments. I’ll admit it: I got quite emotional!

11. Friends.

2012 delivered some new friends. That’s got to be a highlight!

12. The stuff I can’t write about…

Some of the highlights of this year are best not blogged about. But remembering them makes me smile… and chuckle. Lots.

Thirteen hopes for 2013:

1. To continue to lose weight.

I haven’t set any goal weight/size but I know I will continue in the new year. I’m following the Weightwatchers plan & so far so very good!

2. To make exercise an integral part of my routine.

I’ve recently started going to a Bootcamp fitness class in the village. It hurts but, oddly, I have found I quite enjoy it. I enjoy not being so preoccupied with work & just being outside in the fresh air. I’m determined to make this a 2/3 times a week routine.

3. To have one weekend a month in which I do no work.

Every year since starting teaching I swear I will achieve a work/life balance. I somehow fail. This year I’m trying to make this happen by having one weekend per month set aside for non-work stuff. We’ll see.

4. To start driving lessons… again!

Yes, I know, I should be able to drive at my age. Moving swiftly on…

5. To learn to salsa.

I’ve just booked a course of 10 lessons starting in January, so this is one step closer at least. Every year I watch Strictly and think I’d love to be able to dance. Every year I sit in front of the tv and do nothing. No more excuses!

6. To get back into photography.

I have a fab camera. I need to learn what all the buttons do. I’ve neglected it this year. I’m going to try & do more in 2013. (See hope no.3)

7. To successfully complete my acting Head of Dept role.

I want to make a success of the temporary position. I am looking to move onwards and (hopefully) upwards in my career, so this is a great opportunity. I don’t want to let our students down more than anything though. I want this year to be successful for them.

8. To be a better teacher.

I have committed to being the best teacher I can be. It’s a hard job but it’s also one of the best jobs in the world. I need to make sure I’m doing the best I can for my pupils. They deserve nothing less.

9. To make some of my Twitter pals ‘real’ pals.

This starts in January when one of my good Twitter pals is coming to stay. I’m very much looking forward to being tour-guide-in-chief for @joanne_rich as she ventures to Liverpool for the first time ever!

I have benefitted from the support, inspiration and challenge that Twitter, and the #ukedchat community in particular, offer. I hope to turn some of those ‘virtual’ friendships and collaborations into ‘real’ ones in 2013.

10. To blog more.

I’ve neglected this blog in 2012. I need to get better at reflecting on my teaching and blogging is such a good method of doing this. I read so many inspirational blogs… this year maybe I will contribute something of merit myself.

11. To travel.

I’m booking a holiday this year. I didn’t manage to get away in 2012 and I do so love to travel. After my solo trip to Italy in 2011, I’m hoping to venture further afield in 2013. I think a long overdue return to my favourite city – New Orleans – may well be on the cards.

12. To host a TeachMeet in Liverpool.

See no. 9 – this will, I hope, be a chance to meet lots of fantastic educators and to benefit my own practice and that of my colleagues. My Head will hopefully be on board with the idea when I present it to him in the New Year. Watch this space!

13. To be content.

I’ve felt somewhat at sea this year. I want to work at being content in 2013. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I shall work very hard to find my inner contentment this next year, even though I’m not quite sure how or what I need to do to make this hope a reality!

#ukedchat – a year or so on and I’m still a fan!

I blogged in August 2010 about the weekly #ukedchat discussions that happen every Thursday on Twitter between 8 – 9pm.

https://dailydenouement.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/ukedchat/

A year on and I’m more enamoured than ever with the whole #ukedchat ‘thing’.

Why? Well, for a start I have now got professional contacts from all over the UK who provide me with advice, support and inspiration on a daily and weekly basis. Sometimes I think there is a tendency for teachers to become quite inward-looking. We get very caught up in “this is how we do it here” and “our focus is this”… #ukedchat takes you out of your own classroom and gives you a privileged insight into hundreds of other schools, methods, pedagogies etc.

It’s free. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Join us?

Twitter for Teachers

This feels almost like a 12-step confessional: my name is Clare, I’m a teacher and I’m addicted to Twitter.

Well, addicted isn’t exactly true, but I do use Twitter increasingly to aid my professional development and practice. To non-tweeting colleagues that seems strange. They don’t ‘get’ Twitter and they don’t understand how or why I use it.

I’ve blogged before about my participation in the weekly twitter discussion #ukedchat  https://dailydenouement.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/ukedchat/ (if you wish to read it again!) but today I’m thinking more generally about the myriad uses I find it has to help me on a daily basis.

Take today for example: I’m looking for inspiration to update the corridor displays in our new English block. At 11:41am I logged into my Twitter account and wrote:

“#engchat #ukedchat Our English dept is in desperate need of beautifying (just moved bldgs) Seeking corridor display ideas. All ideas welcome!”

For the rest of the day I’ve been receiving tweets from a variety of English teachers and other subject specialists with some great ideas for displays. The very generous @daveterron even went so far as to send me some quotations and display documents via DropBox. Fantastic support!

Where else but Twitter would I have received this wide-ranging and prompt support? If you teach but don’t tweet, you should!

This weekend I’ve contributed to a discussion with English subject colleagues about the new GCSE spec, I’ve commented on a great linoit for @tomhenzley’s Year 4 class, I’ve read some excellent articles which were sent via links on Twitter and I’ve shared some thoughts about why the careers service shouldn’t be cut with Andy Burnham, MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Education (@andyburnhammp on Twitter.)

Twitter connects me with other people who share my interests. It makes me reflect on my work. It makes me better at what I do.

If you still need convincing as to the value of Twitter, perhaps this article by Lucy Tobin (@lucytobin) will help: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/may/09/twitter-teachers-forum

To tweet or not to tweet? There really should be no question.

New Year Resolutions Update #1: Phoning Home

Yesterday I made four phone calls home to the parents of pupils who had made positive starts to their English lessons. It was an absolute joy to speak to their parents and share a good news story.

All week I’d been keeping a note of pupils who had made good contributions to class discussions, settled in well or produced excellent work. In my free period yesterday I made the calls. When I made this resolution for the new academic year I hoped I would find the time to keep it. Hearing the pleasure, pride and (in one case!) relief in the parents’ voices when I shared my news, I’m more determined than ever to keep it up.

One Mum said “I was worried for a moment then; I thought it must have been something bad.” That’s what I want to change. I don’t think communication with parents focuses on the ‘good’ often enough, certainly not from a subject-specific point at secondary level. I’m hoping to change that.

I’ll be sharing my good news story with my department as term progresses to encourage them to do similar. In the meantime, I’ll just bask a little in remembering the warm, fuzzy feeling I got after I’d made the calls. It brightened up a very hectic Friday, hopefully for those families as well as for me!

Wackoidal: the new education buzz word?

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove was invited to discuss the twenty-four free schools opening this month. The free schools are a Conservative invention: centrally funded, outside of local authority control and run by anyone who wants to run one. Except those with “wackoidal theories” of course; Mr Gove isn’t keen on them.

Wackoidal. [1] As education buzz words go, this one appears at first glance somewhat bizarre. However, if one considers its source…

The “fairy godfather of the free schools,” as Marr so delightfully called him, has certainly not endeared himself to many teachers since taking up his post as Secretary of State for Education. Why? Well I’d argue it’s down to his own wackoidal theories which, unfortunately, he has the power to turn into policy that have done for him.

Let’s recap on the Gove revolution to date. There was the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme, described by one High Court judge as “an abuse of power.” Then there was the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance which helped pupils afford to stay in post-16 education. Not forgetting, of course, the subsequent U-turn on EMA. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate was another headline grabber from Mr Gove and his coalition pals. Having blamed Labour and their league tables for squeezing the “fun and enjoyment” out of education, all of a sudden here was Mr Gove saddling us with yet another measure to meet. (I’m glossing over hikes in university fees and cuts to public sector pensions as I don’t think I can place the blame for those wackoidal theories entirely at Mr Gove’s door!)

And what of Free Schools?

I’m all for raising standards, giving pupils the skills and experiences they need to succeed in our 21st century world. And yes, like many a teacher, I’ve played the ‘if only I was in charge’ day-dreaming game. But are free schools really the answer? The schools, twenty four opening this month and 280 more applying to open, are free to teach broadly what they want and their teachers don’t have to be trained as teachers. I watched Jamie Oliver’s Dream School experiment on Channel 4: some of the experts made fantastic teachers, others not so much. I’m not saying a teacher’s training gives them a divine right to teach, in fact I find I rely heavily on skills I learned in my previous career in my own classroom. However surely some training is better than none?

Andrew Marr questioned the Education Secretary on what would stop free schools going down ideological routes, giving creationism or Islamic fundamentalism as examples. Apparently we shouldn’t worry; MI5 are being used to check the backgrounds of those who apply to set up a free school and Mr Gove promises to root out those with “wackoidal theories.” So that’s ok then.

Marr probed further, asking Gove about his recent ‘defeat’ at the hands of coalition partner Nick Clegg on the issue of schools being run on a profit-making basis. We’re safe “for the moment” was his attempt at reassurance, but Gove admitted to being a “pragmatist not an ideologue” when it comes to the profit argument, which says to me that the idea is sure to be mooted again in the not-too-distant future.

Personally I think the idea that companies may be allowed to make a profit from running a school is one of the most dangerous and highly ‘wackoidal’ theories to date, but what do I know, I’m only a teacher. If I ran my own school I wouldn’t be looking to make a profit. But that’s not going to happen… or is it? Really Actually Free School 281? Now, where did I put that application form.

[1] Wackoidal (adj.) is likely to make it into the OED in its next round of inclusions, given the flurry of interest its use in this interview has sparked, and will no doubt make its way into one of my A Level English Language lessons on language change and the formation of new words. So for that and that alone, Mr Gove, I thank you.

Written for the Huffington Post UK.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/clare-sarson/wackoidal-the-new-education-buzzword_b_949105.html

Books I recommend

I’m a terrible hoarder of books and, since becoming a teacher, have found a wealth of weighty educational tomes to add to my collection.

I thought I’d share a few that have made a real impact on me:

The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook by Jim Smith 

The Lazy Teacher's Handbook

I bought this at the end of last academic year and am excited to put some of the lazy philosophy into practice this year.

The Pefect Ofsted Lesson by Jackie Beere (Edited by Ian Gilbert)

The Perfect Ofsted Lesson

This is a great little book… and I say that in the nicest possible way! One of the best things about this is its size; it isn’t a weighty tome you have to be daunted by. It’s small but jam-packed with practical lesson planning tips. If you’ve an observation coming up or if you just need some basic but refreshing tips on how to make your lessons better then read this.

The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis

The Teacher's Toolkit

Now this is the kind of book you can dip in and out of. It has a range of activities which can be adapted to suit different phases or subjects. For every activity it gives you suitable room layout, equipment needed and ideas of how it could be adapted to different subjects. Love it!

 

More to follow…

New Academic Year Resolutions

I do this every year.

Will I stick to them this year?

The list:

1) To use my planner effectively & efficiently – I tend to start well and slack.
2) To try and do the majority of my marking (KS3 & 4 anyway) at school rather than bringing it all home – last year was hard work, I want to make my marking this year much more efficient.
3) To blog once a week – I think blogging will help in my quest to reflect and improve on my teaching.
4) To ensure my Year 9 classes make progress in both their learning and behaviour.
5) To try and establish a workable work/life balance: the holy grail!

I’ll probably add to the list as the new year gets ever closer…

In edit:

29/8/11 – I’m not happy about resolution number 4; obviously I want all my classes to make progress, but my first term’s focus will be on my two Year 9 groups in particular. I believe that making progress will have a positive effect on their self-esteem and, as a result, their behaviour.

I’m also adding:

6) To make weekly positive phone calls home to parents/carers.

“What’s in a name?”

Ahh, the joys of the first week back at school!

New classes to get to know, a new GCSE spec to teach, new colleagues, a new headteacher and A2 courses being tackled for the first time.

It all passed by in such a blur.

My main challenge thus far has been learning names. Knowing names is such a powerful tool in the teacher’s armoury. I’d be very interested to hear how others go about the challenge of learning pupils’ names.

I work on the simple seating plan philosophy: I’ve allowed my older classes to sit where they wish so far, but have requested that – for the first few weeks – they stay in that chosen place in order to help me learn their names. I think that being able to picture them in ‘their place’ when I try and recall their name helps me learn names quicker.

I also spend my first week or so asking pupils their names whenever they answer a question. The visual cue of them sitting in the same place is then reinforced by the aural cue of hearing the pupil say their name.

So, what do you do to learn pupils’ names? Are there any tricks and tips I could be employing to nail the name game quicker?

Too Old for Musical Chairs?

During the #ukedchat session on Thursday 19th August (subject: Classroom Management Tips) someone mentioned using music as a ‘settler’ when pupils enter the classroom. The way it works is that a song is played whilst the pupils enter the room and they then have until the end of the song to get themselves sat down, bags and equipment sorted and ready to learn.

I like this idea: it seems simple and workable.

Fussy classes who take time to settle can be very difficult to manage and I find this sort of disruption has the potential to eat into a 50 minute lesson in a very frustrating way.

So, I’ve been trying to come up with a suitably random playlist of songs with a literary theme to use at the beginning of my lessons this year. So far I have the following:

  • Paperback Writer – The Beatles
  • Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush
  • Books and Letters – The Morning Light
  • Newspapers – Dan Vaillancourt
  • Every Day I Write the Book – Elvis Costello
  • Read It In Books – The Teardrop Explodes
  • Lucy – the Divine Comedy (lyrics are a Wordsworth poem)
  • Reader Meet Author – Morrissey
  • Books Written for Girls – Camera Obscura
  • News of the World – The Jam
  • Books from Boxes – Maximo Park
  • Wake Up Boo – The Boo Radleys
  • The Writer – Ellie Goulding
  • Mr Writer – The Stereophonics
  • Speech Therapy – Speech Debelle

I’d love to hear anyone’s suggestions for any other songs I should include. Oh, and I’ll let you know if the tactic works as a classroom management tool as the term progresses!