Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is also the end of the school year for us. Until this year, students have always been on exam leave at the end of the year, but this year we moved the exams forward so we had 3 weeks of teaching at the end of the year, to review exams and get started on the following year's timetable! So, for the first time in 5 years I have been able to a) wear Christmas ties and b) do Christmas maths lessons. Here are a couple of the things I did.
Over the last year I have grown interested in not only the ideas from empirical studies that we can use in the classroom to improve learning, but also the underlying functioning of the brain and what implications that has for our understanding of how we learn.
In particular I have done two free online courses:
And on top of those I have been reading around the subject. Recently I finished reading the excellent MARGE: A Whole-Brain Learning Approach for Students and Teachers by Arthur Shimamura, which I discovered through this post by Tom Sherrington.
In this post I want to compare and contrast two of the models offered through these experiences: MARGE from Arthur Shimamura and EBC from the FutureLearn course.
First a brief overview of each model.
MARGE is the acronym used by Shimamura to stand for Motivate, Attend, Relate, Generate, Evaluate. In the ebook, Shimamura gives both an overview of this model and goes into detail for each of the aspects. He also discusses the brain functions behind each of these.
I recently saw this tweet and it made me stop and reflect on what my successes were for this year, and what I want to work on next year.
So, here are 4 things that have been successful for me in 2018:
And what about my targets for next year? Well, I want to continue to embed all these practices across all my classes, but these are some of the things I want to focus on introducing/improving:
Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back
I have started doing regular retrieval practice with my classes in the form of retrieval starters. These include questions from Last Lesson, Last Unit and Further Back.
Half a class
Whilst half the year group were away on a trip, I reviewed some basic functions ideas before we moved on to composite and inverse functions the following week.
Twitter for Teachers
After a conversation with some people I thought I would share some of the reasons I use twitter, and some of the ways it has impacted me as a teacher.
Collaborative Project Fair
One of the main aspects of our CPD programme is the Collaborative Project. Each teacher joins a group on a particular aspect of teaching and learning, and throughout the year they meet regularly to discuss the topic, and then head into their classrooms to implement some of the ideas they have discussed. In the next meeting they review, reflect and improve the ideas.
This system has been running in school for a number of years, and when I first got the role of T&L Coordinator, I updated the system a little, to include a group leader who met with me, choosing from a selection of topics rather than free choice, and some ways to provide some accountability. One of these was the Collaborative Project Fair, which we ran for the first time in secondary in 2017.
This year it was bigger than ever, as we had teachers from all three sections of the school (we are a 3-18 school, split across two sites) present at the same event. The fair has a stall for each group where they provide examples of what they have done and talk with those wandering around about their project. We had a total of 27 groups this year. That is a lot of things that people have been investigating.
The stalls were amazing, and talking to our teachers it was clear that they were engaged in the aspect of education they were looking into. Of course, some were more into it than others, but everyone got involved.
For me, one of the nicest things was to have the whole school together (it is not something that happens often, and never in a Teaching and Learning capacity), and this is something I want to push for more of. It was amazing to see what our colleagues are doing with 3-4 year olds, and seeing the progression through the school was fascinating.
The days before the fair were rather stressful, and I was running on adrenaline, but by the time it actually got underway, I was ready to see what the groups had prepared. And now it is over? Some time to get back to preparing my classes, and spending more time with the family.
Successes and Targets
After seeing a tweet from @mrgordonmaths, I reflected on my targets for next year, and also the successes from this year.
The hardest time of my life
As my son turns 1, I give a very personal account of the hardest time of my life.
T&L Newsletter Issue 9
The latest issue of the T&L Newsletter is available here which includes
A year ago our son was born. It was the happiest moment of my life. Although so much of those days is lost to sleep deprivation, the feeling of holding my son for the first time is something that I will never forget. And every day since then I have cherished as many moments with him as I can.
But getting there was not an easy journey - and that journey is not something I have talked about with many people, let alone in a public sphere. But at this point I am finally at a point where I can say this out loud.
We went through four miscarriages before having our son.
For me twitter is a source of professional development in my pocket. I probably spend about an hour a day on twitter, reading and engaging with other teachers from around the world. The three ways that I use twitter are:
I have been using twitter for over 5 years now, and in that time I have become acquainted with people I have never met, and developed a professional dialogue with them. I have also been able to engage with edu-celebrities (such as Dylan Wiliam, Jo Boaler and Tom Bennett). I have been able to chat with the authors of books I have read (such as Doug Lemov, Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby) and talk to experts in the field of cognitive science, which is my current area of interest (such as Dan Willingham and Dr Yana Weinstein).
My approach to teaching and my philosophy of education has been shaped by these conversations, and has changed quite dramatically over the last few years, largely because of the conversations I have had through twitter, and the blogs I have read that I have found on twitter. It is also through twitter that I find links to many current educational research articles, and recommendations for books to purchase for our CPD Library.
I also use these in my role as T&L Coordinator, as I share blog posts that I find with all staff (through the T&L Newsletter I put together roughly once a month), and when thinking about developments for our own CPD programme, as well as consulting our staff, I can consult with many others with lots of different experiences. This is invaluable in helping me get my head around my plans and ideas.
For the first couple of years, my use of twitter was very one sided: I sat and watched, reading stuff and using ideas. But it was not until I started to truly engage, and participate in the discussions and sharing that I started to get more out of it. I am still a relatively quiet twitter user, and am sure I could make even more of it.
Below are some other links about twitter for teachers, which are all much more eloquently put together than what I have written here.
My suggestion is to get on twitter, set up a profile, start following some people, reading what they have to say, and then to start getting involved in the conversation as quickly as possible. Remember to keep it professional, and twitter can become your best source of professional development too.
I have previously blogged about How I Teach and in more depth about my Weekly Quizzes. In this post I am going to go into a little more depth about the way I start my lessons, using what I call Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back.
This strategy is based on the idea of spaced retrieval practice, which incorporates both the Testing Effect and Spacing Effect, two of the most well documented ideas in the science of learning. The testing effect says that we learn better by forcing ourselves to retrieve knowledge from our long term memory, as opposed to restudying it. The spacing effect tells us that we remember material better if we space out studying out over time, rather than cramming. Both of these ideas are also considered to be desirable difficulties by Bjork in that they make initial performance lower, but long term learning better.
One of the important things with spaced retrieval is that it is most effective if done on the verge of forgetting. This is when it has the biggest impact on learning. However, the time taken to get to this point increases with each subsequent retrieval.
Each year, our students go away for a trip that incorporates some activities, service projects, and outdoor education. But these are done in half year groups, so half the year is away Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and the other half are away Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. When S3 were away in Tambopata, I had two doubles with them, but in each double I only had half the class (and a few from other collapsed classes). In order to make the most of this time, I wanted to do some activities that would get them ready for the next unit we are starting after they got back, which was functions.
Students have previously met the idea of functions, function notation and domain and range, and this unit will focus on composite functions and inverse functions. However, it has been a couple of years since they saw them, so I wanted to review the basics before moving on.
I started with this activity asking students to write functions given in words as algebraic statements (taken from here - thanks to Jo Morgan for pointing me in the direction of this reference).
Regions on Graphs
I recently taught sketching regions on graphs from inequalities, and decided to provide a scaffold to support the initial acquisition of the skill. I describe the lesson in more depth here.
The Final Nail for Inquiry Learning?
In this post I reflect on a short clip of John Hattie talking about the low effect size of inquiry learning, and give an example of how this might be interpreted in the context of me learning photography at the moment. Over the last couple of years I have really swung from pushing discovery based methods to a more explicit approach, but I am aware that I have probably swung a little too far in the other direction. There is definitely value in the ideas of inquiry, but it is where it comes in the sequence of learning that has changed for me.
What does great teaching look like?
We are in the process of creating a document defining what great teaching looks like at our school. I go into a bit more depth, and give the first draft of 12 principles here.
Seven Myths About Education
I recently reread this classic by Daisy Christodoulou, and took notes on my main takeaways. You can find a blog post linking to my notes here.
Over the last few weeks I have been leading a small group of teachers as we look to define what Great Teaching looks like at our school.
The document will form the basis of our future INSET, as well as part of the instructional coaching programme I am looking at implementing over the next couple of years. My hope is that we can agree on a set of "safe bets" (as Tom Sherrington likes to call them), that all teachers can make use of to improve their teaching, and ultimately, the learning of our students. This would not be a prescribed checklist of things we expect to see in every lesson, but rather things we expect teachers to think about, and that probably would be seen over a period of time.
Another aim of this process is to have a set of words and phrases that we all recognise what they mean, giving the school a unified language when it comes to talking about education and learning.
The process started in August when I sent a survey to all teachers, students and parents asking them this exact question. I wanted to get a range of responses and see what different groups within our community had to say.
Before the first meeting I put together a small booklet with the following resources in it for each member of the groups:
After a brief discussion, I asked the team to read through the booklet before the next meeting, where we brainstormed all the words and ideas that came to mind from what we had read. In this meeting we reiterated the point that we were looking for things that describe great teaching not great teachers. Although subtle, I believe there is a difference between these two. I also made it clear that we want a list of practices that can be seen.
The end goal is to have a one page document that summarises the points, but also an accompanying document that explains what is meant by each in more detail, and provides examples of what this might look like in the classroom. If we can't explain what it would look like to an observer, then I was reluctant to include it in this document. I would also like to include references to places for further reading on each aspect as appropriate within the document.
We are nearing the end of the process now, and it will need to go to SMT to be approved. At this stage we have 12 points, given below.
I would be really interested to hear what others think of this list. Are there any glaring absences?
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.