An open letter to all future RQTs

Timothy Hills 0 28

The RQT year, or as I like to call it “the year no one really seems to prepare you for”. Most of us end our NQT year on quite a high, much like we did our training years. There is lots of praise, pats on the backs and optimism swooning over the impact you are making on your students. It doesn’t take long for the harsh reality of a full time table, little/if any support and the sudden realization that a 44 hour teaching timetable leaves little room for any sort of “life” outside the classroom. But without doting on the negatives, I’d like to address some of the key learning opportunities I had in my RQT year.

1.Style

This year gave me a great opportunity to develop my own teaching style. I was always trying to fit a “box” that my mentor and observers wanted my lessons to fit into. There was little room left for my own personal growth and lesson creativity. I look back on this year and accept that a lot of it was spent in trial and error. I learned that low stakes quizzing is the only way I can ensure my classes settle quickly and are on task. I learned that I love direct instruction and convincing young minds of the abstract ideas I am delivering them. I also learned that monitoring student’s independent practice is an area that I have not yet perfected. With the switch to teaching how I wanted, came the freedom to take risks and reap the rewards.

I have recently been experimenting with dual coding – using my visualizer to structure diagrams and drawings that are supported with verbal explanation. The goal is to share the process of my thinking, share the connections that my brain makes with students and be able to illustrate a bigger picture.  With each lesson that I dual code my explanation becomes more in-depth, I learn to build wider connections from different areas of science and even different subjects. It facilitates students learning by activating theirs and my own brain.

2. Time

Something we seem to never have enough of and with the increase in the number of classes and just general no-opt out tasks that need to be completed it takes a while to (if ever) properly manage your time. One thing that I wish I was told earlier in my career is to take the time to develop plans and resources that will help you, in the type of teaching that you do. Continuing with the idea of “style” I wish I had spent more of my lesson planning mapping out my explanation.

Thinking back to the teachers I had in high school I remember their stories that guided my learning and the analogies that they could come up with on the spot that would give me that light bulb moment. I realized quickly that I, as a new teacher I didn’t have the years of experience necessary to develop that repertoire in my explanation – or maybe just didn’t see the importance of developing it in the flood of PowerPoint presentations. We focus so much on having evidence of planning and well-structured PowerPoints to deliver, but we focus little on the words that will be said to facilitate the understanding of that learning. Moving forward I have made a shift from spending my “time” on pretty resources but instead building a stock pile of metaphors and stories which will allow students to connect t

Dynamic Timers

Timothy Hills 0 200

Following on from Chris's fantastic CPD and recent blog post, I'd like to share something new I've been trying in some of my lessons this year to support the pace of my lessons, or rather, to increase the pace with which students work.

The way I see it, pace comes down to two things. How much work we set in a given amount of time, and how much work the students do. The pace in our planning, and the pace of the students' work. If we set a low bar, we have problems. During intependent activities, if students are given too much time for too little work, expect there to be disruption - It's hard to stay switched on and task focused when you don't feel like it has to be done right now. I don't know if you've ever walked over to a student, picked up their book and said to them, "You've barely done anything yet" and they've looked up to you with a face like thunder and said "What are you on about, I've done the first question!" We don't want to rush the them, but there should still be a sense of urgency. "There is enough time to get this done, but not more than enough time." What we're really talking about here is expectations. Rigourous, crystal clear expectations, and holding students accountable to them.

What I'm referring to as Dynamic Timers are tools used to make those expectations clear, to give students' targets to meet, and create opportunities for us as teachers, and the students themselves, to identify when they are behind. You can set students 10 questions to do in 20 minutes, and a generic timer is fine, but if you're epxecting those students to be finished or on an extension task before the time runs out, how well can you expect them to know if they're on track or not?

All of my lessons are planned on Smart Notebook and I use timers almost every time I set the students off on a task. I do my modelling, I put my questions up on the board or give the students their worksheets, make my expectations of how the work should be done as clear as possible, and then I guide their attention to my timer. I also use the same sort of timer during starters, as this is a crucial pace-setting moment in the lesson.
In this example, there are 10 questions. As the timer counts down, the green bar gets smaller and works its way around the circle. I've spaced out some of the numbers where some questions are more complex than others, and students can see how far through the starter they should be given how much time has passed. The idea of "beat the clock" is draw out some competetiveness from the students. You can also dangle a rewards in front of them to encourage them to finish the task on time or get onto the extension. Most importantly however, as you move around the classroom and vist each student, it's really easy to have conversations about how much work they've completed. It's an idea that can easily be adapted - the first marker could be for making sure the students have the date and title down, or you can have markers for other simple tasks that need to be done quickly like sticking in worksheets. If you're doing an independent writing task, why not grab the clock off the wall, stick it on your whiteboard with a big piece of blu tack, and annotate the times on the clock with when certain parts of the work should be completed?

I would love to know people's thoughts on this, so if you try something similar out, please let me know how you've used it and what impact it has had. Please get in touch if you want some ideas of how to use this sort of thing on other software like powerpoint as well.

james.bennett@theregissch

Pace (or 'Making Every Second Count')

Timothy Hills 0 220

We need to make a semantic shift when we think of the meaning and implications of the oft-used word pace in education. We risk assuming that ‘pace’ refers to the speed at which a lesson is delivered to ensure that no student is left with nothing to do at any given moment: Let’s get through the starter and ask some rapid questions and write down some definitions and move on quickly and leave no-one behind but with no-one in front and faster and faster and faster and…

Breathe.

We need to shift our thinking away from speed and towards efficiency. Would you prefer your charge-by-the-hour mechanic to fix your brakes quickly or efficiently? Both words, while initially semantically similar, have different implications: Speed implies a priority of speed over quality of process; efficiency implies an appropriate balance between quality of process and speed.

We don’t need ‘pacey’ lessons; we need efficient lessons.

Of course, not being mechanics, quality of process refers to the quality and quantity of thinking and learning that is happening at any one time in a classroom. So, consider: if you have previously been complimented on the pace of your lesson, begin to consider whether it has likewise been an efficient learning environment too.

This is an adjustment I personally have made this year, where I was asked to consider if the energy and pace in my classroom contributed to strong thinking and learning, or was it simply superficial. Since then I’ve reigned in the sails of my bouncing around the classroom, talking at a rate of knots, and fiercely firing questions broadside and begun to consider not how pacey the room feels, but how much thinking and learning is happening at any one time.

This has meant moments of silent staring, where students have been asked to think deeply about a question; moments of pause and reflection on the correct direction of learning, not blindly following a set of pre-prepared slides all the time; and, as those who know me well will attest, lots more rules and routines!

To finish, here are 3 of my top tips to Make Every Second Count:

  1. Silence is golden - where appropriate, silent classrooms are almost always more efficient than classrooms with low level chatter. Even if they are ‘talking about the work’ or doing practical work.
  2. ‘Hands up when you’re done’ - for quick tasks (including date and title and copying definitions); this gives you a very visual idea of when to move on and who’s working too inefficiently.
  3. ‘3, 2, 1, GO!’ - to start every task. And, if they don’t all start at the same time. Stop them ALL, work out whether the hesitation was laziness or uncertainty, address the issue and get them going again.
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