How often do you get to the end of your day and wonder what even happened between dragging yourself out of bed and that final bell (or, as is more and more the case, several hours afterwards)? How long do we spend on autopilot? And how much of that time are you trying to do more than one task at once? More alarmingly, what affect is it having on us and, indeed, our students?
If you are like I was, the answers to the above are obvious and realistically, it will only end in stress, inefficiency and in not being the teacher our children deserve. I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to take part in a Mindfulness course run by Dawn Green of Your Mind Matters Ltd. I can’t say enough about the course and it’s content however you can find out more here. In short, I have become calmer, less anxious, more energised and my work has improved because of it. Mindfulness gives you the ability recharge your frazzled batteries by way of meditative techniques. Much of the course is practical but it is the shift in mindset and approach to work which has had the greatest holistic impact on my life, particularly minimalising multi-tasking. In the course, we follow the teachings in the book Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams. The way in which teachers live their lives means that we are often multi-tasking, spreading ourselves too thinly and emotionally it can be very challenging. A lot is asked of us and we will not last in the profession if we don’t look after our well being. I mean, why are so many leaving teaching? The purpose of this post is to outline how I have implemented mindfulness in the classroom:
- One track mind – I would always have my email open when teaching, or when planning lessons (as well as my phone out for the latter) and this tiny distraction will through us off course and actually reduce our productivity (as well as raise our stress levels). The fix? Turn it off. Focus on one task at a time, do it and do it well. This also applies to our students. Focus on one task at a time, do it well, complete it and then move one whether this be no talking in the classroom or having the TV on when revising. In theory, you can do better quality work in less time.
- Mindful meetings – I now hold a 3 minute breathing space at the beginning of meetings which allows staff to switch off from the stresses of the day and sets the tone for the meeting. Also, I now insist on turning off distractions (mobiles and laptops) whilst delivering notices or discussions.
- Mindful teaching – I have used the 3 minute breathing space with my form at the beginning of the day, rowdy groups coming in from lunch and in the middle of our double lessons and this has had a very positive effect on behaviour and most students have said how much they enjoyed it. Sure, they’re not doing work for three minutes, but I have noticed the calming effect it has had on all of the groups with which I have tried it.
- Mindful revision – I found a very useful resource on Twitter (originally posted by the @HecticTeacher) and have adapted it for our current year 11 students who are at risk of burn out before they even enter the exam hall – hopefully the videos (linked by QR code) on this mindfulness bookmark will help them reduce stress and anxiety as well as focus during a very tough time for them. You can download it here and feel free to adapt it.
- Finding space for yourself – As I have said above, I can often go through the whole day without really stopping to think and now I have started to use the first 10 minutes of lunch time to meditate (I usually use the body and breath meditation here) and I feel this has had a positive impact on my stress levels and efficiency for the rest of the day.
- Mindful music – I have started to play ambient music in the classroom whilst students are completing a large task in which focus is paramount, there is an article here that talks about mood changing music but I cannot recommend enough Marconi Union – Weightless (a song created to reduce anxiety levels) or Music for Airports by Brian Eno.
All comments and feedback welcome.
In such a stressful time as these coming months are for both students and teachers alike, it can be easy for students to widen their focus of revision and spread themselves too thinly when really a more targeted focus might reap more fruitful rewards.
One way in which I’ve supported year 11 students in my department this year is by creating a PLC matrix to track assessment against specific topics in the scheme of work (please see a picture below).
The above matrix is for assessment of the reading skill by topic from the AQA SoW. The theory behind is that for each topic there is a test that the student sits (I have created these on Alfiesoft, but you could use Exampro or create your own). They then put their score into the cell in the column below the topic assessed and in the row in line with their name (as a percentage). I have put a conditional equation in each cell so that the score is accompanied by a red, amber or green colour fill depending on the score (I have set mine to 0-33% = red, 34-74% = amber and 75-100% and you can see how to do this here).
I have then created higher and foundation tests based on the GCSE AQA topics from the Spanish SoW by using the online test software Alfiesoft and have put the links on our VLE (see below).
The students can then independently click the links on the page, take the tests and input their scores onto the PLC matrix.
The beauty of the format is that students can look along their row to see which topics need to be target but also teachers can look vertically down each column to see which topics need to be retaught to the class as a matter of priority.
I have uploaded a blank matrix below with the conditional formatting already carried out so please feel free to use, loose or abuse.
An old colleague once said to me that when things get busy, the first thing to slip in teaching is marking. However, if we are to believe the studies of John Hattie (to name just one researcher) that feedback is so important to the impact of student outcomes, we must find a way, as teachers, to keep on top of it. Given its laborious nature, it is perhaps not surprising that often, when given the choice between relaxing with your family of an evening or marking those year nine books (which have already gone three weeks without a drop of red ink), it is overlooked. In conducting a survey in my school, I have found that staff have so much marking to do that our PPA alone does not cover it and I am confident that this is not dissimilar to most other schools. So, the question I have asked myself this year is; is there a way to reduce the amount of time I spend marking without reducing the impact that it has on student outcomes? I have found that, in fact, there is and have used a number of strategies to do so but I must stress, it is really down to mind-set i.e. not feeling that we have to mark absolutely everything. I will outline the strategies that I have trialed below that, I believe, reduce not just workload but also hopefully improve the feedback we give.
- Marking less and marking better – this year I have focused on deep marking only one piece of work when I take books in (we take them in roughly every three weeks). I used to mark every single piece of work and you could argue that this shows the value of the piece of work produced by the student but realistically, if the student doesn’t have time to respond to three pieces of work in the development time you give them in class, who are you marking it for? Value can be shown in a number of ways, when students are developing their work from written feedback, have a conversation with them about the bits you have and haven’t marked. Also, let’s get rid of ticks and token comments on pages that, let’s be honest, you haven’t even read and furthermore why mark notes that they have copied from the board? This should also mean that because you are reducing the time you spend marking, you are rushing less and thus the feedback given is more considered.
- Feedback codes – I often find that I am writing the same targets and positive comments over and over again. This is not new (frankly, none of this is, I’ve taken it from other articles and blogs and trialled it and now sharing it with you) but I have now linked these frequently used targets/EBIs and WWWs to codes and have written those in the books. Students then have to write them out, which takes them seconds and means that it is more likely that they will read and engage with them. This shaved a good 30mins off of marking a pile of year 8 books and students have found them very easy to use. Please see examples of these below in MFL and Business studies.
- Pre-marking pro forma – I took this idea from a recent visit to St Joseph’s School in Slough and you can find an article that I wrote about it here. Essentially, students use a list of success criteria and self-assess how well they have achieved each part, create a step forward and annotate/redraft their work accordingly so that a lot of the kinks are ironed out before it reaches the teacher’s desk and reinforces the idea of students creating work that is ‘publishable quality’ and the idea of independence and resilience. I also understand that in many instances this may give the teacher more to mark but in the long term, hopefully students will use this checklist mentally whilst they do the work and so the payoff is more long term.
- Wheel of everything – a coaching task that I wrote an article about here and based on an activity given to me by Barefoot Coaching. A similar premise to the activity above in that it is student led feedback. Students Write up to eight elements that make up a good piece of work (from the success criteria) and assess themselves by drawing an intersecting line through each section of the wheel (each section representing a part of the success criteria e.g. a variety of tenses). They then choose the three weakest areas and choose three steps forward and annotate accordingly.
- How many mistakes? – rather than highlighting all of the mistakes in a piece of work, simply write the number of mistakes at the end of the paragraph (or page if it is something like maths with a page full of equations). Students then have to revisit the work and find the mistakes for themselves and rectify them with green pen.
- Target met/not met – simply draw a red line with the highlighter through the title of the text, or around it or whatever works for you if the student didn’t meet their target. The students then use the mark scheme to diagnose what is missing for them to increase their mark; again this should iron out at least a few kinks before you mark the work.
- Stick assessments in books – as it says, because I am sure when we carry out assessments for data drops there are still people who mark their books, and if I refer you back to the first bullet point, will students have quality time to act on all feedback given? A colleague does this with treasury tags and hole-punches their books but I have gone for sticking assessments in purely because our assessments seem to be smaller. This way, the books don’t need to be marked whilst assessments are. Some schools have even gone down the route of having classwork books and assessed work books, of which only the latter is marked.
No matter how clear I am with my instructions, how well I drill students on structures and vocabulary or how much ownership I give students over the success criteria of their work; I still find what is written or spoken doesn’t quite meet my (perhaps naive) expectations. However, whilst visiting St Joseph’s school in Slough (a very good school with a superb atmosphere and vision) I did find some inspiration.
When observing a year 12 Sociology lesson, I saw that the teacher in question (life long pal and Head of Sixth, Rhian Morgans) was using a pre-marking pro-forma. Previously, I have just asked students to check through the self-created success criteria on the board and make sure they’ve added it all in; often, this didn’t translate to the expected work. However, the sheet contains carefully selected ingredients that make up a ‘good piece of writing’ in the left hand column. The student then goes through and considers the criteria and simple ticks Yes/No. For the areas which they have ticked No, they then write a strategy to move that aspect of their work forward. Finally, the student annotates their own work in green pen with phrases, full sentences or even paragraphs that specifically address that area for development in their work. Please see the pro-forma by clicking the link below and then how one of my year 10 students has used it for their Spanish work in the picture.
Click here: pre-marking-checklist-ks4-mfl
The student here has simply drawn a line and added in a full paragraph but some students may just add in key words or a phrases here or there.
The work I think receive is far higher in quality, which reduces my marking workload but also means the feedback given (by me, in the WWW/EBI/MRI section at the bottom of the page…yet to be done here, naughty me) will make their second draft better still. Perhaps what I expect first time from students is too high, and the idea of drafting, redrafting and marginal gains are all part of the improvement process and, in the really world, ‘normal’. Hopefully, using strategies such as the above will help our students to become more reflective and develop their work independently.
As always, all feedback welcome;pleas feel free to use, lose or abuse.
We’ve all been there, the downward spiral that is the relationship you have with one particular child how just will not behave. You try everything; the hard approach, the soft approach, the reasoned approach and by the end of it doing the same old thing becomes no approach.
As Head of Spanish, I have to hold departmental detentions for repeat classroom offenders and although my staff are truly doing the best they can (straight out of Behaviour for Learning 101), with some students there appears to be no progress.
One thing however that we are trying appears to be working, and it is giving the students time to reflect, in the form of the sheet below:
Students simply fill out the sheet in the 30 minute detention to get them to drill down into where the behaviour is coming from as often it is communicating a need. Now, I’m not saying some children don’t just act up for the sake of acting up, but for some, this may go some way to building a bridge between a student and teacher whose relationship may appear to have gone past the point of now return. It may help the student to see their behaviour through the eyes of others, or give them the opportunity to explain what is going on in their lives and this is invaluable information for the teacher. Also, it gives ownership over the student’s way forward making solutions and not excuses.
Please feel free to use, loose or abuse by clicking the following link mfl-detention-student-reflection-sheet.
Recently, I listened to a Freakanomics podcasts entitled How to become great at just about anything in which the research of Pyschologist Anders Ericsson is discussed; particularly his work on deliberate practice. Ericsson talks about the idea of deliberate practice. This is the idea that practice is more important than IQ when it comes to student outcomes, I mean, how often do we see this at GCSE? The lazy MAT student vs the industrious and driven. Furthermore, practice should be increasingly challenging and allow students to come out of their comfort zone, much like when a bodybuilder increases his weight so that his muscle fibers break under the pressure and grow back stronger; lifting a light weight that he is used to will not allow him to grow. I would like to return to this idea and dedicate a whole blog post to it as I feel it is an interesting subject and goes hand in hand with the idea of desirable difficulty. However, today’s post is about a very useful tool for allowing MFL students to practice conjugation until they can do it with eyes closed, asleep and/or whilst watching the Kardashians.
The Language Gym is a website that allows students to practice conjugating a range of verbs online and against the clock. The programme gives the user an infinitive, a tense and a pronoun and the verb must be conjugate. Furthermore, it keeps your score and so you can compete against others but more importantly; yourself.
The website allows students to make the task more challenging by including a range of tenses, forms and types of verbs (e.g. AR regular, reflexive, stem changing etc…) or they can filter out to hone in on one particular group of verbs. I have also set them challenges, such as a particular combination which I know will take them out of their comfort zone. I often set this as a homework task but this does raise the question of how do we know that they are completing it? I ask my students to share a Google Doc with that has the test type (e.g. group of verbs, tense) the date, the score and the words that they found difficult/got wrong. They can then target those specific words in future homework/independent study to close the gap.
I hope you find this useful, there are other aspects of the website that exist so if you do find something else that you think is interesting or you think of a new way of using the verb gym, then do please comment on this blog post.
Recently a company called Barefoot Coaching came into our school to deliver an INSET session on coaching techniques. We learnt a range of techniques but it was the Wheel of Everything that stuck most in my mind and I have since used it in the classroom as an effective way of students providing peer assessment and providing their own steps forward as a result. Also, it is entirely student led so it is definitely what I would consider a high impact (on the student) and low stress (on the teacher) activity.
Below is an image of the worksheet that I have adapted from the Barefoot activity that they carried out with us. I will then explain how it works.
When students have completed a piece of writing, they then work in pairs to decide on the factors that make up a good piece of writing (or indeed, it could be used to assess a speaking piece). They then write the factors (e.g. use of opinions) on the outside of the circle, one per section. Students then swap books and complete the evaluation of their partner’s work on the wheel, by drawing a line that connects the two sides of that one section. The closer to the centre of the wheel signifies that the chosen factor is an area for development, and a line draw to the outer edge of the circle shows that the particular factor is a clear strength of the text. Obviously, you can shade or represent it as you like, no need to be constrained by what I’ve suggested!
Once this has been completed, the student hands the book and the sheet back to their partner. Their partner then fills out the rest of the sheet with their three weakest areas for development and devises their own independent steps forward that will improve their writing, as seen below.
I have attached the sheet below so please feel free to download, use, adapt or chuck in the bin. Why not comment on the article saying how you’ve used it?