For many, the start of a new year comes in January, when they make resolutions of how they are going improve or change their lives for the better in the coming 12 months. For me, the start of the new year comes in with September. Having spent most of my life in education - either studying or teaching - my life really does seem to run in the academic year. So as I begin a new year I get a little reflective and start to think about what worked last year and that I want to continue doing, as well as the new ideas that I would like to try and implement in 2018/19...
Looking back: five things I have tried and will continue with
1. Reward cards
I am a strong believer in rewarding students for good work and positivity in the classroom, but I also like to add a little bit of surprise and excitement to the reward. So, after seeing the idea of reward scratch cards on Twitter, I decided to try it out for myself with great success. I kept to the reward system that my school has in place, but using the cards meant that I was able to place them on desks or in books without disruption to the lesson. It’s then up to the student to claim the reward at the end of the lesson. By laminating the cards and using scratch off stickers, I can reuse the cards multiple times.
2. Retrieval practice starters
I got this idea initially from Kate Jones of @87history fame. To say that it has transformed the start of my lessons as well as the retention of knowledge is an understatement. I use two main types of retrieval practice at the start of my lesson: the retrieval grids and Cloze Paragraphs. Retrieval grids have 15-20 questions which cover all the content we have worked on to that point in the course. The further back the topic, the more points the question is worth. The idea is the students can pick the questions they answer but must try and get as many points as they can. Cloze Paragraphs are simple gap fill exercises, but they form a good way to model paragraph structure as well as checking knowledge.
3. Question breakdown sheets
I noticed last year that, quite often, when I got my students to create essay plans, what they were really doing was writing the essay in boxes. So, I wanted to create a planning sheet that stopped them from doing this, but also got the students thinking about the demands of the question - not just the content. The sheets get the students to break down the question, analyse the item they were given, and bullet point content, application and evaluation. There is not enough space for them to write full paragraphs or even sentences on purpose. I created were designed for A Level sociology, but have been adapted to Politics, and History as well.
4. Keyword quadrants
This was another idea I magpie from twitter and the wonderful Miss Westbury (@missWestbury_RE). Keyword quadrants are a great alternative to flashcards, as they not only help the students to remember the term, but gets them to use the term as well. I have used these as a starter activity, a homework task, and as a revision task. The idea is that the students define the term, use it in a sentence, identify other terms which go with the main one, and give any examples if appropriate.
5. Semi-randomised seating
I know some people like to have seating plans that are a bit more static, but this year I tried semi-randomised seating. In PSHE we keep the students’ folders in class, which makes this system a little easier. At the start of the lesson I set out the students’ folders, trying to ensure that they are sat in different groups each lesson. This way, they are getting different views during discussion. It is semi-randomised as I know there are certain students who need to be sat closer to the front, and certain students who shouldn’t be sat together.
Moving forward: five things I want to embed next year
1. Response sentences
I use a lot of discussion in lessons, as is the nature of my subjects, but my aim is to get the students responding to each other, rather than responding just to me. More basketball, less tennis so to speak. To do this, I am going to create a display by my white board with response sentence starters which the students must use when adding to the discussion. I am hoping that over time this will become second nature to the students, but the display will give them the prompts to do this. Sentence starters include:
- “I agree with what… said about…, but I also think that...”
- “I think that what… said is really interesting, but I disagree with them about…”
- “I disagree with… about… because…”
- “I like what… suggested, but think you also need to consider…”
2. Teaching books
This year I had to suddenly pick up teaching two units of work that I have not previously taught, meaning that I had to learn the content before teaching it. This got me thinking about my teaching notes and how I reflect on my SOLs. At present, I have various notebooks and sheets all over the place, so I want to try and organise things a little more. Therefore, I am going to create Teaching Books. These will be notebooks with my notes, contemporary examples, activities and ongoing reflection. I don’t expect these to be neat, but they will also form the joint purpose of modelling good note taking for my students.
3. Embedding study skills
In various conversations with students last year, the one thing that kept coming up is that the students didn’t know how to study independently or how to take notes, and so would blindly copy from the board in lessons. I have decided, therefore, that in the first weeks of Year 12 Sociology, I will be actively teaching study skills and note-taking alongside the content of the introduction to Sociology unit. This will include activities like targeted highlighting, summarising and creating trigger sheets. I am hoping that, by overtly teaching these skills, the students will be able to apply them later in the course using independent study booklets I have created to support them.
4. Focused marking
Marking is always one area where I am trying to find ways to reduce my workload, and marking every piece of work is something that I refuse to do. So this year, I am trying focused marking in PSHE. This involves marking one piece of work per learning phase; a consolidation task which will show what the students have learnt in this period. These tasks have been highlighted in the students’ workbooks using dashed lined boxes and feedback boxes at the bottom of the task, where I will write a comment, a target, and tick a level achieved box. My hope is that this will help me to stay on top of my marking and break the habit of marking every page in student books.
5. Tabs and feedback flips
This is more of a development than a new initiative. Students already check their books for unfinished work or feedback they need to respond to; however, I have found that sometimes these tasks can be missed. With this in mind, I am going to try the system of using different colour sticky tabs to indicate where a student has work that needs to be completed, or a feedback flip that they need to respond to. The student can then use any spare time they may have if they finish a task early or at the start of the lesson to complete these tasks.
My hope is that these systems and ideas will help my students to reach their full potential next year, as well as help me to manage my workload a little better. But as they say, we shall see!
All resources mentioned are available on my website: www.hecticteachersite.wordpress.com.
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