Robert Brooks

Leading Practitioner


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#TLT15 at the University of Southampton

I had a fantastic day at the Teaching and Learning Takeover #TLT15 event yesterday at the University of Southampton, despite the M3 motorway having a 50 mph limit for most of the way there!

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Warm Up Session

Stephen Lockyer @mrlockyer engaged¬†the audience with a different version of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” story by Eric Carle.

Stephen’s humour was excellent and enthused us ready for the workshops we were about to go to:

Stephen gave a great description of how teachers are notorious for having marking in their car and asked the audience to raise their hands if they did. Many put up their hands and he gave an account of how he brings his marking home every Christmas in an IKEA bag, it stays in the car for a few days, then into the hallway and it pleads with him to “mark me!”

Stephen explained the importance of the #TLT15 event in communicating the excellent ideas discussed so that they can have the impact they deserve. He gave some interesting statistics:

  • There are 480,000 teachers in the UK
  • Only 130,000 of UK teachers (27%) are on Twitter
  • Only 0.67% of UK teachers went to a TeachMeet event in the last 12 months

Stephen encouraged us not only to tweet and blog, but to disseminate the information we learnt into our schools, such as by e-mailing out our blogs to our colleagues.

Workshop 1: Making the most of Middle Leadership

I met Jill Berry @jillberry102 at #LFE15 earlier this year and she gave me some great advice on how to succeed as a middle leader. When I saw that she would be presenting at #TLT15, I knew I had to sign up.

Jill asked us to think about the differences between the roles of pastoral and academic leadership. Here are some ideas that the audience gave and I have also added to:

Pastoral Leadership

This could involve positions such as a Deputy Head of Year, Head of Year, Head of House, Head of Learning or Head of Key Stage.

  • Great emphasis on the success of the whole child rather than focussing on their success in an individual subject area
  • More focus on the welfare of the student and elements of ‘social work’ involved in the role
  • You have to deal with things as they arise and therefore the role is a little more unpredictable
  • Dealing with student discipline more

Academic

This could involve positions such as a Department Key Stage Co-ordinator, Second in Department, Head of Department or Head of Faculty.

  • Great emphasis on the success of child in an individual subject area
  • More accountability for student progress
  • Line management of teachers and accountability for their examination results
  • More strategic leadership and vision needed

What was interesting though, particularly as I am currently involved in both pastoral and academic leadership, was the crossover of skills required for both roles:

  • Data analysis
  • Time management
  • Prioritising tasks

Jill gave an excellent comparison between the Head of Year and Head of Department. Motorists are pedestrians and pedestrians are often motorists too.

Jill wanted us to think about the positivity and reward associated with middle leadership. Most of the audience agreed it was because of our sphere of influence and being able to initiate positive change for our students. As a Head of Year, you have to think about the sphere of influence on a cohort of students, whereas a Head of Science has to think about this for every student studying science.

There are various challenges middle leaders have to cope with, such as dealing with the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), constant curriculum changes, communication and line managing teachers. Jill told us something that John Tomsett @johntomsett once said:

At a National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference I went to in October 2013, Karen Lewis (President of the Chicago Teachers Union) @KarenLewisCTU said: “You can’t put students first if you’re putting teachers last.” Jill explained to us that if the staff are looked after then in turn the staff will look after the students. It is our job as middle leaders to support that within our teams and the SLT and Headteacher to ensure this for the whole school.

It is also important to consider this:

Some middle leaders worry that they can’t do what they want to do within their department or year group due to whole school pressures. Jill said that you have to work with what you can and be the best you can possibly be within your domain. The SLT and Headteacher over time will notice how good your area is and other areas (year groups or¬†departments) can then learn from yours. This takes time and persistence.

This was a great session led by Jill and gave me loads to think about in my middle leadership roles.

Workshop 2: Marvellous Questioning for Monumental Learning

This was an informative session led by Sarah Findlater @MsFindlater on the reasons for questioning and different approaches to effective questioning in the classroom.

Sarah advised us to avoid asking too many closed questions and ones that do not move the learning forward. Sometimes we can be guilty of this when we need to fill time in a lesson. More careful planning of questions is needed when planning the lesson.

A fantastic idea Sarah gave us was to use canvassing questioning. An example of how I would use this in a biology lesson would be:

  • Teacher: “Who thinks that alcoholic patients should be entitled to a liver transplant? Put up your left hand for no and right hand for yes”
  • Students then vote.
  • Teacher then chooses students who voted either way to get an explanation from them.

This questioning method engages the whole class and allows you to ask deeper questions later on to individual students.

Sarah got us to then think about how we could use Bloom’s Taxonomy in our own subject areas in a particular topic to design a series of questions. This is also a good starting point when writing or developing schemes of work:

Other questioning ideas Sarah discussed with us:

  • Allow thinking time between asking the question and expecting a response. As the subject specialist it is very easy to go through the lesson quickly but if you can get used to the silence after asking a question it will be okay!
  • #PPPB Pose Pause Pounce Bounce questioning by Ross Morrison McGill @TeacherToolkit
  • No hands questioning: Use lolly sticks or the fruit machine on www.classtools.net
  • Teachers should also avoid accepting a partially correct answer and¬†students need to know it is okay to be wrong and that is how we can learn.

An excellent session and many ideas to take from this back to school.

Workshop 3: Question Level Analysis

This session was led by Kristian @KristianStill and Paul Kearley. Question level analysis is an important tool to pinpoint areas of weakness for a specific student so they (and the teacher) know what topics or skills they need to improve on.

It is also vital to use for analysing the cohort or particular classes in certain questions. If there is a topic all students are getting wrong then the teaching of that needs to be revisited or tweaked.

Kristian showed us his question level analysis tool, which is available to download from his website:

A good motivational idea Kristian and Paul gave was to give students alternative questions on a topic they got wrong (after some intervention) and show the students how the tracker can change. You can use Exam Pro, Exam Wizard and Test Base to find questions on particular topics for students rather than having to spend time creating your own or manually searching through past papers yourself.

We were given a good summary on how to lead effective assessments:

An excellent session and question level analysis tool given for us to use in our schools, thank you very much!

Workshop 4: Challenge and Differentiation

This was one of the most engaging and inspiring education workshops I have ever been to led by Lindsay Skinner @lindsayjskinner who is an English Teacher, Deputy Head and Raising Standards Leader.

Lindsay talked about the myths of effective differentiation, particularly when she observes lessons and sees mountains of differentiated worksheets, sometimes 30 different ones for each student in the class! She rightly pointed out that this method was unsustainable and probably does not have a significant positive impact on the progress of the students.

It is in fact possible to differentiate day in day out by teaching to the top. If you know the A* model answer for a specification statement and can teach that well (this is something that is embedded into all of our schemes of work in the Science Department), you can teach it to all students. Teach to the top down #teachingtothetop

It is a good idea to start embedding more complicated terms at GCSE and A Level down into Key Stage 3. Students are then used to the words and are not as baffled by them as they reach examination classes. This increases their vocabulary, scientific literacy and specialist terminology from an earlier starting point.

Lindsay explained how it was important that the complex skills need to be taught in the classroom where the students have you (and each other) on hand for support and leave the lower end skills and much of the content for homework using a model of flipped learning.

Lindsay also showed us that by using the PiXL Club PLCs (Personalised Learning Checklists) effectively, you are differentiating without having to create additional resources. Many schools, like ours, adapt the PiXL PLCs to suit their students and schemes of work but the principles are still the same. If students have model answers for the PLCs, they can learn the content at home, whereas the more complex skills can be taught in lessons.

By having the colour-coded PLC tracker on the board, students can see where they are up to and what skills they need to be able to develop. In science, students could complete an examination question on a particular specification statement, the teacher could check it and then they could colour-code the tracker green.

It is important to regularly save copies of the tracker, Lindsay suggested weekly. This is so you can show progress over time to your school leaders but more importantly to the students to show how much they have learnt and developed over a short space of time. This was something I used to do with BTEC Science trackers but I have now realised I can easily do this with GCSE and A Level too.

The focus needs to be on the learning of a particular section, such as explaining the dangers of electromagnetic radiation, rather than how to do it, such as doing a comic strip, PowerPoint presentation, report, cartoon or video clip. Sometimes the students will moan that they are having to write an extended writing answer. Lindsay gave an idea on how to challenge this:

Lindsay made an important point that we need intervention and differentiation like this from the start of Key Stage 3 to avoid the proverbial frantic Year 11 intervention.

There was so much information from this session that I can easily take and use in school, in particular with my Year 11 classes. Thank you Lindsay!

Action Points

When attending a TeachMeet, conference or CPD, I always try and pinpoint key points to take away with me to use in my own school. Here are 4 (one from each workshop)

1) Leadership: Evaluate my sphere of influence on students studying science in my school and use this to decide how I can develop this further.

2) Questioning: Try out this questioning technique:

3) Feedback: Investigate how we could use the question level analysis tool in different key stages within the Science Department.

4) Differentiation: Display the PLC tracker on the board, use this as differentiation and save copies each week to show progress over time.

#TLT15 was a fantastic day and I really enjoyed networking with other teachers. I’m already looking forward to #TLT16 next year!

Thank you to David Fawcett @davidfawcett27 and Jenn Ludgate @MissJLud for organising!

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