Things that have influenced my teaching over the last two months or so.

I’ve recently changed schools, and the workload at my new schools is much less.  One of the things I’m doing with my extra time is read.  Below are some of the things I’ve read and immediately incorporated in my lessons.  Each bullet point is a brief summary of one thing, with a link to where you can read about it more fully.

  1. Start each lesson with a test of around ten questions.  These questions should be a mix of all the things you’ve taught that class.  E.g., 1.) What does ‘brusque’ mean? 2.) How long is your first exam? 3.) What language device is being used here: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness’?  I am only starting to realise just how much students forget of what you’ve taught them.  If I do a lesson on oxymorons, some or most of the class will have forgotten what they are by the following week.  Testing them makes them more likely to remember next time.  This is called the retrieval effect (see point 7.).  Some might say that this isn’t a fun way to start lessons, but I am decreasingly concerned about this (see point 8.)
  2. Teach vocab explicitly.  Tell your students three new words at the start of the week, and test them on the words each lesson that week (use point 1. of this list to do this).  It’s easy to find lists of words to improve your vocabulary.  This takes roughly five-ten minutes out of a lesson, and three new words a week means roughly one hundred words a year, or five hundred words between Y7 and Y11.  I’m aware that use of explicit vocabulary instruction is a matter for debate, but I think ten minutes per lesson is a small thing.
  3. Create a show sentence as a class.  This basically involves making one really good sentence as a class, guided by the teacher.  The example in the link makes it clear how to do it.  I’ll confess I haven’t started using this yet, but I can see it meshing really well with point 2. of this list.  Michaela teachers seem very good at producing practical, helpful blogs like this.
  4. Slow writing.  I actually read about this in Didau’s ‘Secret of Literacy’, but you can just read more about it here.  This is a simple but great idea.  Give students success criteria for each sentence: sentence one must contain the word ‘brusque’; sentence two must contain a semi-colon; sentence three must be thirteen words.  I think students should divide most of their time in lessons between reading, writing, class discussion, and teacher explanation.  This exercise means I can mix up my writing tasks a bit so the students aren’t always writing diary entries.
  5. Teach memorisation by pairing it with movement.  I’ve been reading a lot recently about the value of students memorising things (or, as it is also known, ‘learning’).  I have read in at least one Phil Beadle book the idea of memorising things by pairing words with movements.  For example, I wanted my year eights to memorise this sentence: ‘apostrophes are for making things smaller and showing you own something’.  I got them to draw an apostrophe in the air for the word ‘apostrophe’; push both hands palm down on the table f0r ‘making things smaller’; and hug themselves for ‘show you own something’.  I then got them to do it as loudly as they could, as quietly as they could, and then in the accents of various countries.
  6. The power of interleaving.  Interleaving is when you teach one thing, then another, then return to the first thing, then go back to the second thing.  And so on.  It makes students more likely to remember what you’ve taught them, and leaving a gap between teaching sessions might also help them, by themselves, unravel misunderstandings (or so I’ve read here).  I’m teaching Y13 ‘Othello’ on Monday and Wednesday, and ‘Emma’ Tuesday and Friday.  I’m trying to keep this list very concise, but if you read Carey’s ‘How We Learn’, it’ll make it much clearer how useful and powerful this is.
  7. The testing effect.  This might be old news to some.  Basically, if you test someone on something, they’re more likely to remember it later.  This means you should test not (just) for AfL or whatever, but as a task for students like any other, writing, class discussion, etc.  Points 1.) and 2.) on this list make use of the testing effect.  Students also seem to enjoy them, and if your SLT really like data, it might be useful for you.  I get them to close their eyes after each test and then raise hands to tell me their scores.  This is to make the test as low-stakes as possible (no-one else in the class is judging them).
  8. The Pareto Principle.  I can’t remember where I first came across this: as applied to teaching, I take it to mean that 20% of what most teachers do has 80% of the impact.  Or 80% of what we do is not that useful.  Obviously, this is not a good thing and it would be better if 100% of what we did was really useful.  As I say above, I think (for the English teacher at least) this 20% is reading, writing, class discussion, and teacher explanation.  Roughly, anyway – it goes without saying that feedback, for example, is pretty essential.  But I have largely ditched things like: card sorts, plenaries that say things like ‘write a tweet of this lesson’, hot-seating, ‘if this is the answer what is the question’, add ten emojis to this extract to show how the different characters are feeling.  I’m actually quite ashamed I ever thought that these were legitimate class activities.
I’ve endeavoured here to credit where I first found these ideas.  If it seems like I’ve been remiss, please let me know below.

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