Research Project: Autism

“Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”

Autism.org.uk

There is no known cause for autism – there is some evidence suggesting it is a combination of factors including environmental and genetic. There is no specific treatment.

Autism comes in different levels of severity. An individual may present different levels of developmental distortion (could be advanced or delayed). It can also present with other conditions, including anxiety, OCD and ADHD.

autism

Comorbidity of disorders (taken from http://www.lanc.org.uk/related-conditions/autistic-spectrum-difficulties-asd-adhd/)

In over half of individuals, Autism is present from birth. Many features peak at 2-5 years. There is a second peak at the onset of adolescence when 1/3 of adolescents can experience depression or anxiety.

Recent research has highlighted the number of undiagnosed women may be larger than anticipated. Girls are more likely to mask symptoms by mimicking the behaviour of others.

A case study – focusing on a Key Stage 3 girl with autism

Laura Birkett

Any topic that requires understanding of figurative language, symbols, multiple answers and non-black and white answers can pose quite a problem for some students, particular some students with autism.

 

  • Model different points of view – Sometimes we have clear, definitive answers and other times there are a variety of answers which are all equally valid. Many students struggle with ‘grey areas’ and this can also include students with autism. Model different ideas, encourage plenty of class feedback and perhaps experiment with different ‘hats’ or ‘glasses’ that students can wear to see the world from a different point of view. One of my autistic students has loved this activity this year, and will very dramatically put their imaginary glasses on to offer a different point of view.

 

  • Use images to help make the connection – our world is full of symbols and ‘codes’ that we learn and our school is just the same. Everyday students are presented with a range of symbols and are able to understand what these mean; from + to CO2, @, no entry and poisonous. Taking the time to discuss these and how one thing can mean something else has really helped her to understand symbolism. In fact she still comes to tell me different symbols she has discovered and why she thinks they are used.

 

  • Clear and direct instructions –using the same words in written and verbal instructions is really important in terms of understanding. Slightly altering the instructions even by one or two words can often be interpreted as a different task or confuse students. Keep it simple and keep it the same.

 

  • Thinking time – no one likes being pounced on for an answer, and for an autistic pupil this can be overwhelming. I have been working on this with one of my pupils since October, giving warning at the start of the lesson that I’d love to hear from them this lesson and then checking in a few minutes before to remind them that I will be asking a question. This has been successful to the point that I often no longer need to warn one student that I will ask them, instead the student telling me that they’d like to share their idea for the lesson. This has not only allowed that student to feel prepared, but also more empowered as they are selecting the information that they wish to share.

 

  • Consistency with home – one of the most beneficial things I have found is having a chat with parents about what strategies they use and I have been able to replicate some of these at school. This was particularly useful at the start of year, at the start of new units or during any particular challenging moments. Sometimes just simple wording can work wonders.

 

  • Engage with their interests – we are all undoubtedly busy but taking a few minutes to find out a little about my students, particularly this student has made a massive impact this year. I can use information for basis of tasks when introducing new concepts and for some students, autistic students included, this can really help with interest and a desire to engage.

 

In pastoral setting:

  • Allow students to use you as a sounding board when they feel frustrated.
  • Act as a go-between when there has been an incident. Role play ways the student can respond. Written notes/emails could be sent to you first for checking.
  • Regular communication with parents can help anticipate situations and give ideas for strategies which can be passed on to subject teachers.
  • Use modelling and examples to demonstrate social skills– social story cartoons can be useful.

 

We all need to value our differences and not to see them as odd.

How boring would life be if we were all identical?

What can we learn from each other?

How can we celebrate our strengths?

 

Useful websites

National Autistic society: www.autism.org.uk

Learning Assessment and Neurocare Centre: http://www.lanc.org.uk/

Autism education trust: www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk – has some free resources

Austim visuals (free): http://visuals.autism.net/main.php

Widgit symbols (not free but good for inspiration) www.widgit.com

 Di Clode and Leyla Pattison

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Sharing Good Practice – MFL – Application of Growth Mindset Principles to increase confidence in listening exams for GCSE

Jon shared with the Faculty how he was using Growth Mindset ideas to help improve the confidence of students in the Listening Exams.

mfl 1

He initially started by sharing a Growth and Fixed Mindset with the students. He then explained to the students that the listening paper is worth 25% of the final mark but can often be seen as the more difficult paper. So how can these difficulties be overcome?

  • Listening exercise is included in every lesson
  • Learning more vocabulary helps to know more words
  • Students are not expected to understand every word but can still gain full marks
  • It might sound faster than English but it is not
  • Making good use of the fact that it is heard twice – make notes whilst listening
  • Make use of any visual clues
  • Read the questions carefully
  • Try and replay the listening in your head when answering the questions
  • The science part – cognitive processing speed – your brain develops this from the age of 8 through to 16 so as you grow older your listening will improve.
  • Train to concentrate too many students (60% in a questionnaire) were distracted not be the room or by others but the length of time needed to concentrate, train your brain.
  • Stay focused and stay calm

mfl 2

A couple of practical activities for the classroom:

  • Train students to find word boundaries for example a starter can be a sentence without spacing and students need to work out what the words are.
  • Make a tally of listening marks in the back of your book and note down words that they struggled with, look for the improvement during your GCSE years.
  • Try listening to Spanish or French radio or pop songs

 

mfl 3

 

 

Research Project: Supporting students with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia

Fact: 4% to 20% of the population are dyslexic. Your class is likely to have between 1 and 5 dyslexic students in it.
Fact: About 5% of the population are dyspraxic (Developmental Co-ordination Delay – DCD). Your class is likely to have at least 1 dyspraxic student in it.
Fact: Between 3 and 6% of the population are dyscalculic. Your class is likely to have at least 1 dyscalculic student it.

Then consider those students with ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Condition, Hearing & Visual Impairments and general (global) learning difficulties – our classrooms are becoming increasingly ‘neuro-diverse.’

Under the 2014 revisions to the Code of Practice, we all became ‘teachers of children with SEND.’ The idea behind SEN support now is to remove any barriers to learning in the classroom – to enable every child to make progress and achieve their personal potential.

Group  Research Work:

A common theme expressed by members of the DDD group has been that, through our research, our awareness and knowledge of the issues experienced by dyslexic/dyspraxic students has increased. This has informed our teaching practice in the planning and supporting of specific students with additional needs.

In our concluding discussion we found that the many and varied strategies we were trialling could be used to support a wide range of needs, because of the degree of overlap between the various specific learning difficulties (SpLDs). Most of the students we were considering experienced problems with memory and processing, for example, regardless of what their actual ‘diagnosis’ was. At the same time, the students had difficulties ‘specific’ to them, so we concluded it was important to actually ‘consult’ with the students and ask what they felt they needed, rather than impose something on them.

When shared and summarised, we agreed our 5 Top Tips for supporting students with specific learning difficulties would be:

5 Top Tips

  1. Scaffold written tasks and provide visual clues.
  2. Use appropriate fonts and colour styles for documents e.g. non-white background and dark writing.
  3. Give students adequate time for activities and build recap opportunities into lessons.
  4. Chunk information and break down tasks. This will avoid info-overload and developing misconceptions.
  5. Each child’s needs are different. Talk to students about what they find hard and what helps them.

DDD group

For further information:
Supporting Children with Special Educational & Disabilities – Cheryl Drabble. Bloomsbury CPD Library
Made by Dyslexia – Website
http://www.nasen.org.uk

(Internal use only – T-Drive – Inclusion & SEND – Teacher Toolkit)

Research Project: Raising the motivation and performance levels of low attaining, under-performing KS4 students.

Garaeth Davies and myself, Dave Grimmett, ran a project with a group of staff over the course of the year with no small objective! We were determined to address the students whose attitudes were persistently unsatisfactory, and invariably their performance levels were also under par. We were also aware Heads of House and Heads of Faculty had identified significant concerns with ‘tone-setting’ demotivated students and the major impact not only on individual outcomes, but the outcomes of classes affected by these students.

Our end of 2017-18 Year 11 P8 performance showed a clear correlation between demotivation in our ATL (Attitudes to Learning reports) and final GCSE results, whilst the whole School Improvement Plan identified Student Voice as being an under-represented area. Therefore we thought why not combine these two things as the foundation for our project?

The project sought therefore to improve outcomes for students in Year 11 who had been identified at the start of the year, as either being ‘passive’ or ‘disengaged’ in their attitude to learning, and/or significantly under-performing in a subject.

A CPD group was set up to deliver the project, and each staff member identified 2 or 3 students within their Year 11 class who fitted the criteria above. Detailed individual surveys were administered to identify specific learning needs. This was a really interesting part of the process as we identified a range of information regarding teaching and learning strategies students found useful in lessons, characteristics of the lessons where they are most successful, and more. Garaeth also compiled a wider sample survey of 40 Year 11 students and identified quality feedback from staff as being one of the most effective factors to improving motivation, attitudes and performance.

This data was then studied carefully in partnership with a series of short summaries of proven strategies for raising attainment from wider educational evidence and research. Whilst students were mostly considered in their survey responses, we were keen to ensure that we didn’t just respond to their whims, but instead sought a way of cross-referencing some students’ reflections with evidence based research. Staff then devised an action plan for each of their nominated students, using two strategies over the project duration to improve outcomes.

The project had a positive impact on student progress  with 67% of students demonstrating an improvement in attitude to learning and/or academic performance.

69% of Staff reported in that the project wasn’t a workload concern and that the strategies they identified were relatively easy to implement.

33% of Staff identified that the trial may be more effective with a younger year group (as Yr 11 is probably too late!) and this was a key reflection point for us.

Feedback also recognised the crucial impact of engaging with evidence based research in implementing policy -69% of staff stated that the evidence booklet was useful in helping them decide on appropriate strategies for helping them intervene with demotivated and under-achieving students, and this was commended by the Headteacher in the drive to make the Academy more evidence driven.

disengaged 2

 

To conclude, this evidence points to the useful nature of the project for staff, and the project team presented to all staff in a Teach-meet session in June with the aim of promoting the future impact of individual student voice coupled with wider research in finding solutions to under-performance.

disengaged 1

 

 

Research Project: ADHD

How often have you heard “Oh so and so is a nightmare, they must have ADHD” or seen ADHD coded on your register and although acknowledging it not really understood what it meant or had a clear idea of how to adjust your teaching to account for their needs?

Well if we are honest that was the starting point for most of our group.  Thus the first step on our journey was to research, share and discuss.  Straightaway this proved pretty tricky, as ADHD turns out to be a pretty controversial subject.

Definitions ranged from “a collection of symptoms” to “a brain disorder”.  So was it a medical condition with a physical cause or just a label for child that can’t sit still?  We are not the experts that are going to find an answer to that question so we pushed on.

 

ADHD

What is clear are the behaviours are associated with /used to diagnose ADHD.  Not paying attention or listening to or following instructions, difficulty sustaining attention on the require task, easily distracted, fidgeting, leaving seat, interrupting and blurting out.  This is part of the list taken from DSM5 – the diagnostic value of the American Psychiatric Association, but more importantly they are all pretty annoying for a teacher, and we all have students like this, so finding strategies to help with this would be really useful!

The diagnostic protocol stresses that a person with ADHD will not display all of these symptoms and this is clear from the very diverse list of students at Churchill with diagnosed or suspected ADHD.

To quell the turmoil in our own buzzing minds we began a 2 pronged approach.  Some members of the group set about more research on the web, whilst the others set about the voices of Churchill students with ADHD.

When it comes to dealing with ADHD students we have found the magic bullet……good teaching.

Repeating instructions, getting pupils to repeat instructions, writing instructions on the board, consistent expectations, structure and routine, stimulating practical tasks, clear rules, praise pro-social behaviour, carefully thought out seating plans, quiet classrooms, calm, minimum distractions, using a planner to write down reminders, asking pupils to think and rephrase contributions.

Nothing new here, but it’s always good to be reminded.

Interviews with student showed variation in their experience and feelings and highlighted that some personalisation was much appreciated.  Bearing in mind the diversity of students presenting with ADHD and the variation in how they experience difficulties in lessons it seems that the most important element in how we cater for them is to know who they are, make time to get to know them and their needs and establish 1:1 contact with them every lesson – back to our magic bullet (good teaching).

So next time I see ADHD on a new class list I’ll won’t panic and worry about a whizzy new pedagogy or specific intervention that will need to made, but I will register that they are going to need a little bit more of my attention that some of the other students, and make a point of giving them this positive focus every lesson.

Chris Cooknell and the research group team

Research Project: “Partnership in the Classroom – Making Effective Use of Teaching Assistants”. 

Having a background as a Teaching Assistant prior to becoming a Teacher of Geography, I felt was extremely useful in addressing the age old question of “How to effectively utilise a TA in the classroom environment!”. I remember as a TA, turning up to a lesson and receiving such a mixed bag of responses from the teachers you were there to support. Some would be extremely grateful of your support, whilst others would appear mortified that you were to consider any form of scrutiny of their lesson. Much of the work I was doing, was self-driven and using my own initiative in order to provide a useful amount of support to the student / students within that class. This is where it dawned on me that the system wasn’t at all effective from a whole school perspective! The experience gained from being a TA was extremely beneficial in supporting my transition to a class teacher and gave me a good understanding of how I would utilise such members of staff if I was lucky to have them in my classroom. The input from the PGCE course on utilising TA’s was minimal and really didn’t prepare you for the kind of discussions and information sharing that would need to happen.

 

Jump forward nearly 8 years and so much has changed! We find ourselves in a climate of economic austerity and in class support being minimised within the educational context. Much focus has been drawn towards the QFT (Quality First Teaching) model, whereby teachers are expected to understand and meet the needs of all students within their classes and as per the Department for Education guidance that “…responsibilities of schools and teaching staff maintaining that ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEND’ (DfE/DOH 2015). The guidance goes on to explain that as teachers we need to ensure an individual should be supported in a way that not only meets the needs of their particular weaknesses, but also develops their strengths and abilities. In schools, we have spent much time obsessing and focussing on a label that can indeed be perceived as misleading and can be counter-productive; focussing on the specific needs, talents, desires and aspirations of the individual is likely to lead to far greater success.

 

As part of our CPD research project, we were tasked to investigate the current utilisation of our TA’s within the Academy and to develop a strategy that is not only unique, but enforces the correct protocol for using additional members of staff within a whole school context. We highlighted some of the key issues surrounding SEND students within classes that do not currently receive support as well as identifying TA’s that are deployed to lessons and are not being effectively used. The key question here is why? Surely every member of teaching staff sees the value of having a TA within their classes, or are we looking at this from the wrong perspective? Are we obsessing with the SEND labeling and having those expectations that a TA will be the answer / solution in promoting positive outcomes with these students. The members within our working group identified students within their own context that have access to a TA and who don’t as well as discussing with the SENDCO how effectively the TA’s thought they were being used in the classroom environment. The research is there to support this, such as the MITA project (Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants) and the EEF framework/guidance around making the best use of Teaching Assistants. Some of the evidence found, suggests that teaching assistants have been misused in school environments for sometime and their roles have not been fully understood. (Further details can be found at http://maximisingtas.co.uk/resources/making-best-use-of-tas-eef-guidance.php). It was clear that there was a real lack of whole school consistency with this project, so it was essential that we devised a simple but effective tool for ensuring TA’s were being recognised as a second teacher within the classroom and there was a clear direction of what was expected of all members of staff within the learning environment.

 

We therefore created a mnemonic in the form of a teacher “code of conduct” for the effective utilisation of our teaching assistants. The mnemonic concept will define the key principles linked to the SEND policy, so that all staff are engaged with and driving the policy in their lessons from four simple but effective steps:

 

Link – Ensuring a clear interaction between teacher and TA – Before, during and after the lesson! What is the plan for the lesson? Establishing TA as a second adult in the lesson.

Observe – Joint observation of students progress (in general not just SEND). Any problem areas? Issues? Plan to move this forward?

Voice – Continual feedback during key progress points in the lesson. Is this information being recorded?

Evaluate – How well did the students do? Did students meet outcomes? If not why not!! Complete the LOVE book!

Ta LOVE

The final outcome from following the mnemonic is to complete a “L.O.V.E” book, which will be issued to TA’s. This will form a note based dialogue and record of the interactions around the students within that class and can be a working document to record issues / progress. Every member of staff will be given a lanyard version of this as a checklist reminder in order to encourage the four steps being carried out!

TA Love 2

 

It’s simple, a clear briefing and dialogue at the start of each lesson with outcomes throughout, will promote effective practice within the Academy!

Jon Bevan, Nicky Moon and the research group 2018-19

Sharing Good Practice – Science Faculty

I was invited to the Science Faculty meeting that was focusing on Improving Year 11 Outcomes, with only a Term to go before the exams what could staff do to make a difference.

science faculty

 

Exam Marking tips

Liz Watson shared some thoughts from having marked exam papers last year. Some tips:

  • Students must ensure they recognise that some questions use the word Explain
  • Students must learn the practicals they have done and explain them in the exam.
  • Students must learn the equations in physics.
  • Students can annotate the question and graphs
  • Another useful tip was that extended prose questions are marked holistically using generic level descriptions common to all science subjects.

The Faculty then divided into their separate subjects and discussed an exam marker’s comments linked to student answers.

The meeting then moved onto a special guest, Ed Bennetts from MFL, to share some cross-curricular tips.

  • When learning key vocabulary words, MFL encourage students to use the new vocabulary in a sentence. This would relate easily to Science learning and explaining key words.
  • Using 3 steps to differentiate – human; hero and legend – but scientific words could be used for example Chemical Elements. Ensure that in the lesson you scaffold and model how you move from ‘human’ to ‘legend’ to ensure students make progress.
  • Point system in challenging students in MFL to use more vocabulary and tenses. Can translate into Science by how you can gain full marks in a question.
  • Quizlet – create your own or use those already done.

Leyla Pattison – Stretch and Challenge at A-level Chemistry (but can easily translate into GCSE Challenge)

Leyla had recently been on a course and challenged herself by this quote ‘Need to cultivate a culture of scholastic excellent where the highest achievement in academic work is vitally important.’

There is a need to create expert scientists for A-level and the future through expert teaching.

This can be achieved by adapting existing materials and extending students further. The idea is not to give students more work but give them more challenge.

Ways to do this at GCSE include:

  • Giving students example answers and asking them to identify errors
  • Get students writing technician notes for required practicals, encouraging students to think about what preparation is needed
  • Challenge of the day type questions which can be dipped in and out of.

Leyla also provided an update on the Science Capital working party. Science capital is an innovative teaching approach which challenges student’s perceptions of what science is, who does science and scientific behaviours. This has the overarching aim of raising student’s aspirations and engagement within science.

We have been trialling different methods of increasing science capital including:

  • Localising and personalising scientific ideas by using examples relevant to students’ lives
  • Story-telling to make concepts more memorable
  • Linking concepts with recent news stories which students may have encountered.

 

Black dot in the white square – a simple reward strategy – Leyla Pattison

 

During his keynote speech at the NSTA INSET day Andy Buck gave people who participated a number. At the end a randomly selected number won a prize. Why? What was the purpose? This provided an unexpected starting point for my five minute teach meet discussion on simple reward strategies.

In our discussion there were lots of ideas on the purpose of this: it turns contributions into a competition, gave us an incentive to engage, provided a mini thumbs up no matter whether your contribution was correct or not, and you got more “tickets” if you worked extra hard. As a collective of teachers we know how to behave during a talk but giving us a carrot made us all sit up a little straighter.

The starting point for my use of raffle tickets came about in a slightly different way. While supervising year 10 students during a PSHE day, it came down to me to sanction 4 students who we unable to display the self-control the session was trying to encourage I know that, as teachers, we should not take behaviour to hearty but I genuinely felt embarrassed, cross and upset that these students could be so rude. Later in the session, I had a moment. I looked around the gym and saw 96 other students. These 96 were behaving brilliantly. They were engaged, listening and taking part in a way that made me feel proud. It made me realise that I had been focusing on sanctioning the 4 students who were unable to behave themselves at the expense of rewarding the 96 who were. I happened to speak to Chris Hildrew about the incident and he told me to focus on the white square, not the black dot. Intrigued, I went away and read about the work of Bill Rogers.

A colleague in science had been using raffle tickets to reward good behaviour in his period 5 lessons. I decided to give this a go.

I carefully explained the rules to my groups:

  • They receive 1 raffle ticket for exceeding my expectations in lessons. I decide the criteria for this. It could be for getting equipment ready and being one of the first to settle. It could be for answering a question or for completing challenge work.
  • The students write their name on the back of their ticket and the number in the back of their exercise book.
  • At the end of the lesson, the tickets go in the class jar.
  • At a time that suits me (could be at the end of a lesson, week or term) I draw 5 names from the jar and those students win a prize. This could be sweets, science-themed stationery or freebies that I have picked up at conferences.

I explained to the students that there will only ever be 5 prizes and they can only win once, but the more times their names are in the jar, the more likely they are to win.

The results were transformative. Students are quick to settle (only the first few get a raffle ticket) and engage with the lesson. Their contributions are immediately valued and good work gets either a public or private thumbs up. I never take raffle tickets away. Just as good behaviour doesn’t erase poor the same works vice versa. They see the fairness in the system and they want to win the prize.

I gave out 1000 raffles tickets in the first term of using this. That’s 1000 good things happening in my lessons. I still use the rewards and sanctions system but this is a very visual representation to me and my classes. The white square is always bigger than the black dot, you just have to make sure you can see it.

LP

Further reading on this:

Bill Rogers – Classroom Behaviour http://tinyurl.com/y5ocpdlt

https://churchillhead.com/2018/11/15/the-black-dot-in-the-white-square/

https://teacherhead.com/2013/01/06/behaviour-management-a-bill-rogers-top-10/

Sharing Good Practice – English Faculty

Having spent some time in Humanities and Maths it was now the turn of the English Faculty to take part in their teaching and learning discussions. There were two key items on the Agenda:

  • 200 word challenge
  • Teaching the poetry anthology at GCSE

200 Word Challenge

200 word challenge

200 word 1200 word 2200 word 3

 Rachel summarised as a reminder the purpose of the 200 word challenge which was to improve writing provision and performance within English. Rachel had conducted several learning walks to see how the students at Key Stage 3 were rising to the challenge of writing more extended pieces.

Students are given a different stimulus to write about every fortnight. It might be something serious, for example writing a letter to the local council to complain about lack of recreational space for young people, or something much less purposeful, like writing a eulogy for a deceased cartoon character. The aim was to write for 200 words, using their targets from the previous task and to correct their own work.

Rachel then asked for ideas on how to improve the challenge:

  • Use of a computer room enabling students to edit and make it even better. Some classes were then going to use this to enter into the Radio 2 500 words competition.
  • Students to be given a challenge of key facts or words they had to include.
  • Students to bring in their own stimulus to encourage them in their writing (also to help the English teachers to use student ideas in the future)
  • Link to the literature texts used at GCSE
  • The final question was should this be continued into Year 9, the answer was yes.

 

Poetry Anthology – GCSE

Luke presented a booklet which was full of advice from the exam board and his own thoughts on how to improve the student’s answers during the Poetry Section of the English Literature exam. The main discussion came down to how students should be re-thinking how they would divide up their time in the exam and what they should be including in each paragraph. For example how to be successful in comparing two poems (one known and one unseen); how the unseen poem must be explained and put into context from what they can learn within the poem.

poetry

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to the English Faculty for sharing their ideas and making me feel welcome in their meeting.

 

 

Blog of the Week – In defence of fun, and the 7/10 traditionalists

Kindly reproduced here with permission from 

In my early teaching career, in the now much maligned 2005-2010 era, I once delivered a lesson on writing about the senses for my little Year 7s.  For smell, I put some fir combs and some flowers in a bag, and invited a student to take a whiff and describe what the smell conjured up to the class. They wrote down with interest what he announced: the woods and flowers. For hearing, I asked them to close their eyes and write down what they heard and felt, as I put some audio of a stormy night on. They added to their notes: wind, loneliness, rain against the windows. Finally, for sight, I asked one student to open the door (unbeknownst to them I had bribed at break time three Sixth Formers to burst in on cue with crazy masks and mock swords and jump on the tables.)

What did those students remember from that lesson? The madness of it all.

Did they remember any specific strategies for writing about the senses? Probably not in that particular lesson.

Did they write some of the most imaginative work that lesson, and the lesson after, I had seen that year? Yes they did.

Four years later, when I spoke to the lovely girl who I gave the chance to open the door, did her eyes light up at the memory of that lesson? Yes.

Seven years later, this was the moving message I received from that same girl via FB messenger randomly:

‘Just wanted to send a quick message to thank you for the genuinely incredible job you did teaching me in year 7. I’m in my last year of sixth form now and am going on to do art in college but I don’t think my love for English would have survived this long if you hadn’t made it as engaging as you did in those first years.’

Don’t get me wrong people, I’m a huge convert to traditionalism, but I’m not a 10/10 one. I have shaped my department’s vision towards embedding learning over time, use retrieval quizzes most lessons, have built in interleaved weeks, have knowledge organisers coming out of my ears, and ensure every student who comes into an English classroom is au fais with the Learning Scientists’  work about effective retention strategies. I know you actually can’t begin to be ‘creative’ without the pre-requisite knowledge in your locker. I’ve read ‘Make it Stick’, ‘Memorable Teaching’ , ‘Why don’t students like school?’ and all the seminal edu-works of recent years; they’ve blown me away. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable lately with the mocking of the concept of fun and engagement; with the way many edu-tweeters dismiss many creative lesson efforts as ludicrous and an utter waste of time. Sure, I am in agreement with Rebecca that many of these ideas were indeed nuts – I despised Thinking Hats and Brain Gym with a passion.

However, as an aspiring senior leader, I can see many of the Arts HOFs glazing over when I talk passionately about the knowledge agenda. If we are to get some of these people to 3/10 Traditionalist, we need to not lose sight of their world.

There is absolutely a way knowledge and fun can co-exist in this brave pseudo Dickensian new world…

What is wrong with a crossword now and again for learning, or a mad, competitive game of articulate to review material?

Where’s the harm in asking your students to try and imagine themselves in a war zone for ten minutes? (Yes, Yes, I know, if they haven’t got adequate pre-requisite knowledge of a war zone, they’ll struggle, but still, let them have a go! Empathy is a core value we should seek to nurture every day.)

What’s the problem with taking 15 mins to insert your students’ names and their interests into a grammar activity to make it that little bit more ‘fun’?

To follow some silent poetry analysis skills practice, let’s give students the opportunity to create a poster that amalgamates some of the main images and key words from a poem together. Hey, that’s a schema right there, isn’t it?

Let’s continue to create our own amusing acrostics to help us remember persuasive techniques in the upcoming assessment. Here’s my favourite         (S -Short sentences, F -Flattery, etc) :

capture

Let’s dedicate some time to confident speaking in our Public Speaking Unit, and give students choice to talk about anything they want, even fun stuff like ‘Why Justin Bieber should not be allowed to sing on this planet’. I want our students to be able to write well, but I also want them to deliver with aplomb, and if that takes up a couple of weeks just focusing on hand gestures, eye contact, and dramatic pauses, so be it. I wish I could dedicate more time to catching up those Public Schools who do it so well.

Don’t be afraid to take 2 lessons out to get students acting out the plot of texts with some props. We’ve had a lot of fun with this over the years, and students always remember the lines they delivered in front of the class! Here’s the famous Marco scene from A View from the Bridge!

img_0378

I love the way our Knowledge Organiser homework learning tasks are open to creative interpretation, and that students can do funny little artistic things with them to help them learn.

KO Model 1

Our Knowledge Organizer starter recap quizzes actually get a cheer, as the students love the fun competitive element I have introduced. Those 5 or 6 students who achieve the highest scores each time earn rewards, and believe me, it’s not always the same people or the highest attainers who earn those rewards.

We give over 2 lessons at the end of a module to creating inventive board games to recap knowledge from the previous term. Students came in at break time to finish these -they were so keen to get them just right. The creative pride was tangible and the fun they had playing them was wonderful to see.

KO Fun

As I draw to a close, I think about my own children who are 4 and 6 respectively. Do I want some liberal provision where they get to choose whatever activity they think is the most fun? No, that’s utterly misguided in my view. I want them led to practice hard in all areas of the curriculum. But, do I want them now and again to come home with their eyes full of excitement regaling me with the Tudor battle they re-enacted, or the 3D model of Mars they’ve admirably created out of a plastic yoghurt cup? Do I want that buzz to continue into secondary school? Damn right I do.

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*Not my kids, by the way!

10/10 Traditionalists forget we learn through emotion too… ‘Things that create an emotional reaction will be better remembered’ -Daniel T Willingham.

Jon Gustafson – a blogger I’ve followed recently mentioned the power of repeated practice when playing the piano. I fully agree. I’m a pianist too -however, growing up, the chance to be able to play Star Wars to impress my mates, rather than chromatic scales, was what drove me forward to WANT to learn.

To conclude then, of course we should get our students to engage in deliberate practice; we should ensure our lessons use all the evidence based components that point to progress: modelling, recapping, interleaving, silent reflection time, whole class instruction… but we sure as hell should ensure they smile now and again, and laugh now and again, and compete now and again, and be creative now and again, and say ‘Hey, that was pretty fun’ now and again, because if they don’t, I might as well be back in my bloody office job doing dull admin. every day.

The work below is from the girl who I spoke about at the start of the piece. Let’s not mock this, eh?

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7/10 Traditionalists I salute you!

Dedicated to MK – we miss you mate!