My recollection of Saturday is a bit of a blur but for a third year running I was left wishing I had access to Hermione Granger’s Time Turner necklace as this would have been the only solution to the problem of choosing which workshops to go to. Sadly time travel was not an option, but the tweets on the day and subsequent blog posts (e.g. Cup of Teaching, Nikki Able, Those that can…, Kamil Trzebiatowski and many more) have given me a flavour of what was happening around Berkhamsted. The two workshops I attended were excellent and more on them in the future. However, this post seeks to be a brief summary of my own workshop for anybody who was unable to make it.
The title of the workshop was a play on Sir Clive Woodward’s statement that “Winning the Rugby World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing one hundred things 1% better”. The session was based on a post I wrote at the start of this academic year and at our little gathering I hoped to discuss ideas that I had picked up and adapted to use in my teaching. Nothing was earth shatteringly novel and I was certainly not breaking any new ground with my presentation having borrowed almost all of the ideas from elsewhere. In fact the best had been nicked with glee from the brilliant colleagues I have worked with, but as English workshop leader Mike Grenier put it in a tweet on the day “better to be a professional magpie than ostrich” and I made this point in my presentation with a few Pica pica flying on to my email address. However, I hoped that even if people took just one thing from the session they might refine and improve it further and then let me know how it went. This actually happened during the workshop with great ideas (much better than my own!) coming from the delegates listening. The hour time limit put paid to any ideas of discussing one hundred ideas, so twenty five four percents it was.
- Backburner Bingo – students are given an incomplete key word grid that they fill in as the lesson goes on. Some of the key words should be novel and some can only be found out through listening to teacher / carrying out activities in the lesson. This is then completed in the background until someone yells out “BINGO!” and wins a prize. The key is to ensure that for some definitions there is no one correct answer to draw pupils into a discussion. However, Backburner Bingo can become a bit of a distraction, especially if your pupils enjoy the competitive element!
- What’s in the box? – simple activity where you unveil a box in the classroom that has something inside it (although often this can be imaginary or hold something that could not possibly be contained). By giving a series of clues students then try to guess what is in the mystery box. E.g.
- Has a backbone
- Has fur
- Lays eggs
With the answer being a duck-billed platypus. Sometimes I intersperse these clues throughout the whole lesson, which is what I attempted during the workshop. Again this can be used to elicit discussion. Certainly my demo did this with the question of whether round was the best word to describe a Jaffa Cake; probably not and disc was suggested as a better alternative!
- Patience – when asking a question do not expect an instant response, but allow a good 8-10 seconds before actually looking for answers. I used a tortoise moving slowly across my slide to illustrate this point, but often just count to ten in my head. This was something I picked up from The Multiplier Effect and also use it in departmental meetings.
- Random name generator – using the settings on PowerPoint to allow a random name to be picked from a class list, which led to…
- …Random command word generator – pupils have to create a question with one of the exam question command words (e.g. describe, explain, calculate, etc), which led to…
- …Random verb generator – created by a colleague, Cécile Coudert, in the Languages Department who customised it to test students on whether to use être or avoir. In fact anything could be plugged into it and a couple of people told me they did similar activities with their classes.
- Revision bookmarks – another colleague, Rob Tanner, has created bookmarks with a proposed revision schedule for students to use, as tweeted by Mumta Sharma on the day. The great thing about these are that they act as a constant reminder that pupils should be taking responsibility for their learning early in the school year (e.g. for GCSE groups the schedule starts in February). Again this idea was further improved by the suggestion that students could use a hole punch when they had covered an area or completed revising a topic.
- Six words – students use just six words to summarise a key word, term or process. E.g. in one class an AS student came up with “globular protein, specific complementary active site” to describe an enzyme. During the session I actually asked people to come up with their own to describe TLAB15, having had a little time to reflect on this task my best effort would be: whirlwind of enthusiasm and idea sharing.
- Three pictures – students summarise a key word, term or process in three pictures. On the day Andy Ford tweeted his own three pictures to sum up the day.
- Trips for further interest – my colleague, Tom Robinson, has started to organise and run voluntary stretch and challenge trips on the weekend for students to come along to if they wish. We have been to the London Natural History Museum and its offshoot in Tring and to Downe House in Kent. Although this does require the usual paperwork we have found them to be fun days that help to eke out the interest and passion from the Sixth Formers who come to them.
- The Jaffasaurus – Again something I have stolen from a colleague, Dave Payne, and I have written before about “the Jaffa Cake conundrum” and will only briefly outline it. By writing less, better students can ensure that even if their tired and overworked teacher / examiner marking their end-of-topic test /exam has run out of their favourite biscuits they will still be awarded a mark. This idea led onto…
- …RTQ – Read The Q The aim is to eliminate irrelevant detail and ensure students actually address the question when writing an answer. Again leading to…
- …ATQ – Answer The Q Do students actually answer the question in front of them, or do they try to answer one that they have seen before? This “four percent” and number 12 were also discussed in my previously mentioned post. However, just before the day itself a brilliant former colleague, Lucy Smyth, told me she uses BUG with her classes to a similar effect:
- Box the command word
- Underline the key words
- Glance at the marking allocation
- Teacher Tips For Success – pinned up on our Biology notice board and at various points around the department are laminated posters with each teacher’s top tips for exam success. The three subtitles are:
- Best piece of revision advice
- Most common mistakes seen in exam papers
- If I could give one piece of advice to someone taking an exam it would be
All of these have the purpose of making students look back and review past mistakes and (hopefully) change their practice in future.
- Observation (of the Nation) – as HoD I have always enjoyed carrying out lesson observations; not for the form filling in, but for picking up new ideas and activities to use. Therefore the fifteenth four percent was a hearty recommendation to go out and observe colleagues departmentally and beyond. In fact instead of a flashy INSET course in some soulless hotel function room I believe people would gain much, much more from going to another school for the day. Not only observing lessons but soaking in the whole culture of the place. Interestingly both the eighth and ninth “four percent” were picked up from just this process; my colleague, Tom Robinson, spent a day at Westminster School and came back brimming with enthusiasm and a Six Words, Three Pictures worksheet.
- Lesson Study – this is a natural continuation of point 15 and something we are just setting up at the moment, forming triads of colleagues working together to plan and deliver lessons. There is lots of information all over the internet about this ancient Japanese teacher improvement process. We are lucky enough to be working with the University of Hertfordshire to set ours up. What I am particularly interested in is how to make it sustainable and more than a flash in the pan… Any thoughts are most welcome!
- The Triptych Learning Conversation – a new (and still currently being refined) model of observing lessons. The emphasis is on having a proper conversation between the observer and observee both pre and post observation. This is again taken straight from the brain of someone much cleverer than myself and on Saturday it was a real pleasure to meet Dawn Cox whose excellent blog post inspired me to start designing a document to improve the whole experience of observations. More on this from me in the future.
- Subject selfies – to some the selfie is the very embodiment of vulgar egotism. However, many departments can use them as a way of promoting discussion of their subject and for this reason I think that they can be a great way of engaging students outside of the classroom. As much as the selfies of teachers by an ancient monument or overlooking the crater of a volcano makes for a great departmental display, it is when the students themselves engage with the process that the idea really takes off. A colleague in the Geography department, Laura Andrews, has made a super display of “geo-selfies” with contributions from both the staff and students; there are selfies from the peak of Kilimanjaro to overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain.
- Learning audits – this is as much about terminology as it is good practice. Any form of work check or book scrutiny should be used as a means of sharing good practice as much as it is about accountability. The fact that terms such as “book look” or “learning audit” get this point across a lot better than the alternative nomenclature is no surprise!
- Further reading – encouraging students to read beyond the specification, with a recommended book of the term, e.g. Life Ascending by Nick Lane (as an aside this is a fantastic accompaniment to A level Biology, I cannot recommend it highly enough!). What I forgot to mention on the day is that we now try to source these recommended titles from our pupils, so posters go up in classrooms with the phrase “recommended by Stew Dent, U6RJL”. This point was followed by the need to read beyond the subject ourselves as educators and to take an interest in books to improve our teaching. As one delegate pointed out this does not necessarily need to be in book form anymore and TED talks are an excellent source of innovation.
- Twitter – voyeur is the wrong word, but I am certainly someone who likes to listen / read what is going on around the country and this is the place to do it! On occasion I tweet some inane opinions, but mainly this is for me to stay in touch with the great minds across the country.
- Blogging – similarly I stumble upon lots of excellent and highly sensible ideas via blog links on twitter. However, my main point here is that by writing a blog yourself it gives you a chance to properly reflect. Certainly writing this has made me think very carefully about what actually happened on Saturday and how I might improve on my presentation in the future. Therefore I would encourage others to blog to help distil and refine ideas and allow others to gain from the experience. In fact look no further than workshop attendee Paul Gillam’s excellent blog on Edexcel IGCSE Biology, perfect for high achieving students and teachers alike!
- Formal idea sharing sessions – immediately after TLAB13 I set up a formal cross-curricualr group that met to discuss ideas in my own school. It was not compulsory, no-one told others how to do things, instead it allowed for colleagues to sit down and actually chat. Something that we never quite seem to find the time to do.
- Collaboration – as mentioned, I can take very little credit for any of these ideas. But that is the point of teaching, we should not always be looking to reinvent the wheel but rather improve and refine what is around us. Our collaboration allows up to improve the one hundred one percents and we do this without consciously thinking about every time we help or pas son an activity. As the thirtieth POTUS said “I not only use the brains I have, I use all the brains I can borrow”.
- Failure –we are very keen to let all and sundry know how important it is for students to fail (again a previous post makes this point even more explicitly), but as teachers we should not be ashamed of failure either. Beautifully this point was made by Neil Atkin in his superb workshop earlier in the day.
As a final note, I would be very happy to share any of my resources or the presentation itself. Just contact me and we can be part of the collaboration I was just typing about. Or even better please, please, please let me know how you use and improve these ideas. I am serious when I say I am already looking for my next twenty five four percents.
Header image taken with permission from @TLABerkmasted.