Strategies to improve my teaching

One of the key points raised after nearly every lesson observation I have had is to make pupil progress more explicit. I have always tried to be the type of teacher to not put in insane amounts of effort for an observed lesson. The last time I spent hours and hours planning a lesson was during my teacher training and it never really amounted to an outstanding lesson anyway.

The thing I have to keep reminding myself is this: I got into teaching to help kids have a good base in Science and NOT to impress someone observing me.

Having said that, explicit pupil progress is important. How else will I know if a student has actually got a concept? More importantly, how will a student know if they have really got it? And if they haven’t, what then?

After reading up on several excellent blogs, I have realised that clear feedback and pupil reflection time is the way forward. So, here are my plans for the upcoming academic year (I will return a little later than most people due to being on maternity leave!):

RAG123: a new way to mark

What a scary but exciting concept! Read what Kev Lister, the amazing creator of the RAG123 marking system, has to say and these brilliant analyses by Damian Benney and Educating Miss. Basically, it is a system whereby you mark every student’s book every single lesson. Although that sounds completely mad, it promises to reduce marking workload in the long run (it is much easier to mark one lesson’s worth of work than to mark several lessons’ worth). It also benefits students as they can see how well they are progressing before moving on to the next lesson and potentially more complex concepts.

So, how will I use it? I plan to follow the advice at Educating Miss by using the letters to denote understanding and the numbers to denote effort. So, at the end of a lesson, ask students to evaluate their own effort and understanding for that lesson using the following key:

 R (red): no understanding

A (amber): moderate understanding

G (green): excellent understanding

 1: great effort

2: moderate effort

3: poor effort

Students also write a comment on why they have given themselves a particular rating together with identification of evidence supporting it. For example, if a student gives themselves a G1, they need to show they have completed all given tasks (effort) and that they have achieved the learning objective through checking off all success criteria (understanding).

Then, you take the books, possibly during a free period or if, like me, you feel a bit anti-social sometimes and have finished having your lunch in less than 10 minutes. Give the books a quick look-through and your own rating. You could also add a comment if understanding is poor.

You could leave it at that but eventually pupils need more detailed feedback to work on. So, I plan to provide DIRT (directed improvement reflection time) tasks, perhaps once a week, for pupils to work on as a starter in the next lesson. Writing out DIRT tasks for every student, especially if they are repetitive, can be unnecessarily laborious. I will, therefore, use symbols or letters to represent targets and display these on the board during the reflection time. Students will be asked to write out the target in their books and then work on them, using any resources available to them.

Topic Review Spirals

This is a brilliant resource from Mrs Humanities to review a topic before and after it is taught.

To adapt to my Science classroom and to save on printing, I have merged the two spirals together to allow the students to colour code their confidence in the topics before and after a topic in the same place. This will hopefully make it very obvious to me, an observer and, most importantly, to the student, especially prior to an assessment.

Here is my adaptation of the topic review spiral. The main topic title goes in the central circle surrounded by key questions. Students colour code the blue circle based on prior knowledge and then at the end of the topic, they colour code the mustard circle.

SOLO Taxonomy

One of the key things to help pupils determine their own progress is clear success criteria. I quite like the idea of SOLO taxonomy as I believe it can be used well to develop progressively complex learning objectives. The most important aspect of the taxonomy is the skill to relate a current topic with other topics. This is so vital in Science and will help students truly ‘get’ a concept. 

There are a number of blogs that explain SOLO taxonomy extremely well. Here are three that I like to refer to:

 HookED

John Biggs

ClassTeaching

However, I am reluctant to use the symbols in the classroom for two reasons: 1) it could become superficial and gimmick-y; and 2) this blog post by David Didau. The comments in response to that post make for a very interesting read. Until I am sure there are actual benefits with sharing SOLO taxonomy symbols with my classes, I will plan to use the taxonomy to write better success criteria.

Takeaway Homework

This is something I am most excited about! Ross McGill at Te@cher Toolkit is the brilliant mastermind behind Takeaway Homework. Read his explanation of how it works here

Luckily for me, Educating Miss has already found two takeaway homework templates, one for KS3 and the other for KS4 (click here to read about her experience with this style of homework). 

As GCSE changes have only just come into play, I plan to use this template that I have adapted from this other one on TES. I thought it would be nice to have an Indian menu considering I originally hail from the South-East Asian country.

Phew! This is one long blogpost and I have quite a few new strategies to trial when I return to work. I will be posting separate appraisal posts detailing my own experience with each strategy. I hope they work out!

Thank you for reading.

Dr C

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