Posted in Pedagogy

Bad Behaviour: Does it exist?

Anyone who has ever taught a lesson, or in fact been around children, will know it can be difficult to get your message across sometimes. Equally, you can set up a task or activity, meticulously explain the step by step processes and then await someone saying ‘so what are we doing then?’

It can be natural to take this personally and assume that this is a result of poor behaviour, a lack of effort and attitude on behalf of the listener, or indeed because they’re getting distracted by those around them. But on the other hand, I know full well that there have been times when a colleague who I respect has been delivering CPD or a meeting and I’ve trailed off myself. Reflecting on my day or pondering what takeaway I would like if I weren’t on a fast day. I’m not badly behaved and I certainly care about my ‘progress’ – but everyone has the capability to day dream.

As such, ‘distracted’ behaviour as exhibited by students who are bored, tired, excited or stressed is a perfectly natural state of being. It certainly doesn’t need a ‘naughty’ label. It can also be countered, if they’re tired you create a task that livens things up, or simply harnesses their newfound ability to be quiet. If they’re stressed go easy on them, who knows what they’re going through? If they’re excited you need to harness that excitement and use your own enthusiasm to create a fun atmosphere conducive to risk taking. Don’t treat all situations the same; sounds simple, but many do.

This is clearly an example of where behaviour isn’t ‘bad’ but is just ‘behaviour’. But what about occasions where students are clearly exhibiting behaviour which is disrupting the learning of others, is disrespectful towards yourself or others, or is self-destructive? This is less clear cut. I always maintain there are reasons for behaviour but there aren’t excuses. I fully believe this. 

Every student I have ever taught who has exhibited this sort of behaviour usually has some sort of underlying reason for it; be it a rocky home life, low levels of literacy, a lack of understanding, or other psychological reasons. They’re not choosing to be bad, they’re just trying to exert some control over their lives. I admit, it’s still by definition poor behaviour. But it, unfortunately, might be just what they need. It’s hard sometimes to realise that studying romantic poetry might not be as important to them as it is to us. 

I can’t really make excuses for students here, we’re under enough pressure as it is without suggesting that we need Good Will Hunting moments on a daily basis. But what I am suggesting is that the key skill a good teacher requires to succeed with behaviour is empathy.

I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve seen a teacher reprimand a child, (sometimes in quite an aggressive way), only for staff to be told later that day the child is suffering a bereavement or is currently unwell. An extreme example perhaps, but the same logic applies to any situation with a child. Consider the behaviour they’re displaying; ask yourself ‘why?’; then act in a way which will help create a more positive situation. Sometimes this may involve sanctioning the student and laying down the law, but there are other weapons in your arsenal, and I urge you to try them out. 

I am not saying for one second that being strict is wrong, far from it. In fact some students will appreciate the clear boundaries they may be lacking elsewhere. Instead, I am suggesting that students need to be treated in a calm, fair and consistent manner. Don’t keep changing the goal posts, (they hate that as much as we do); don’t make assumptions of them or their behaviour – ask them why they’re doing something and engage them to reflect on it. Wherever possible try not to become too emotionally charged, the student will probably be emotional enough for the both of you. 

Getting students to display the behaviour you want to see relies on you having great relationships with them – therefore treat them like you’d want to be treated.


Posted in Pedagogy

The Power of Technology in Teaching

When I did my teacher training my fantastic lecturer, Lorna Smith, instilled in us an appreciation of how technology can be used to assist in teaching and learning. At the time I understood this to just mean things like using IWBs properly and using wordle to make nifty resources.

However, as I gain more experience and enter the 6th year of teaching, I realise that technology actually makes more of an impact on my teaching outside the classroom. I began this blog earlier in the year and it was created mainly as a way of recording my efforts to engage more with the issues facing teaching and learning. But it’s difficult to keep a blog and not get swept up in the world of Twitter and other educational bloggers. I never used to take much work home with me, but these days I’m often perusing ideas on Twitter late into the night. This sounds like a potentially damaging thing, but in fact it’s because I love doing it. It took me diving head first into the world of education online to rekindle my love of all things pedagogical. (I hate that word too).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living and breathing school 24/7, but I’m certainly more on the pulse than I used to be. Thanks to making an online presence for myself.

The purpose of this entry was to try and inspire others to create their own Twitter account; sign up to make their own blog; or even just to occasionally google something they’d like to know more of in education. The irony of doing this via a medium that requires people to already have done this is not wasted on me. No, I want you to share what we’ve found with people. Show people @teachertoolkit, @LearningSpy et al. 

If we can create a generation of teachers that can share good practice in a heartbeat, surely that would be the best generation yet? 

Here are my top tips for getting involved in education online:

  1. Use hashtags. In the search bar on Twitter try entering #teaching, #learning or even #lessonplan. You’ll be surprised what you find.
  2. Initially follow maybe 5 or 6 of the more famous teachers on Twitter. Before long you’ll see who they talk to regularly and your network will grow. Eventually you’ll start to make ‘lists’ to categorise people you follow into specific areas. 
  3. ‘Favouriting’ tweets is a good way to record ideas and suggestions that others share.
  4. If you have a personal Twitter account keep it separate to your education one. Believe me, most muggles aren’t interested in the latest development from the DfE. 
  5. Start a blog and try and post at least once a month. More if you can. It’s a good way to keep a record of your development and may even be useful if you’re in the market for a new job and need to showcase your ideas. 

I’m @teachtohisown. Feel free to follow!

Posted in Pedagogy

Making Your Mark [Written Feedback & Marking]

Marking has been one of my professional targets pretty much since I became a teacher. That’s not to say that I haven’t got better through the years, it simply means that I still haven’t reached the stage where I am happy with my output.

Part of the problem with marking is the psychology behind it. When we all began our teacher training one of the first things we heard was: “having to mark all that work must be exhausting!”. Hence we fully expect it to be exhausting; if it isn’t then we are clearly not doing it well enough. Furthermore, we witnessed with trepidation the moment when the teacher whose classes we were now taking handed us the book box and gleefully stated, “all yours!” whilst they skipped away without a care.

I am exaggerating of course; in fact all of my mentors during my PGCE were incredibly supportive and it’s thanks to them that I came out the other side in one piece. The point I am struggling to make is that marking is always seen as an additional chore, whereas I believe for it to be successful we need to start making it work for us.

If we continue to mark the way we have always done, viewing the process as a method of overseeing that students are simply doing the work, ticking and flicking books ad nauseum, then I think we’re missing a trick. This is a repetitive and tedious misuse of our time, furthermore the students get very little benefit from it. I recall occasions when I have verged on ticking pages just because I feel I should have, without even giving the content a cursory glance – a dangerous thing indeed.

So if we are to make marking a more pleasurable and worthwhile experience what can we do to ensure this?

Firstly, plan in advance when your marking opportunities will be. If you take in a class set of books and they have spent the last three lessons doing speaking and listening activities and making notes, then what do you expect to be able to mark of value? It is far better to think, I will get my students to complete that extended activity on Thursday which I can mark by their lesson on Monday. That way you have something meaty to get to grips with and can base your marking around that one activity.

At this point I think my standpoint on ‘ticking and flicking’ needs clarifying – I say: why bother? I certainly think it is important to read through your students’ books and take on board the notes they have made. But why do they need ticking? If you think it is important to prove you’ve read a student’s notes then I would counter with: who for? Students might like to see lots of ticks, but I doubt there is any evidence that it helps them make progress. Perhaps it is for your line manager then? I imagine, however, they would sooner see well constructed regular feedback that students are engaging with than a whole book full of ticks.

Ultimately, flicking through a book and ticking pages to indicate you may have read them is simply a waste of your time as far as I am concerned – please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!

I believe that effective written feedback is produced off the back of a piece of work that you fully intended to mark, thus ensuring that it helps work towards the skills and content required to make progress. This therefore alleviates the problem of not knowing what you’re marking for. Always know what it is that you’re hoping to see from students, that way your feedback will help them achieve these expectations.

As an English teacher I often have the problem that I may have a whole class set of quite lengthy pieces of work to provide feedback on. This in itself is a difficult task to even approach; you have to set aside a certain amount of time to ensure that once you’ve begun you can get the lion’s share of it completed. I have developed a couple of strategies to deal with this.

For instance, don’t mark the whole piece. As an example, I recently asked my Year 8s to complete a short story; on average the length of each story was about 3 to 4 sides of A5. I asked students to highlight their best work from the story, no more than 15 lines, and then asked them to do the same for their weakest work. Beneath their writing they had to rationalize their choices.

When I came around to marking, I simply provided feedback on these cherry-picked sections, It allowed me to not only mark their best/worst work, but also gave me an insight into what they thought constituted good work. This empowered me to share with students that neat work isn’t necessarily your best work, and we discussed success criteria.

If I had provided feedback on all of the work students had produced, it would have taken roughly 2 to 3 hours to mark all of the students’ work. By focusing my feedback on the highlighted sections it took less than an hour and my comments were far more detailed and specific.

Ultimately, that’s what I have learned from my experiences lately – marking smarter makes your feedback more detailed, more relevant, more timely and also saves you hours upon hours of less efficient work.

No matter how you provide feedback to your students, it only becomes useful if students engage with it. Instigating a dialogue between the teacher and student via marking is incredibly powerful and should be the goal for all of us. It is powerful and effective as students know that their work is being looked at; like teachers, when students are being scrutinized they raise their game.

Furthermore, if you ask students to respond to your feedback then you know they’re taking it on board – do you really want to spend a good portion of your afternoon marking for no one to ever look at it?

My school uses a pro forma to try and help accomplish this across faculties. It is called the STAR feedback system, (it may not be original, who can tell?).

S: Success – What was good about this work.

T: Target – How this work can be made even better.

A: Ask a question – As a question for your student to answer based upon your feedback or assign them a task.

R: Response – The students respond to your question.

This has certainly helped me improve my marking and is also a useful tool for framing peer and self-assessment, especially if you tailor the resource to the task.

Like many of my posts I like to end with a brief summary of the 5 key points to take away from this:

1. Marking is planning. As Didau states here, effective marking should essentially form the planning for the next lesson, give time to reflect on what has gone before.

2. Mark smarter, not harder. Don’t trawl through their books finding things to mark, decide in advance what you’re marking and constrain your feedback to that piece of work.

3. Never tick and flick. ‘Maintenance marking’ as I have heard it called is only ‘feedback’ if you are helping students reflect – a tick does not achieve this in any way shape or form.

4. Forget about gimmicks. Avoid the ‘use this colour for this and that colour for that’ approach to marking; essentially you should be able to mark without spending an age setting yourself up to do so with the right resources and equipment.

5. Little and often. This is the crux of it all. If I have just saved you hours of marking time by saying you do not need to mark every page and you can focus feedback on specific sections within work – then really there’s no excuse for not being able to provide feedback at least a couple of times a term.

But you know what? It’s still going to be my target next year. I am not there yet despite the progress I have made this year – the thing with marking is it’s not something that will ever be ‘perfect’; but it sure can be close.

Mr P

Posted in Pedagogy

My Pedagogical Bucket List

A wise colleague referred to something this week that resonated with me, it was regarding the idea of a sort of teaching ‘bucket list’. We’ve all got ideas we’d like to try in teaching but either never get around to it or talk ourselves out of it. This blog was something I’d been wanting to do for instance, and as my partner was out of town the free time allowed me to go for it.

How can a teaching bucket-list make us better teachers though? Well, I still recall my interview for a place on my PGCE course at Bath Spa university, in which I said, “I like the idea of teaching, as it seems to me you’d have to be constantly learning, that really appeals to me!” Like all teachers though, at times I have run the risk of losing this passion.

I consider myself an innovative and proactive teacher, but often when the pressure of results, appraisal and planning is looming, you can give in to the temptations of ‘routine’ and the comfort it brings. 

My teaching bucket list is therefore designed to ensure that I continue to reflect and always ensure I am trying to be better at what I do; if I’m to have high expectations of students, I need to hold myself accountable to the same standards. Routine might ensure consistency, and an amount of it is essential, but too much routine is the enemy of innovation. Innovation is crucial to effective T&L as well as CPD.

So what sort of things can go on my bucket list? Well, I’ve never organised a trip. Embarrassing I know! But I’ve always just gone on other people’s trips. I refuse to be an educational Remora fish any longer! This is quite an easy thing to achieve and also quite self-serving, so although it might make it on to my list I think I need to be more ambitious.

Try teaching ‘a lesson without PowerPoint’ I recall my PGCE tutors saying, well, I can and do that regularly. I find it both liberating and strangely chaotic. Without the warm glow of an IWB I worry I might lose them all completely. So, what if I upped the ante? How about teaching a week without PowerPoint? Like my teaching brethren of the 90s I imagine I’d have to become far better at other methods of communication. A definite contender then!

A bucket list for teaching isn’t about setting myself targets, let’s face it, appraisal covers that. This is more about forcing me outside my comfort zone and trying something I’d usually either never think of, or would shy away from. In this vein, when I created the rest of my bucket list, I tried to ensure that it was unique to me and what I need to embrace more. As such, if you want to try this, don’t just copy mine, think about what would put you out of your comfort zone. We all know students learn best when they’re being pushed at a high level – let’s try putting ourselves through the ringer then.

My Teaching Bucket List

  1. Arrange a trip. Any trip. But plan it, lead it and make it a success.
  2. Teach for a week without using PowerPoint in any lessons.
  3. Observe an Art lesson.
  4. Volunteer to lead a CPD session.
  5. Teach for a term with my desk facing the wall, forcing me to not hide behind it.
  6. Team teach with a colleague and discuss the lesson afterwards. But the colleague can’t be an English teacher.
  7. Be proud of my marking.
  8. Visit another school’s English department and look at a different way of doing things.
  9. Clean our English department office. Not really to do with teaching, but it is really in need of a tidy!

Feel free to share your own lists. Think I’ve forgotten any good ones?