Friday, 2 October 2009

Friday Fun: UCAS statement guidance

How do you stop students using ridiculously long and inappropriate words in UCAS personal statements?

You should them this wonderful slide and explain that this is what they sound like

That's it until next week....Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Top Ten Tips for Teachers Who Want to Integrate Technology into their classrooms

This first ever guest post on WTT (or DTT) is below from Karen Schweitzer. She adds a much more coherent view of technology than I ever could!

1.There are new sites, apps, downloads, and learning tools created every day. You can stay up-to-date by conducting research online, reading education technology blogs, and listening to podcasts like TILT or The Teacher's Podcast.

2. Find out how other teachers are using technology. Talking with others can sometimes be the best way to get new ideas or explore unknown technological advances. There are several websites and social networks dedicated to providing a forum for teachers who want to discuss educational technology. A good site to try is Classroom 2.0.

3. Try the technology first. New technology (or technology that is new to you) can sometimes be problematic. It is best to test it out before you present it to a classroom full of students. Pre-testing will allow you to work out any bugs and customize the tech tool for your class.

4. Know the rules. There are some school systems that have very specific rules about integrating technology in the classroom. Most of these rules have to do with student privacy or security, and may require that you seek parental permission.

5. Speak to the headmaster or school administrator. Letting someone else know that you plan to integrate a new technology in the classroom is a good way to avoid problems later on. Principals and school administrators are sometimes more familiar with the rules and pending laws in the state. Speaking to them ahead of time protects you, your job, and the school you work for.

6. Start slowly. Once you have decided to integrate technology in the classroom it can be tempting to go wild and use it at every opportunity. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the best approach. You may be better off introducing one new idea or tool at a time so that your students do not feel overwhelmed by too many changes.

7. Monitor students carefully. Although this probably goes without saying, it is important to remember that students can be vulnerable when they are online. It is essential that you monitor their work and their use of web technologies to ensure their privacy is being protected.

8. Track results. This will help you determine whether or not the new technology is working or taking away from the classroom experience. There are, of course, many different ways to track the results of your technology experiment. For example, you could measure success by excitement, skill improvement, or grade improvement.

9. Get feedback. One of the best ways to determine whether or not your technology experiments are successful is by asking students to provide you with feedback. You can ask for verbal responses or written responses. You can also gauge student opinion with an online survey or poll created on sites like and ProProfs.

10. Don't be afraid to make changes. If you find that a technology isn't working quite like you hoped, make changes to it. Many of the educational tools that can be found online are customizable. Those that aren’t can be replaced with something that works better for your classroom and teaching style.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the Guide to Business School. She also writes about online colleges and universities for

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Lego in the classroom: A Learning Tool

During half-term I am visiting an amazing fellow Masters student in Denmark to take part in a Lego 'Serious Play' conference. Businesses are now paying Lego for 'strategy kits' from which business leaders construct processes, metaphors for their organisations, and so on. This works as it is concrete and memorable. Lego can have a similar effect in the classroom. Have students use old Lego bricks (you can find cheap bags on ebay) to create items relevant to your subject - redo the Battle of Hastings, make a neural pathway or reinterpret a poem.

The process of 'play' is creative and knowledge-building for students, and the outcomes are both meaningful and visual causing them to transfer more easily into long-term memory.

For more info on this

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Return of DTT: Student Handbooks

Hello all.....

A hectic summer has meant a late start but I am now back. I will be putting all the week's posts up first on and then putting daily chunks on here assuming I am able to get near a computer in the morning. My new job has shifted my time priorities a little so I may not be quite as timely as before but I will do my best.

On with the first post for 2009-10:

Student Handbooks
As an experienced teacher I know the best way for my classroom to function however the students I meet each year do not. After beginning with questionnaires, name and team games so that students can get to know each other it acn be very helpful to give your students an introductory handout or handbook (depending on their age and complexity of the course). I try to avoid too much of the 'rule' based stuff but I do give information on what the course is, why I like it, what students should do to achieve well and what they can expect from me. You can find examples here:
Year 10 Citizenship, Year 12 SHD Diploma & Year 13 Psychology.

This year, for the first time, I printed extra so students could take an extra copy for their parents. I was amazed (and heartened) how many students took the extra copies and have since mentioned how helpful it was as their parents usually bug them relentlessly about the content of their school work.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

DTT Is On Vacation

Dear All,

I am (finally) having a holiday until 18th August so no DTT until then. Don't worry though, the 'Systems' strand will continue at the end of the month and I will be concentrating on a whole series of tips for dealing with the beginning of term from my return through until the end of September.

Best wishes,

Thursday, 30 July 2009

System 3: Keeping your books in order!

Keeping track of books and files in your classroom can be extremely tricky. In my first year I taught 580 different students and trying to keep an eye on where their papers went was fairly hard work, not least an aesthetically-ugly job.
I tried a few techniques for 'collecting in' exercfise books including utilising drawers at the back of the room for my Year 11 work and crates. The problem? Students pulled the tabs from the drawers and I didn't know which crate belonged to which class. I also didn't fancy having 21 crates for each different class. My classroom soon became a mess. See below:
I had the added problem that I would forget to collect in resources used in the lesson. For instance, there would be 30 seconds of lesson time left but glue sticks, worksheets, laminates AND books were still everywhere. How could I quickly collect things in and move to the next set of pupils without losing track of myself?
Two solutions became apparent.
1. Get a set of drawers near the door to be used for that day's classes. Period 1 resources were kept in drawer 1. Period 2, drawer 2. And so on. At the end of the lesson I then frantically pulled all the resources back in, threw them into the drawer, and then opened the next drawer down to find my new set of freshly prepared materials.
At the end of each day I would sort the materials back into the proper (now neater) system where they are held until next week.

2. Use paper for work and keep it in box files instead of having exercise books. This way I could keep everything together in a box file, it was quicker to collect in papers for the drawer system than it was to collect in books and it used way less paper than books. Most exercise books have blank pages at the end of the year and this avoids the problem.

Gradually my classroom came to look like this and my students (and I) found it a much more sane and calm place to work:

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

System 2: How to encourage students to be in your classroom on time!

Time is ridiculoulsy important to me. I love watches, and clocks, and I like being on-time. My students do not, they like to be late. They look at me like I am from another planet if I make a fuss about lateness. Yet I persist, because being on-time is both an important life skill and crucial for using learning time wisely.

Having a positive meaningful start to lessons encourages students to be there from the beginning. Being at the door and out in the corridor (if necessary) also encourages everyone inside. But although setting up a good classroom atmosphere will entice most students in punctually what can I do if students are not on time?

I use a lateness chart pinned to my wall to deal with this matter. Students know that if they need to enter after the classroom door has shut (the door is my signal for 'we are working now') then they must knock. When it is appropriate and they can enter they must 'sign-in' on the lateness log. Doing so serves two purposes; firstly it means that if I have taken the online register and the fire bell goes then I have a record of who is additionally in class to the web-register and, secondly, it means I can remember at the end of the lesson who I need to speak to.

This process works for students because it is quick, consistent and it doesn't mean that I am asking questions in front of everyone as students sometimes are embarrassed about the reasons they are late. There's very little argument about signing up as students know if they have a good reason then they can explain at the end (there are no automatic sanctions in my room for lateness). Also, it means students move straight to learning after the writing. This is my main goal, if they have already wasted time then I don't want them to waste anymore.

This year I had an additional complication to the system because I didn't have a classroom, so I invented 'clock-in' cards that work on the same principle but I hand them to the student when entering the classroom. It's slightly harder to keep track of (I'm partial to losing clock-in sheets under papers on the desk) but it's almost as good as the sign-up sheet.

At the end of the lesson I speak to students and decide on an appropriate consequence depending on their reason - maybe time off break, additional work or something else. I also make it clear that if the lateness persists (and I can check regularity as I keep completed lists in a file) there will be more serious consequences along my warning scale (which I will explain shortly!).

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Knowing when to take a break.....

Okay, so for the last 4 days I have been either in canterbury lecturing, ill, or moving house. DTT has been a little abandoned in that time as I tried manically to sort the rest of my life out. The good news is that it shall return this week, albeit intermittently, with Systems covering lateness as our beginning point.

In the meantime, bear with me!

-- Laura

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

System 1: How to help students enter your classroom ready for learning

Last week a primary teacher told me her method for students entering 'story-telling' time in the hall. She would take students to the hall, leave them in the corridor with an assisting adult and then she would go into the empty room. Ten seconds later ONE child was allowed to enter and she would silently motion for them to pick up a mat and sit down on it at the edge of the room. At 10 second intervals the remaining students came into the room and, seeing what the child in front had done, would do the same. Silence remained throughout and by the end the room was serene and calm, perfect for story-telling.

While impressed by the image of children in such a receptive learning state, I thought about how difficult this would be to manage with my particular brood of teenagers. I thought about how my students might fight in the corridor, or make burping noises to throw off the silence, or trip over each other just to break the peacefulness. But even though this method might not be right for my students, I agree that the way students enter the class is VITAL for setting the readiness to learn.

So, what is my method for getting students into my classroom calmly and effectively?

1. Model expectations - on the first day I keep my classroom door closed until I am ready to let students in. I then greet students at the door and allow them to enter one-by-one, looking each one in the eye and saying hello. Once in, I shut the door and explain that students are always welcome into my classroom when the door is open. At all other times they must knock and wait because in our classroom we are often concentrating on difficult issues and we might need to finish thinking about those before the door can be opened.

2. Only let students in when the classroom is ready - The reason I have the door rule is because I like my room to be set-up when students come in. Sometimes students can help set-up and on those days the door is open because I am ready for their help. Other days it is closed, and this means they must wait patiently. By having my classroom ready I can focus on behaviour management and saying positive things to my students as they enter.

3. Use names as soon as you can - I make a point of learning names on the first lesson of the year and I use them relentlessly. Say hello to students, notice new things they might have or enquire about something they are interested in (i.e. "Asher I missed PrisonBreak the other night, what happened..."). All of these things let students know you have seen them and help build relationships.

4. Starter activities - Always have something for students to do or think about as soon as they enter the room as it engages attention, starts learning and reduces the likelihood of misbehaviour.

Tomorrow: What to do when the door closes but the students are late? Systems for lateness is on its way....

Monday, 20 July 2009

Get Your Systems in Order....

Reading this post at 'Confessions of a Crazy French Teacher' I was struck by how often people say that they are bad at organisation and don't have good role models around them to copy from. When I first started teaching I focused on organisation above all else as I found that when lessons went poorly it was nearly always because of poor planning or my forgetting/losing/not-noticing something. By the end of my first year I had a whole series of systems that meant I could forget about classroom 'management' and focus entirely on learning.

So, what were they? (As miscalql8 put it recently, "I've had all the inspiration I can take, now I need practical!")

Over the next few weeks I will tell you, step-by-step. They're not going to be right for everyone. In fact, several systems changed when my classroom settings changed. But they will provide a starting point for building your own unique system.

As ever, if people have suggestions of things they would like covered please put in a comment or an email to

Starting tomorrow with "SYSTEM 1: Getting them in the door"

Friday, 17 July 2009

Don't forget your textbooks!

Try to avoid sprawling planning work across the summer. Setting aside specific weeks to plan works best. Some people do their planning at the beginning of summer to get it out of the way. Others, like me, leave it till the end and thrive on the presssure. However you choose to do it, you may still find yourself pondering on the content of courses over the summer and wanting to read up on the topics you are excited to teach next year. One of the best ways to do this is flick through textbooks and get familiar with their content - especially if you have new specifications or curriculums (as many of us do in the uk this year).

So, when leaving school today, remember to take a copy of each textbook with you or you may be left planning/thinking out of context.


DTT will continue for the next three weeks as I am working at TeachFirst Summer Institute. SI is one of the most exciting parts of my professional development and I look forward to sharing new tips with you all.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

On bad days, look at it from the other side

This has been a pretty tough week and I'm feeling a little bruised. When I get like this I remind myself of all the times kids have come into my classroom looking dejected from situations they face outside my classroom. Students are constantly dealing with their own traumas and personal tragedies. Some seem inane ('minhaz bought the same coat as me and now we look stupid') other are more serious ('"the macmillan nurse was late again today so I had to give mum her medication" is one I recently overhead fromt a student justifying his lateness to the receptionist. For those outside the UK, macmillan nurses care for patients with terminal cancer). How on earth does that student then go into their lesson and concentrate on geography?

In today's upset I pondered how I wanted to be treated by colleagues when I felt down. I realised that mostly I want the fact I'm not okay to be noticed but I didn't want a fuss. A sort of 'caring-business-as-usual' would be perfect. From my experience, students usually want the same thing too. A mouthed 'are you okay?' or quiet recognition of their being down can make all the difference to clear students' heads and allow them to continue with learning. Sometimes students might talk about what the problem is but very often they will get on with things in a resilient fashion. Several times students will say to me as they leave, 'thanks for that miss, I'll be okay tomorrow' - as if to let me know that the situation is transient.

Asking too many questions, interfering or telling students to 'cheer up' does not work however. All tend to be irritating, so avoid where possible.

That said, I do hope I cheer up tomorrow. It's the last day of term after all......

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Support your students enthusiastically

Today is Sports Day. I hate Sports Day. And it's going to rain.

BUT - the bright side to events like this are the opportunity to see students shine, especially those who otherwise might not get the chance. In my second year of teaching several members of my form group joined the Handball Team. Given that it's a new sport in the UK joining the team was easy and these kids were not exactly 'sporty', but they were keen and worked hard. For several weeks they asked me to go watch their practice but I was unable to get there due to meetings.

After a month of preparation they had their first match. Like a proud parent I switched meetings and caught their eye as I joined them at the sideline. For the next 40 minutes I cheered, clapped and treated them like the superstars they were. Even though they were brutally defeated by a bigger, better team they never gave up - ever-propelled by crowd encouragement.

Attending games isn't easy with so many other priorities and that was my only handball foray that year. But making a concerted enthusiastic effort - even just once - will mean a big difference to your relationship with students.

I will keep repeating this as I stand with Year 9 in a crowded stand for the next 8 hours.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

An Aside....

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

-- Edwin Markham
Read this for the first time today. It reminded me of my mantra when I first began teaching: "Wear them out with your patience and thoughtfulness." Sometimes it's hard to remember, but I try. I really do.

Don't decide on the teacher you want to be, show the teacher that you already are

Try this thought experiment* - I promise it's worth it:

Think of your three best teachers at school. No cheating by only thinking of one or two, you need three. Think hard. Ready? Ok- now hold them in your mind as equally as you can.

I am willing to bet money on the fact that all three are quite different. One might be really strict and never smile, another one might be goofy or always take an interest in you personally. Maybe one teacher stood on tables and used crazy props, another one always used textbooks but made the pages sing with their subject.

The one thing all these teachers will have in common is that you believed, 100%, that those teachers were completely true to themselves. If they were crazy, then they fully commited to the jump-on-tables moments. Those teachers who never smiled, NEVER smiled. But, regardless of personality, all those teachers were likey to be committed to your learning and understanding you as a person. There is something about authenticity and genuine regard for us as students that we find compelling and it's what makes us love our teachers.

Yesterday new TeachFirsters were sharing their fears with me about the coming September. So many of them are afraid that they are not the 'right personality' for a successful teacher. I try to explain that while there are things teachers learn that help us 'become' a good teacher mostly it's about finding how YOU want to teach and modelling to the kids why it matters and that you believe in what you are doing right to your core.

* Experiment is taken from Parker Palmer's writing. I'm not sure exactly which article but I expect it is in "The Courage to Teach". I use this experiment a lot.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Making resolutions for next year....

We are heading into the last week of term here in London. My students are gone although those lower in the school remain until Friday. In the meantime I am moving from my old office into a classroom (hurray!) and am furiously planning for next year along with the new social science team.

Each year, like a child promising not to make their own kids tidy away when they grow up, I make promises to my September-self. Not too many as I don't want to fail, but I take them seriously and try to keep them going.

This year I have so many things I've learned I'm struggling to narrow the list. I'd also love to hear suggestions from others of their own successful resolutions. Here's what I have so far:

1. Only check emails twice during the day. Our school uses email a ridiculous amount. Given that I am supposed to be teaching and not sat at a computer I am super irritated when important, urgent messages are sent to me via email. I piloted checking emails twice over the last few weeks and it's worked brilliantly - especially once I let the admin staff and the rest of my teaching team know. Messages now get to me quicker, on foot or by phone.

2. Send one thank you card a week to an adult in the school. I am big on praising kids but I sometimes don't say thank you to staff as much as I should.

3. Starters. Starters. Starters. I really try to use a short engaing activity at the beginning of each lesson. It's so important for settling students and using the otherwise dead-time as they straggle into class. BUT without a classroom this year it has been tricky to be in the room before a class and set-up the starter properly. Now, with the new classroom, I have no excuses. Starters every time.

Two more spaces left.... Any suggestions?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Helping ill students who are off school to stay up-to-date

In the last few weeks many students have come down with bouts of mumps and swine flu. Dealing with students who are out of the classroom is difficult and requires careful preparation. Over the years I've had a number of students out of lesson for long-term illnesses such as liver damage or badly broken limbs.

On these occasions I send packages of work via the Head of Year. Packages includes collections of worksheets or a list of tasks to choose from. I develop these packs along with the Scheme of Work as an 'Emergency Measure' to be used if I am off for a long period of time (or, it turned out, for unexpected absences). As sick students receive lots of work from teachers I always put an upbeat message from the class attached to the top of the work. If I were ill I know I'd be more pleased to receive a personal message than a bunch of impersonal worksheets.

Building on these ideas, I recently saw a colleague successfully had a student join his lesson via Skype even though this student was lying in hospital with his leg in pins! Another friend, who teaches French, had her students complete 'Get Well Soon Cards' using all French language and sent them along to their missing friend. In both cases the sick student felt cared for, included and was still learning. Brilliant.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

"Be Kind To Each Other"

Yesterday I received tragic news while I was in the middle of the school day. Thankfully, at the time, I wasn't teaching but I was amid moving classrooms. With textbooks strewn everywhere, all cupboards open and various keys laid across desks leaving my classroom didn't seem like much of an option but in shock I went into the corridor and burst into tears.

Superb colleagues rallied around to sweep up keys, lock cupboards and put textbooks away. They made tea, plied me with biscuits and took care of my responsibilities that were coming up in the next period. After I went back to my classroom one of my colleagues popped his head around the door and asked, "Ready for a hug yet?" This is no small gesture. I am not a touchy-feely person. I don't do hugs. But it was such a warm thing to do that it made a big difference to my day.

Dealing with other teachers when they hit their lows is a part of our job that isn't talked about much. We focus on the children, and that is right for the most part. But when someone is clearly distressed, and although it's very British, offering to make a cup of tea and lending an ear - if only for 5 minutes - is often the difference between a successful colleague and a burnt-out one.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

What makes a great plenary?

New TeachFirst teachers have landed at our school for alternative schools week. Trainee teachers are brilliant because they ask the 'bread and butter' questions that I sometimes forget I even know the answer to. My favourite yesterday was, "What makes a great plenary?"

I paused. Racking my brain I wondered what it was about the plenaries I routinely used that meant I had first thought they were useful. Here's what I decided:

1. Easy to pack away. Ideally it should be something students can do when they are already packed as this means they are settled and learning for the plenary and there is no last minute clean-up as you change classes.
2. Uses knowledge from the lesson
3. Memorable - try and keep it something that students will want to do rather than as something they 'have' to do before they leave
4. Something that you can refer to next lesson. This is the absolute ideal plenary, but if it prompts a question or gets them hooked ready for the next lesson then you will have an excited class next time. For instance, if you have students do an activity that consolidates their learning and then pose a question for next time they will leave excited about next time.

For some of my favourite plenaries see previous posts:
160 character sum-ups
The Skills Tree

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Random acts of kindness....

Last week my Sociology class were scheduled to study 'deviance'. Instead of focusing on crime, as per most literature, we focused on 'positive deviance' and extreme acts of kindness or bravery - e.g. Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. For action research the class split into groups and completed 'Random Acts of Kindness' focusing on things that would deliberately be out of the ordinary.

Here's what they did:
* Gave out free ice pops (it was 30 degrees that day)
* Passed out pin badges to passers by
* Gave thank you cards to bus drivers
* Offered free hugs
Students came back from their outings positively buzzing. Although they had found some resistance (particularly the ice-pop group) they hadn't realised how much fun it was to brighten the day of others. I also pushed them to speak to people of different generations, races and gender to their own - this brought about wonderful experiences. Often initally sceptical students realised that, eventually, they won over most people with their kindness.

RAK day is definitely something I would do again - perhaps in conjunction with other subjects. Could maths students offer free puzzles to people? English students writing poetry for passers-by? Surely the options are limitless?!

Monday, 6 July 2009

A Great Game: Human Protractor

My favourite 'energiser' game is Human Protractor taken from The Morning Meeting Book by Becthel & Krieke. Here's how it works.....

Get students standing and ask them to put their arms touching towards their toes. Explain that they must start raising their arms upwards in an arc as you (the teacher) counts to twenty. By the count of 10 their arms should be out in front of them and by 20 they should be reaching for the sky. Important bit: They must remember roughly where their arms are for each number.

With calibration done, now comes the fun! Start by shouting out numbers: e.g. "20" and have students reach for the sky! Then "2" and have them down low. I then add in the maths.... "20-5" followed by "2*6" to make it more complicated. To mix it up get other students to be leader or have a 'protractor-off' betweeen students. Within a short period you'll be amazed at how amused students are by this little game and how engaged they are with numeracy - a subject many find threatening.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Going on trips....! (End-of-year Series Part 7)

I am still seriously damaged from the amazing but shattering experience that was 24-hours in Paris. The students had a fantastic day - 34 degrees of heat belted down as we wandered along the Champs Elysee and cartwheeled under the Eiffel Tower. Apparently the students are going to 'tag' me with their photos (as they left on Monday I have added them as 'friends') so I will share soon.

Taking students on trips is always memorable and usually a positive experience. In the last 3 years I have dragged students to the cinema, Oxford University, World Aids Day festivals, the local council chamber, elderly people activities centres, Tesco, theme parks, Model UN Conference, drug policy brainstorming sessions and KPMG to mention just a few. Some of these required a fair amount of organisation but many were invites I had for activities out of school and I asked if I could bring along students as an extra. For example, the drugs policy sessions was an invite when I was passing my PSHE qualification. They were thrilled at the suggestion of including students. A few permission slips and risk assessments later and 3 students came along to a posh evening on the HMS Belfast at London Bridge.

Trips are also a brilliant bonding tool - giving you and the students something to talk about and reminisce about. Each year when I talk to new TeachFirst teachers they tell me about the places they visited with students and how it helped build relationships with difficult students. Even if you're sceptical or unsure, jump in and try a trip!

A few tips:
1. Always get permission slips and ensure all school paperwork is filled in. A no-brainer but having been on two trips that went very wrong (bus crashes both times) I was so relieved that I had slips for everyone and can't imagine how much more stressful things would be if I was worried a parent would be angry about their child being out.

2. Be careful - but not too careful - of cover implications
Having time out for trips can be tricky if you have classes to cover but don't use this an excuse not to run any trips. I got around this by using free periods, keeping trips short - sometimes only two hours (including travel) - and I would run into breaks/after-school if required. Quite a few of these trips were after-school events too.

3. Give really clear instructions so pupils know what to expect
For instance- when I take students to see West End plays I explain that if a character is musing out loud a question they are NOT expecting an answer and that is NOT your cue to shout out. Indeed, making a point about not shouting out is key all round. Last time I went I took 18 year-olds and skipped this part only to find one of my students on their feet shouting "You go girl!" when a character in the play was asked out on a date.

4. Brief the people you are visiting
I rarely do museum or 'school-trip' activities as I try to get students seeing the 'real world'. Somtimes our East London school reality is different to the reality of the places where we are going so a word in the ear of our hosts is often appreciated so they know what to expect. People who work n the city are often terrified of 'youths' so this helps calm them down too!

5. Always let teachers know in advance if students will miss lessons
And make 'catch-up' work a condition of them being allowed on any trips with you in the future.

6. Stick to time schedules
Be as rigid with time as you can. Famously I left a student behind because he was late for a trip (there were actually good reasons for this, not just my mean-ness) but it meant I have never had a student turn up for a trip late again saving huge headaches. Even yesterday I turned up at school at 3.20am to find a full fleet of tired students and parents raring to go!

7. Take lots of photos
I don't do this enough but I'm learning.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Go on Trips! (End of Year Series - Pt. 6)

I will not be able to blog tomorrow as I leave - at 3.30am! - with my Year 13s for a day trip to Paris. We have earned it.

Enjoy your day,

End-of-Year Letter Writing - (End of Year Series Pt.5)

Korean students customarily write gratitude letters to their teachers at the end of each year. Tonnes of research by Seligman also shows how writing gratitude letters increases our well-being. But long before knowing this I used end-of-year letters as a way of expressing my gratitude to students and gathering their thoughts on our year together. Their honesty in these letters helped me plan new schemes of work and develop as a teacher; hopefully my letters to them helped complete our year in a positive way.

On my last lesson with each class I write a letter for the whole class. You can download examples here and here. The structure is similar for each group but the middle part talks specifically about the class. I mention as many individual students as possible to create a positive story about our journey throughout the year.

After the 'grand reading' I invite each student to write a letter in return. Some students find this hard so there are prompt questions inviting responses but most students ignore these and write whatever they choose. Once the letters are done students are free to choose how we spend the rest of the lesson. (NB: I will try to find some examples and scan them in so you can see the type of thing students write).

Sceptics may worry that at the end of the year (and I usually do this on the very last day) students are too hyped. Not true. Almost every class takes their task super-seriously and writes in silence. For many classes it is the first time I've managed to get them completely quiet all year.
But, if you're still not convinced, below is one of my most favourite pictures ever taken in my classroom. This is a small group I work a lot with and they brought food to celebrate the end of term but just look where their concentration is - even at the end of term!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Bring the Model UN to your classroom - (End-of-year-Series Pt.4)

This may be shamelessly Citizenshipy but 'Model UN' is my favourite summer activity. Using materials from Global Classrooms I set out my classroom as a mini-UN conference. Each student is given a country placard and they represent that country in all debate. Instead of ordinary register we do a country 'roll call' ("Delegate for china?" "Present!") and we use the rules of UN debate to discuss topics and head towards a resolution.

This involves keeping a speaker's list and deciding how long each person will speak for:

Students also have time to negotiate individually and convince others of their propositions. This bit involves a free-for all of discussion and debate:

It's one of the most exciting parts of the year and students LOVE being given an adult way of discussing things. While some subjects might not find this exact format suitable I would encourage you to think about other settings you can simuate. Maths at a model stock exchange? Scientists at a science policy debate? Usually teachers are only limited by their imagination....

Monday, 29 June 2009

Creating Board Games - (End-of-year-Series Pt. 3)

Helping students make revision board games is a fun end-of-year activity that helps consolidate learning from the past year. I use a powerpoint presentation to introduce the concept to students along with a letter explaining the activity purpose.

Online there are plenty of templates to support student imagination- for example I found this racing car example at Jeff Ertzberger's website.

At the end of the project I laminate a few of the best ones to use the following year with disengaged students. One student even managed to create a 'poker style' revision game with a card table that became quite a hit during the final revision weeks!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Make (don't watch) videos - (End-of-year Series Pt. 2)

End-of-year videos become boring for students, they traipse from classroom to classroom like they are in one great big cinema. The act of watching films is good once around but after a while they start to act like they are stuck on a never-ending plane ride and I don't blame them.

To be alternative get hold of a video camera and get them to make their own films. I had one video camera for an entire class of Year 9 boys. I gave them one hour, the camera and told them to make an educational video about STIs (we'd been covering sex ed). They came back with the most incredible - already edited on the camera - movie. Some parts are factually inaccurate but the narrative is there and they are savvy with their use of shots and editing. I now use the movie in other lessons to see if students can spot the mistakes.

Another example is from a few years ago when students made a video about knife crime. This took slightly longer but this one is allowed to be on youtube so you can see their work.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Make A Museum in Your Classroom (End of Year Series)

Inspired by American school Science Fairs, I use exhibitions as a way of getting students excited about research and investigation. Topics have included: Environment, Teen Life, Demography & Domestic Life. In teacher training people have created exhibtions on respiration, accounting procedures and refugees.

I build up to creating our museum exhibition over a few lessons. (The full Scheme of Work can be found here - this one is environment themed)

Lesson 1
We start brainstorming what a good exhibition looks like, by showing students some examples from past lessons and online. We then brainstorm possible questions and pick the ones we will investigate. I also add in the most important part here: each display must have a display board with words and pictures AND each team must create an interactive model that explains some part of the answer to their question.

Lessons 2 & 3:
Students research and prepare for 'creation' day. I give each group ONE lesson only to complete the visual parts of their display. On the day they may bring ready-made items in, e.g. written displays or pictures, to stick onto their card, but they will only have 50 minutes. To prepare students for this I give them decision cards. On the cards each team makes decisions about the team member responsible for the model, pictures, writing, etc. [This lesson was observed during our OFSTED and the inspectors loved it because it gave 'structured independence' to the students].

Lesson 4:
Creation day!

Lesson 5
: The museum bit. So, on the day, students have 10 minutes to set up. Each stand leaves one pupil at the display, ready to explain to passers-by. The rest of us go out into the corridor - with bags and coats if necessary - and we line up. I explain that we are on 'a trip' and that students have worksheets to fill in. "You must treat the museum with respect as you are representing our school and I don't want visitors going away thinking badly of school" I say (cue much good-natured groaning here...). Students go into the classroom, look at each other's exhibitions, ask questions and complete their worksheet. Because every student must complete their worksheet fully, students rotate who stays with the display and who is moving around.

As long as it is set-up properly with good instruction, I have
never had this lesson go wrong. Everyone is on-task and enjoying themselves.

Final note: Make sure you have time to pack away or let the next teacher know that you will be late!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Forthcoming Feature Announcement.....

The End-of-Year 7-Part Series starts tomorrow!
The last few weeks of term can be tricky to manage. Students are being pulled out for extra-curricular activities, kids are high from post-exam excitement, teachers are exhausted and the weather takes its toll on shabby, high-up, no air ventilation classrooms. The joys of inner-London.

Over the last few years I've trialled various end-of-year projects with students and will be sharing 'How To' guides for the most successful over the next 7 days. Starting tomorrow with: Make a museum in your classroom.

Website of the Week; Dustball Checker*

Many classes I teach are graded solely on coursework. With the internet so readily available students will occasionally turn to 'cutting and pasting' when they have left assignments to the last minute, or if they don't understand the work. Clamping down on this has been one of my goals this year.

The Dustball Plagiarism Checker is a brilliant tool for doing this. On the first page you copy and paste student work into the box. It seems to carry any amount of text and even if the original document has pictures it works around them.

After this, hit the 'check' button and a new page will pop up with a selection of sentences and the verdict - 'ok' or 'suspected plagiarism'

Finally, and this is my favourite bit, by clicking on the 'possible plagiarism' bit you get taken to a google page showing the websites. You are then able to present the sudent with the website that the text was taken from. It's also worth checking these as sometimes there are a LOT of hits with the same sentence - in this case, it's simply that the topic means a student is likely to write that combination of words. If there's only one hit returned, and it matches a lot of the work, then it's likely to be plagiarism.

* A quick note: All of the websites I write about are genuinely ones I use in my classroom - they are not sponsored links or anything like that. I write about them mostly so I have a quick place to get the link from. This does mean that some weeks I won't write about websites because I don't have any new ones.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Planning for Parent's Evening

Many schools have now done away with Parent's Evening but if you are in the fortunate position of being involved in them here is my number 1 tip for an effective parent meeting.

Have something for parents to take away with them

I create small pre-printed cards with information pertinent to students studies that I can give to parents. At the top it has the topics we covered this year (this helps get over the: "So what is citizenship?" question but also gives a structure to topic and helps parents feel secure in their knowledge of the subject). I then put a tick-list of things that people can do well - e.g. active participation, evaluation of topics, questioning skills and I will tick the one the student did best and explain why I ticked this to the parent.

Finally, there is a space at the bottom. I ask the student what they think went well and we write this in. I then add anything I want them to work on next year, along with some encouragement, before signing and passing over.

A slightly more 'serious' version was made by a fantastic colleague of mine, Louise Baldwin. She created a 'science' card inclduing space for various module grades. She then talked through the system with parents - many of whom did not speak English well and appreciated the simplicity of the card and the fact they were given something to read and follow in their own time.

This system works for three reasons. 1. Parents get a lot of information over an evening so it's helpful for them to have something to reflect on when they get home - especially if English is a second language. 2. It means every kid has a record of what they did best which makes them more likely to feel efficacious about the subject. And, finally, 3. Because the slips are printed on coloured card they look like certificates and everyone likes being given a certificate - it's human nature!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Remember to eat breakfast

Today is the last external exam for Year 11. Breakfast club happens each day during exams and students pour in for toast and cereal to ensure their brains are ready for their exams. We practically bombard students with the fact that they should eat breakfast to improve exam performance. Yet, ask most teachers what they had for breakfast and - with wrinkled nose - they will ask you "does coffee count?"

We need to take our own advice sometimes.

Friday, 19 June 2009

If you'd never seen a learning environment - how would you create one?

Over on Brent G. Wilson's website there is a wonderful powerpoint about the varieties of classroom you can create*. He poses one particularly good question:

" If we wanted to design a learning environment, without ever having seen one, what would we come up with?"
-- and he credits this to 'Tom Carroll at PT3 Grants'

It's a brilliant question. As I begin preparing for next year I find myself falling into habits. It will be my fourth year of teaching and gradually I've figured out what works for me and, hopefully, my students. I also find myself guilty of occasional groupthink or being swayed by a 'majority' view of education. This question has got me thinking about what I really believe learning should be about and what this means for my classroom layout and planning.

Today's Tip? Ponder this questio for a little while. Ask some colleagues what they think. And see if you can plan next year's classroom to be a little bit closer to the environment you would want.

* The powerpoint is called Learning Communities: Laboritories of Innovation for Teaching and Learning,

Thursday, 18 June 2009

"I saw this and thought of you...."

When I was 13 my form tutor, and teaching idol, Ms. Watson gave me a newspaper article about my favourite author Terry Pratchett. Weeks earlier she had seen me reading his book furtively under a classroom table and spoken to me about my love of his works. The article was ripped from the Sunday Times Magazine. She handed it to me and said: "I saw this at the weekend and thought you might like to read it." I was a good kid so teachers often said nice things or picked me for trips, but I remember being genuinely touched by the idea that a teacher thought about me outside of school. That article is still in my copy of Pratchett's 'Hogfather'.

I told this story to a colleague who said she often did the same thing. When she gave the item to the student she would say: "I saw this and thought of you." It was then down to the student to respond. Sometimes they dismiss the item, othertimes they beam and place it somewhere carefully. In all cases I do believe it makes the student feel more valued and more liked as long as it is given from a genuine belief that it is something they are interested in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Website of the Week: Wordsift (An 'evolving' dictionary)

Students often don't know what words mean. Yesterday, my 18 year-old students looked at me blankly when I said the word "Evolution". "Darwin?" I ventured. "Monkeys into men? Butterflies changing colours in cities?" Nothing. *Sigh*.

In this case I usually suggest students look at an online dictionary. However this usually results in their being confused about words in the definition. Alternatively students look in a thesaurus and then end up with words in their essays with completely different meanings than the ones originally intended.

Wordsift is a visual dictionary that gives pictures and a 'mind-map' of related words to get around this. It was particularly helpful for Evolution, producing the following screen:

The pictures on the left, taken from google, gave an image that students immediately identified with ("Ah, monkey into men!") and the box on the right gives a series of words. Hold your mouse over them and a plain english definition appears. Click on the other words and a whole new word constellation begins. The map clearly shows how closely related the synonyms are and gives students a chance to find out their meaning by holding the mouse over them.

Great for showing the whole class when stuck with a concept.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Importance of Telling Lies

A bit like Calvin, my Sociology class will believe anything. This directly contrasts my previous school where I once spent 20 minutes failing to convince a class that a tunnel runs under the sea between England and France. ("Yeah right miss, and I can walk to Bangladesh from our house too innit"). Given this, you might think that my sociology classes naivety is a good thing. Wrong.

Without a sense of scepticism they are unable to criticise or evaluate research. When presented with research that had 'scientifically proven' the lower IQ of black children in America my -- mostly black African group -- accepted this and dutifully wrote it in their books as fact. Single parenthood causes crime? "Okay, I see that" was their simplistic response. After all, some academic has said it so it must be true. Right? Still wrong.

So now I have a simple device. When presenting new information I tell students that I am going to slip in a number of lies. Sometimes I actually do it, sometimes I don't. But it gets them engaged, guessing and thinking critically. It means they listen more intently and read more carefully. And, hopefully, one day it will get them to question some of those terrible assumptions they so readily accepted earlier in the year.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Praise in public, Reprimand in Private

When I was younger my mother would force me to sit with her while she ate her dinner. She worked late so my tea was eaten hours earlier. Nevertheless, each evening she would drag me downstairs to talk about our day as she ate. She worked (and still works) as a secretary so her stories were filled with office politics and managers pulling rank on the admin staff. Regardless of what had happened that day she would, however, maintain a simple principle: "Praise in public, reprimand in private."

As a teacher these words echo in my ear each day. In 3 years of teaching I have only raised my voice or told a child off in front of others a handful of times. I always make the effort to take the child aside and speak to them privately. Even when I've had children screaming, swearing and throwing things I try to remain calm and only speak to them about their behaviour once in private.

On Thursday last week I forget my rule and sniped, uneccesarily, at a student. She was asking for help on a subject I had explained, in some detail, two days earlier but she had lost the notes. Tired and exasperated I sniped at her. She actually took it well and sat down again, cheeks enflamed but still calm. I felt dreadful. Keeping 'face' is so important to students and what had I taught this young person? That questions may lead to embarrassment? Although I did not agree with her irresponsibility with the notes, being mean was not going to lead to a change in her behaviour. More likely she was going to decide that I was unreasonable and give up on her work.

At the end of the lesson I held her back and apologised for my behaviour. Calmer now I could explain why I became exasperated and gave her some strategies for getting answers to questions which didn't involve haranguing me yet again. We both left happy.

Today's tip? "Praise in public, reprimand in private". If you can. Trust me, sometimes it's hard.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Movies In Your Mind: Inspiration for Teachers

When I began TeachFirst I spent most of my days fire-fighting behaviour management and I would finish, almost all days, with an air of despondency. I genuinely believed I would never be a good teacher. One Friday I was so low that I cried the whole way home on the DLR. The. Whole. Way.

Realising this was bad for my mental health, and that of other concerned commuters, I decided to try something new. Each Friday, as I climbed onto the DLR, I would plug into my music and pick a beautiful track. At first, I couldn't go for anything too upbeat. Pachelbel's Canon in D was great. As the music played I forced myself to visualise the week like a movie montage. It would start off with all the bad things and then, as the music built, I would think about the good moments. The occasional smile, a flash of teaching magic, laughter in the staffroom with other teachers and it would start to make everything a little bit better. Even now, when I feel low, I use this technique to remind me how important -- and amazing -- our job can be.

Should you need inspiration, here's one of my favourite 'teacher-movie' clips to help. The Bon Jovi song played over it is now a favourite Friday Movie Tune:

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Ask questions with lots of answers: My most favourite slide

I created this powerpoint in my third week of teaching because I needed to make a lesson quickly. The class I taught were bonkers and I needed a way to grab their attention. While this didn't make for the best behaviour management (there was a lot of shouting out answers) hey did engage entirely in the process. Asking questions like this works to capture attention because everyone can have a guess. It's a low-stakes question that gets people thinking.

Given that it was a sex ed lesson there were plenty of crude answers but my favourite is still the kid that, so excited he could barely get the words out, shouted: "Have legs! 87% of people have legs." Ah, the wonders of a teenager's mind.

The real answer? "Get married" It's really not that exciting but it proved a great way to start our discussions.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Website of the Week: TED Talks (Ideas worth spreading!)

I am slightly obsessed with TED Talks and while they're more of an indulgence, occassionally I find very cool stories to share with students in my classroom. In it's own words: "this site makes the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free." There are more than 400 talks on a range of topic and they are always completely captivating.

- My favourites include Aubrey de Grey talking about the possibility of humans living for a 1,000 years. Sounds crazy right? Not when Aubrey says it! This was a great addition to our unit on human ageing and caring for older people.

- A good one for teachers is "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity". It's a bit obvious but still a good reminder about the benefits of play.

- Finally, there is a whole science theme page. I struggle to teach my health & social care students some of the science-y parts. Using TED is helping us to see science in new, more exciting ways.

Even if you don't love playing video in your classroom (I have to say I try to avoid lengthy clips where possible), TED is a refreshing way to let exciting new people into your class and open your students' eyes.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

An aside.....

Year 13 are doing end-of-year reflections at the moment. So far my favourite expression is:

I feel that I have changed since starting sixth form because i used to watch TV but since starting Ms Mc's class my life has become all about health and social care."

Awesome. It's the "all about" that makes it for me.

Langer's "The Power of Mindul Learning": Work vs. Play

Yesterday I purchased a battered copy of Ellen J. Langer's "The Power of Mindful Learning". It's brilliant. At some point I will pick apart all the important conclusions she reaches, however the most stand-out bit so far is Langer's insistence that dressing a learning task as 'play' instantly makes it more appealing.

She, and colleague Sophia Snow, gave adults a series of tasks to do. With one group Langer referred to the tasks as 'work' throughout her instructions; with the other group she presented the task as 'playing a game'. The adults then started their tasks. The harder the tasks became the more the work group reported not enjoying the task. They also reported higher levels of 'mind wandering'. This did not happen with the 'play' group.

By the end of the experiment, when participants were completing the hardest task, the 'play' group were twice as likely to enjoy the task and stay focused on it.

Surely there's a tip in there somewhere??

Monday, 8 June 2009

Managing Group Presentations: "And the winners are....."

Keeping students interested and listening when other students are presenting can be a challenge. One tactic is to require each group to give feedback at the end of the presentation. Younger students often find this difficult so it helps to give guidance.

During presentations, each student completes a "You be the judge" sheet. This involves quickly marking each group against specific standards. Afterwards, groups discuss their ratings and complete a group nomination form, nominating their favourite group and explaining the reasons for their choice. Students hand them into a 'nomination envelope'. From this I can pull out the envelopes, a la the Oscars, and read out the results.

By hamming up the process into a ceremony students stay engaged as well as learning how to give feedback to one another. The nomination cards are also great certificates of achievement that the winning group can take away with them.
I can't get to work on the network so I will wait until next time I'm on my home computer to upload these items

Friday, 5 June 2009

Take 2 minutes to say "thank you" to a parent

After reading Miss Cal.Q.L8s post about home school visits, I began thinking about conversations I've had with parents. Parent's evenings are my favourite part of the year. Even though they take hours I come away energised and enthused. I can only hope that students go away feeling the same.

However, my new school doesn't have parent's evening -- in fact, we have very limited communication with parents. Given that I teach mostly sixth-formers aged 16-19 I can see why it is less relevant, but I do feel we're missing out.

I therefore try, each week, to ring at least one student's parents to give some positive news on their progress. Each term I also photocopy the work of the best student and send it in a package to their parents with a personal letter explaining what I thought was so impressive.

All of this is welcomed, but nothing has been commented on more than the fact I say "thank you" to parents. I thank them for sending their children to us, for being a guiding influence and for caring about their children so much. Doing so makes our job so much easier. Often parents react by saying: "Oh no, I didn't do anything..." or "Well, that's what parents are for". Sometimes they even act confused. But 9/10 times I can hear the pride in their voice or I see their shoulders raise a few inches - just the same way that students do when complimenting their work. Thing is, we all need to be told that our efforts in life are being noticed. Simply because we hit adulthood it doesn't mean we stop needing positive feedback. simple tip would be thank parents as often as you have an excuse. It may brighten everyone's day!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Proven Negative Effects of Praising "Intelligence"

Yesterday's website was about rewards for students. My friend, Grainne, astutely raised how careful teachers should be in rewarding intelligence rather than effort. Don't worry, this isn't going to become some hippy love-in where I start pronouncing that we "are all special" and creating daily hug schedules for students. No, the negative effects of praising intelligence is based on hard science and cold logic.

Carol Dweck's important research looked at students who, having succesfully completed a task, were rewarded differently. One group were praised for their intelligence ("Wow. You got a high score. You must be smart at this."). One group were praised for effort ("You must have worked really hard). And a final group were praised for their performance only ("You did a good job").

Here's the scary bit... Dweck then asked students to choose a task to do next. They had two choices. One task was challenging but students would learn a lot (regardless of whether they succeeded); the other task was easier with sure success but, crucially, less learning. 90% of children praised for effort went for the challenging task, whereas the majority of children praised for intelligence took the easy option. This scientific experiment concluded that praising intelligence rather than effort limited student's willingness to challenge themselves in the future. Instead, students became used to taking an 'easier option

Of course, science is not the real world. This is a fairly contrived test. But logic would suggest the same thing. Praise for intelligence praises what you are meaning students start to believe their success is outside of their control - it was down to an innate ability or, perhaps, a fluke. Praising students for what they do enables students to feel positive about taking on challenges and focuses their mind on process rather than outcomes.

As Dweck says:
These findings suggest that when we praise children for
their intelligence,we are telling them that this is the name
of the game: Look smart ; d o n ’t risk making mistake s . O n
the other hand,when we praise children for the effort and
hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep
engaging in that process.They are not diverted from the
task of learning by a concern with how smart they
might—or might not—look.

Since learning about Dweck's work I try -- really hard -- to praise only for effort and performance rather than any innate ability. There are still times when I say to students "Wow. You're a really talented dancer" or "gosh, you have a real skill at listening to others". The look on their face when I spot this and they realise they are good at something is worth it, and I wouldn't want anyone to stop noticing their students' strengths. BUT we must make sure that we make an equally big song and dance out of effort otherwise we will end up with students who are terrified of failure.