How to succeed in post 16 Chemistry exams *maybe not*

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Just to be clear, these are the top tips for doing badly in your Chemistry exams. Badly – yes that’s right.

Ignore the information in the stem of the question…head straight for (a) part i.

image1Show how expensive your calculator cost you by giving all answers to at least 9 decimal places, and preferably put the decimal point in the wrong place too. This also leaves no room on the page for units.

 

Units – forget them after all surely an examiner knows that most of the time it is KJmol-1 except when it’s moldm-3 and aren’t they a chemistry graduate, surely they can work it out.

Forget this is an A-Level Chemistry exam and keep answers superficial. At any hint of ozone/greenhouse effect, or those tricky application questions “suggest one other consideration…” This is your chance to waffle about needing a greener world/being environmentally friendly, or even the ubiquitous “might I suggest a quick google of the problem”

Adopt a sloppy use of language, especially those pesky technical words which no one else in the sixth form even has to bother with. It’s really best if you can muddle up the terms atom, molecule, element and compound because these are basic. However the real test is using words like electrophillic in the wrong place.Hey and if you get really stuck use electronegativity.

Past papers show you ideas in Chemistry which are often raised in exams. Hence it’s better not to look over past papers, and neither should you read those examiners reports because they say stuff like ” Few students know the reagents for synthesic organic  reactions” You will do much worse in the exam if these type of questions come as a complete surprise. Of course the worst thing you could do is practise those past papers.

Here is a great trick when answering really tricky questions – rearrange the words from the original question. eg

Q Describe and explain the effect of increasing the pressure on the Haber process?
A The Haber process makes ammonia and when changes are made like pressure it will change the amount of ammonia and the other chemicals. This can be explained by a Frenchman better than me.

Understanding Chemistry. I think a lot of students wishing to fail make this mistake. So forget about trying to understand concepts and key chemical ideas. Just head to one past paper, preferably from a different spec and preferably one you can do so badly on you are convinced you are useless. This will boost your confidence that you will do really badly.

Reading – I did mention it, don’t do it. The school really want those text books back in pristine condition ( they are only used once more) but stick to your games web sites, gambling sites and Facebook.

Talking to other students – this is another dangerous game. Sharing what you can and cannot do, could lead to you helping each other, you might discover trying to explain to a peer helps improve your explanations – avoid it

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Faced with those longer parts to questions with half a page and 5 marks, do not bother to review your knowledge and select key points. Instead ramble on and on, jump from one idea to another. In fact the more chemical words mentioned the better. (A-Level equivalent to indicator goes bluey reddy yellowy greeny orangey colourlessly clear.)

Likewise with practise  and you reall will need practise the + can look like – for ΔH calc’s; Better still ink spots and extra dots on dot cross diagrams. There is also a knack to writing the fourth letter in alkane like alkene try alkøne or alkæne

On the subject of organic reactions you will probably get a mechanism, you can lose a lot of marks by random use of curly arrows – pretend they show where to attack, not where electrons move from. It’s also better to target atoms than bonds – after all bonds already have enough electrons, rather delicately shared.

Overlook the advice given in the question to help you. It is preferable to answer your own question NOT that set by the Board. A favourite here should be answering about kinetics, how fast etc when the examiner asks about equilibrium and how much . I suggest you write Le Chatelier in the original French just to show off. “Quand un système à l’équilibre est soumis à une variation de la concentration , de la température , le volume ou la pression, puis le système se réajuste à ( partiellement ) neutraliser l’effet de la variation appliquée et qu’un nouvel équilibre soit établi.” Eh voila mes amis

imageDiagrams, here you can lose a lot of marks. Make sure glassware does not connect properly, leave gaps for gases to escape edge between condenser and flask. also do like you did in the lesson and pop a stopper in the top. Remember no one does these experiments from your exam answer so the explosion will be a bit lost

Excuses – examiners love excuses to write in a friendly style to them preferably in red ink ” Dear examiner we had a useless teacher who could not explain Hess’s law” or “I had very bad toothache the day this lesson was introduced and my teacher refused to help me.”

Make sure you switch off your common sense. Some of the best answers I have seen proved you could extract 1000 tonnes of copper from 1 tonne of copper ore and who knew blood had a pH of less than 1. ( well after all it is red). With luck you can get a reaction to give a yield well over 100%.

Space – exams board work hard to leave you the right amount of space to write in, so best then to try and use just a few lines if they leave a large space and maybe make one point (when there are 6 marks available) or else write loads, round the margins and up the sides.

Some exam boards try and trick you by giving a choice of questions.So a good plan here is to do more questions than asked or do fewer than asked. If you would like some fun, don’t read the rubric at the start of the paper just guess how many questions they might expect you to do.

Timing – most students struggle with timing here is a big tip to cause major mark losses. Some students look at the mimage2arks available and the time e.g. 120 marks in 2 hours. They then spend time just short of the mark allocation e.g. Q1 is 25 maks therefore spend 20 minutes no more no less. Here is my tip – rush through the whole paper doing all the bits you find easy – shouldn’t take long! the go back and guess the next bits then go back and fill in remaining gaps just using random big chemical words (see above). Finally colour in your data sheet – as you know this is why the exam board gave it out – see it as extension work.

Monday INSET – Effective or just a non uniform day?

INSET or as I like to call them non-uniform days. Over my teaching career I have done a lot of CPD – has it made me a better teacher? Yes I hope so, certainly some has challenged and made me change practice, hopefully for the better but a lot, especially some “done to me” hasn’t made much difference and I have sat thinking of all the jobs I have to do or would prefer to be doing.

Not more INSET please not more

Heck now I’m a head I can’t moan any longer but I can evolve our systems and CPD programmes and look for something better. One of the first areas I wanted to develop was CPD, we have great teachers and I love hearing their ideas so how do we capture that, mould it with current ideas and good practice even academic research? That was the challenge and I just didn’t have time so with a new deputy we set about working on a project. Huge credit to him for making this work, by working out the finer details, you know how it is -he does the work I take the credit; not today it was just too exciting. But let’s go back to the plans:

  1. Get some topics we think the school could, should, might consider or be interested in, may or may not be on the development plan (summer 2015) BUT we are interested in.
  2. Get some teachers who are enthusiasts on these topics or maybe their own topics?
  3. Pay them – sadly no, no budget for that but maybe buy some time?
  4. Give them a nice title “directors of learning” – 6 get going
  5. Get them to choose a topic start some research/reading etc and tell the staff body about their projects Sept INSET day. Draw in a few other potential enthusiasts.
  6. This becomes a learning community and the rule is to share the ideas, work out what might really make a difference in a classroom, try it; YES try it in a class in our school with our pupils and be preparing for a February INSET to share with rest of staff.
  7. Meet them support them, get resources if necessary, bring in colleagues etc
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Star “Directors of Learning” – gold stars

S0 in September through to February these little communities slogging away, reimageading about teaching and learning aspects of their topics, discussing with each other and other colleagues and then, that final rule they must try any ideas in their class, and do a bit of proper research and get feedback from staff, from observers, from pupils. [ and of course still teaching every day!]

So that was all going well but next up not just piloting with in the classroom sharing with that most critical of audiences – your colleagues – feels like the worst lesson observations ever.

Wow Kerbang Whoosh!

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Here were our topics

  1. It’s not personal – How does student voice impact on teaching and learning
  2. Don’t say please – Practical positive approaches to classroom behaviour management, using light touch and considering what to do for the “not very OK” pupils
  3. Using data to inform day to day teaching and learning – instead of just looking at exam results and working out what did and didn’t happen, can those systems help us understand day to day interventions? can they help with new specs where we are in the dark a little about grading?
  4. Why are questions worth thinking about? Are we still stuck on closed questions? Can we move the discussion on and will this lead to deeper learning?
  5. Flipped learning – what impact can flipping the resource have on classroom time? How can we do it, what are the benefits and how might technology help us?
  6. What does Independent Learning look like in the classroom? – a KS5 focus considering how we might use a) research b) group work)teaching methods and d) assessment to create more resilient independent learners.

IMG_2499Then today we had out INSET day whereby each community led a 45 minute workshop, repeated twice – Three slots for staff, and then followed by discussions in departments, what did you learn about, what might work in your subject. It wasn’t about throwing out old practice it was about tweaking it, was about marginal gains instead of marginal losses for all of us in the classroom. It was occasionally a reminder that praise does work and I need to bring that back a bit ….especially with my year ….

Don’t you love that buzz when colleagues from different subjects with different experience just get enveloped in the issues, jotting ideas and enthusing. Picking each others brains. “This worked in my class in our school, it made my practice better and their learning enhanced” “OK might try that”. Absolutely no need to worry about the gigantic lesson observations going on in your workshops – listen to the big buzz, the chatter, the concentration the “loving it” moments. 

I do wish we had another INSET day tomorrow to get it all written into SoW or lesson plans but I know our staff, they’ll be trying stuff. Oh and follow up? Well from here we hope to try those ideas and feedback results to dept or pastoral teams, we have promised our Directors we will do that.

Next up we need to think if we can

  • continue the same topics and bring more effective learning
  • move to new topics.
  • bring in some more Directors
  • check out how staff are doing embedding the ideas
  • maintain a manageable workload but be more effective in the classroom

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Monday period 4 – Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

This is blog to put storytelling back into the heart of outstanding work in school. However you wrap it up much of an attention grabbing, motivating, challenging moment is – a story.IMG_0640

I can see it being a challenge in Maths but beyond that storytelling should be at the heart of great lessons, great assemblies and purposeful conversations with pupils and parents. If I am honest it’s what I will miss most when I eventually retire – telling a story and engaging learners to start their journey of Education. In fact for some may even evoke memories ( hopefully good ones) of storytelling times.

And a big thank you for a tweet from Gareth Williams (@gwill72)
“Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen suggested our genus should be Pan Narrans, the Storytelling Ape

 

Why?reading

  • Stories hook pupils
  • Stores fascinate pupils
  • Stories stimulate curiosity
  • Stories grab attention
  • Stories motivate
  • Stories allow the teacher to light up the classroom

Stories underline challenging learning, introduce it, develop it, help with recall and stories can be short and brief and pointed, they generate curiosity

In the classroom
time for learning is precious, literally every minute is important so as a teacher you need to justify the storytelling. I think there are plenty of reasons (above) but a few minutes of a well told anecdote and gripping story grab attention, fascinate, drive up curiosity and frankly are at the heart of learning. I do apologise a little as I think my subject (Chemistry) has the very best stories! In fact since 1992 I have taught my lessons by stories. Those are highlighted separately but as part of my plenary, part of my conclusions or as the meaty part of the lesson are *stories* to help understand, build knowledge, motivate and synthesise. I want to say a very daring thing – we sort of know what makes a bad lesson turn out bad, we know what needs doing to turn the learning around from inadequate to satisfactory ( hey I know Ofsted use RI but this isn’t ofsted speak this is classroom speak). What I am not sure about is making good lessons become outstanding but I reckon decent storytelling sits at the heart. Not only grabbing attention, but hooks to help recall of knowledge and also to challenge pupils – if X really thought that back in the 21st Century – who is doing that now. If Y discovered that, then so might I. If this solved a problem of drug development, then I might be able to do that. To me it adds a moral purpose too.

Chlorine-LAnecdote > Chlorine- saved incalculable numbers of lives by purification of water; ridding us of cholera and other diseases but misused in WW1 cost many lives too. We have got a story worth telling and with some Wilfrid Owen poetry brings us to a position where pupils listen all the more carefully to my lesson on Chlorine “it’s properties and reactions” – and remember it and may even challenge them into their future career directions, or choices.

Assemblies
I guess this is more obviously where a good story tells the message. Elsewhere I have written of the disproportionate effort necessary for good assemblies but at their heart is brilliant storytelling

Here are two examples:

1 During the Football World Cup I saw an interview with Gary Linekar saying he practiced penalty taking 50 -60 times after yes after everyone completed training. So while others tired and exhausted went for their showers, he stayed out maybe on his own, and the secret = practice = hard work. Check the stats on his penalty taking too! Wow I thought we can help children understand greatness cannot be achieved overnight but needs hard work and with hard work -who knows?FullSizeRender

2 I once read of a Uruguayan rugby team who were lost in the Andes and had to consider eating the flesh of the dead to survive.  “Alive” is a great story full of drama and tears, with a continuous unfolding of the. Story from the 70’s to date. This became the basis for one of my very favourite post 16 assemblies ” when is it right to do something which is wrong?”

Pupils
As a long serving teachers, SLT ( and many others)  have all seen pupils “turn it round”. Pupils that are a bit like the pupil sat in front of you: yes the upset pupil, the bullied pupil, the bullying pupil, the “I’m not sure any more about A Levels” pupil. The poorly attending pupil, the one with special needs not being addressed, the one with stuff happening at home. So have a story to uplift, to bring hope, to challenge and to help. It’s not the main discourse with the pupil that’s much deeper but the view that there was someone like you who….got through, made good, turned it around, found an answer….might just be important to this pupil.

Parents
The same is true of discussions with parents. This is more challenging but knowing your parents and their story it might help to have an anecdote and a story to hand. I try never to conclude a fixed term exclusion meeting without sparing a separate word for the parents. I don’t try and engineer a story but I do need to help them – I might need to challenge them, to tell them a home truth, to put something up to date before them and a story might help.

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Cover
I’ve never been much good at cover lessons. I feel bad for the children that their teacher is missing and so I always try and teach them, especially as a senior leader I think it is really my duty and only rarely with other stuff pressing down have I said “sit down, shut up and do this work so that I can get on”. Of course I try and do the tasks set by any absent staff where that has been left, but peppering with stories can really help bring a lesson to life which might otherwise be dull.

Personal Stories? Maybe
Can we share personal anecdotes, stories from our own lives or families? Well I guess this is controversial and its up to colleagues to be comfortable but the occasional story can help with engagement. I have told of stuff that has happened relevant to the lesson.Perhaps mostly about incidents in my own journey with Chemistry – where I inadvertently made a few crystals of explosive Nitrogen Triodide, or where I met a Nobel winner and nearly embarrassed myself.image 2(3)

So here are some headings I drive around my brain finding for Chemistry Stories and watch for a post with some of these in more detail.

  • Origins of chemistry
  • History of chemistry
  • The story of an element
  • Characters  in chemistry
  • The obviously famous chemists
  • The less well known chemists
  • The bad chemists
  • The controversial chemists
  • Preset frontier chemists 
  • Events in chemistry
  • Discoveries in chemistry
  • Inventions in chemistry
  • New products from chemistry
  • Changed ideas in chemistry
  • Prize winning chemists
  • Daft chemists

Some Questions

Q1 If you are a teacher does your subject have great stories? And do those stories bring a magical enchantment to your pupils in your lessons?

Q2 If you are not a teacher, do you remember lessons, or school or teachers and is any of that memory from stories or anecdotes ?

If you work in a church school

Proverbs 1:6.  –for understanding proverbs and parables (stories) the sayings and riddles of the wise

Matthew 13:13     This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘ though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Genesis 39:17 Then she told him this story

 

Great Teacher to successful Middle Leader

Teacher journey mindI have blogged elsewhere about why staff should consider being middle leaders this post is more about the move from great teacher to middle leader. Heads of department, heads of year, i/c of gifted and talented, SENCO, ITT coordinator – a host of roles and most are at the heart of the success (or otherwise) of a school. Successful middle leaders can become successful senior leaders and headteachers – and we need them because in so many aspects they run the school.

First of all I recognise not all great teachers want to be middle leaders – there is an important place for the great teacher who wants to try and stay just that “great”, who enjoys the work of the classroom teacher and should be valued at that -full stop. However schools do need middle leaders, and I want to encourage staff to consider those roles.

Early steps:

Know the job.
imageWork out from the job description what is expected but also talk to others about the role. Start with the head, heads should be willing to set out clearly what they hope from your appointment. Listen and take note and return often to discuss progress. This might be easier with a line manager or SLT but get yourself a mentor, a critical friend, a coach – these may sound like similar roles but they aren’t – they may be performed by the same person but these are all for quiet discussions over coffee or over lunch or after school. They allow you to tell your bothers, concerns, hopes but then to go home challenged and reassured and hopefully uplifted. Gather together the metaphorical tools for the job.

Know your people.
imageExactly who are you responsible for and to? This might be easier for a head of year (tutors) but my view is that all roles are fairly grey. For example as a head of year you are responsible for a year group but that involves tutors and clearly involves parents. You don’t need to announce your arrival, but think over with senior staff/heads how to introduce yourself. For the start, now much more important, learn about people ( staff parents, pupils) and the work they do with you. We have some great middle leaders, in my school, for example our ITT coordinator but at the heart is the ability to connect with key players in the team – the deputy who supports, the head of subject who embraces, champions and understands ITT. There will always be ‘problem people’ those who don’t respond, those who aren’t keen but in the early days don’t worry about them as much as those who will support you and encourage you and expect greatly of you.

Communicationimage
You don’t need posters, or video footage, staff will know via the usual channels and the last thing we all need is a meeting with you, but think about the most effective ways to communicate – email, presentations, notes on the school platform, letters etc My view in your early days is to talk to people. Never use “all staff” email, if you need a message to everyone talk to others or SLT how they do that effectively. They key word is effectively. Communication is vital in schools but often those who didn’t empty their pigeon holes don’t read their email – so don’t worry about them as much as those who do read, listen and act. Once you have them on board others will pick up and those who miss probably miss other stuff and that’s a job for SLT or headteachers to deal with, not you. Remember your aim is to ease everyone’s workload by your role, not to increase it.

Priorities.
e devicesTeaching is a never ending job. You will always have areas to develop, aspects frustrating you and ideas you never seem to get sorted. Stop worrying. You’ve been appointed because people believe in you. Just get on with the tasks and pick the tasks at the core of the job and do them to the very best and highest standards. Don’t duck any important issues and get the important routines up and running. It isn’t a bad place to start with the present systems and use them to deliver the role. Your reflective journal will be vital to help here – nothing better than a note that “this would be better done if …..everyone had the dates in advance” – so get that on the school calendar for next year.

Keep a reflective diary
picjumbo.com_HNCK3576I am very keen on this! Reflections help us to improve and help us note issues which need changing and yet so often we become “socialised to” – by which I mean early on in a job staff often wonder why does the school do stuff like that? And after a short while we become socialised and just say Oh OK let’s carry on in that routine. A reflective journal helps halt that and bring effective change. I once mentored a new SLT member and made him email me a paragraph every week. He was reluctant bu in the end it be an=me an effective and hugely humour out journal which saw much change and saw much “stay the same” on that reflective analysis.

Put on your imprint.
sparklerYou do need to make your imprint preferably within the first year. Don’t look for a hugely better way of doing things, jobs are just like schools, quite complex, but early on understand the role as we said and now make your imprint. Make it in simple ways, and make it simple – for example, a brief email at the end of term to colleagues thanking them; postcards home to pupils who succeeded, or maybe some celebration and invite SLT or the head – maybe a story for the school website. A short slot at INSET – trumpet our success or better use other colleagues to do so – especially if you have a colleague who has piloted your ideas with you, get them to share that effectively.

Feedback
I try and ask a question after a term and after a year in the job. “How is it going?” My bottom line would be – “no disasters and the role understood and being developed.” My top line would be ” pupils and staff are very pleased with the way this person is working because…” I would start with the views of those closest to the role eg the geography staff about the new Head of Geography or a sample of Y11 pupils and Y11 tutors for the new Head of Y11. BUT I am not expecting the finished article. Jobs take about 3 years to be fully understood assimilated and done routinely well and effectively. Are we on track?

Learn from others
You have a coach, or you found one, you have some line managers or SLT you are answerable to, but you need a ‘friend’. Dig out a colleague who you can confer in, and who you can let off steam to, and who can advise you from their experience. So if your middle leader role is head of year, find another head of year, you are a new head of dept, find another relatively new one. Ask them how they learnt, ask what CPD went well, what CPD they had, what else they wished they knew about. Don’t jump at the opportunity for the first course on middle leadership – best place to learn the initial stuff is….in school. However schools can be bad at telling you what is around the corner and may be just assume you know – for example “check exam entries” we all know that is coming but what does it really mean – ask this colleague or else ask the exams officer but seek…. done once it will be fine second time around and you’ll probably develop new aspects in year three. Hence my 3 years to get to be great.

Two warnings:

1) You are paid most of your salary for being a professional classroom teacher. You do have responsibilities (new ones) and they may well hijack you during the school day. However never lose sight of the day job: planning lessons delivering lessons, marking work, feedback and assessment. Just keep a vital perspective – if you have a team of staff relying on your prep or decision get that done first, then prep your lessons. Just don’t neglect classroom duties

2) I think there is a considerable difference between internal promotions and external ones. In the former case you already know the people around to help you, the potentially awkward ones and the children, you should be aware of your community. So your day to day work as above is relatively straightforward. However if you are moving school it’s pretty well back to square one. Learning a new set of systems, learning and contributing to a new ethos, learning about a lot of children, understanding a different community. However you should be able to bring your great teaching into operation so the big part of your role is, well should be OK. Nevertheless there will be expectations and you need to quickly find a colleague who will work alongside you, sharing with you in the role, helping you learn the new systems that operate. I have seen a few staff struggle badly when moving school, perfectly competent and sometimes outstanding classroom practitioners but the new school is just that: a new school, and needs time to understand the role, the people and policies. If you have a new colleague joining your school -look out for them, help them, and in due time they will be as good as those who appointed them thought but if you expect them up to speed in week one think again.

The secret to a Sixth former’s success

image1 Bury your head in the sand

This is the style of the lesser spotted modern Ostrich student, who pops their ear phones in and ignores the reality of the world around them. They are behind with work, and confused in some subjects. But listening to music and playing level 145 candy crush is a safer bet than tackling the work.image

2 Ignore deadlines and forget to plan

Douglas Adams the successful author of the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Universe said he loved deadlines, he loved the whooshing sound as they passed by. The great thing is to ignore them, bluff you didn’t know (when you know you did) and be busy with something else: candy crush 146. Now your teachers go on about being organised, so here’s a thing, stop worrying about organising stuff. Just try and turn up here and there with files of paper and smudged make up and the odd tear (onions, use onions they are good). The trick is to make the teacher really glad you are actually there, so a lack of the right folder/papers is just fine, and you’ll get away with it.

3 Skive a lesson

Be smart here, it can’t be a lot just the odd one. Especially as stuff is all on SIMS and texts get sent home. You might be able to feign being sick to friends who might pass the message on. Be a careful  actor though.

4 Avoid eye contact with staff.untitled

It’s when the question is straightforward like ‘Who can recall photosynthesis?’ Make sure you have pen in hand, jot down something on paper ( anything at all, most pupils find a Christmas present list or favourite curry dishes is a good start). Point the top  of your head at the teacher. No way do you want to be answering questions especially now the class is 15 not 30

5 Hand in shoddy incomplete work, preferably shuffled with work from different subjects

Drop files on the floor, at home in school, with your peers. This is called peer revalues, you lend work for marking and don’t  get it back. You tell Miss that you friend marked it, gave it an A+++ and once you get it back you will pass it on but if she would just add that mark to sims. Hang on, you know she will forget. there is an added spin off here, you can also pull the wool over the ‘interested parent’ here. Recycle old work to make sure the file looks full, or weighs a lot. You also need to purchase those specialist printers, you know the ones that are 100% reliable until you tell them this is “coursework” and they stop working. if they do print your feeble efforts, make sure you leave the USB key somewhere where it won’t be found, or at the very least snarls up when you press “save”. You might just get away with “Miss why does windows update always delete my work *tears* can you help?”

6 Organise dental and other appointments for the lessonappointment calendar

No brainer and heck no one counts these up so you might be able to get a dental appointment every week. Be a bit careful I have a colleague who does tend to spot that on that rate of dental visits your family would be broke or you would have the best set of teggies in the world. Dig out those old bottles of tippex too temporarily cover your teeth.

7 Catch that well-known 24hr flu

Only for emergencies but you can get away mid morning after ICT before Maths and get back the next day for your free with your mates. You might need to practice impersonating your Mum on the phone or else that manflu voice.

Fed up that the rest of the class just won't listen

Fed up that the rest of the class just won’t listen

8 Distraction

Listen carefully to your teachers little spillages of personal info and exploit. What football team they support, what car they drive, what social things they might let slip they are doing at a weekend. then exploit this. Monday’s lessons ask them how their team did ( do your research, start the dialogue). Sometimes the wiser headed teacher spots this technique. You must be more subtle. try the clever question when the teacher starts. “Oh Sir I heard that  Shrodinger didn’t have a cat but spent his time solving complex Maths, I tried to solve this equation Saturday evening, can you show me how its done?”  ( never mind the lesson was PE)

9 Do the study for your favourite (easy) subject only

If you do Maths and Chemistry for example and are doing Ok at Maths and badly at Chemistry the trick is to go to all the help sessions for Maths. Counter intuitive I know but this way your ego is boosted and the staff love you and its easy because you can do Maths. By not going to Chemistry you don’t get depressed about just what you don’t get. You don’t see those other clever students who don’t get it which clearly means you are more clever than them. Oh and you know all that background reading and references and posts and links – make sure your computer blocks them.

10 Compare and contrastphoto-1441973270863-189a40107d80

Some students reflect on their progress and learning but you have a much snappier way. you compare yourself to the worst student  in the group. The one absent or shouted at, or daydreaming or who never hands work in , after all at least you are present and correct. Hey and you wear cool clothes that must count, cool clothes.

 

Here is some even better advice from Red Dwarfs Rimmer’s study habits

PS I need to tell you the ctrl alt tab key combination allows you to very quickly bring up a page of work and hide the games/shopping/gambling sites – sweet.

PPS You will be pleased to know in the world of HE University or employment they love excuses!

  • So much they just ignore them. So if you can’t make a deadline you get zero. If you fail an exam and retake, you must pass the retake but the new grade you get won’ t count now. Ohps bang goes that first or 2:1 or ….place.
  • If at work you miss stuff they give you a nice form , AND you don’t even need to fill it in, it’s called a P4561750

Saturday period 3 – Creating a silk purse from a pig’s ear of curriculum change

The old story goes of the man who asks the way to Liverpool and the bystander says, ‘if you want to get to Liverpool mate I wouldn’t start here.’It’s how I feel about curriculum design or lack of it, with the changes to A Levels. BTecs and GCSEs. At the last major revision of A Level in 2000 at least stuff hanged for everyone at the same time, but this time we have the proverbial ‘pig’s ear’. Some ALevels have changed and their AS count for less and need doing at the end of two years even if done after one. But hey shiny new Year 12 students it’s not all your subjects. So schools and colleges grapple with – shall we just do three now, shall we forget the AS for all, for some etc. Meanwhile some subjects have changed at GCSE, well two to be precise Maths and English who will see new grading of 9 to 1.Yes but reporting for the present y10 comes soon – we need to explain that carefully to pupils and to parents, oh and we aren’t really sure what really will happen to the grades. ( Check out the Ofqual postcards -they help)

INSET and training back in 1999 allowed all staff to look at their subjects, advise SLT, think about the best way ahead for the students and discuss together the best way to make decisions. So as I stare at this pig’s ear not of my making I am looking to create a silk purse from this. The big structural stuff is out of our hands but there are still important decisions to make about which courses for the best

Simplistic_Refined_11. Don’t pick for grades. We don’t know about the grades but we do know ofqual take charge.  Boards subjects apparently achieving higher numbers of A and A* isn’t “easier” it’s about the profile of those taking the subject with that board. At A Level the highest number of A* and A are from Maths – it doesn’t mean Maths is easy or your heads of sixth form recommend everyone does Maths as it’s the best way to get an A.

2 Look at content. Carefully examine the content, does it suit your pupils, does it suit your teachers. How does it compare to past content. My guess in most subjects is that its much the same – Science subjects especially but there are twists – do you like them. In Chemistry if we have a chunk of nanotechnology do we welcome that or not? In some subjects this may not be the case so do you welcome the content or gasp in horror. Think about delivering content by all your teachers and across all the abilities.

Autumnal fruits

Autumnal fruits

3 Look at assessment. It’s not the standard of specimen papers etc it’s the style, the type of questions. The assessment model should test the content but look carefully and think about your pupils. All the pupils the brightest and the weakest who will be studying. In the end, assessment models deliver the fruits, or not.

 

 

 

4 Look forward and backwards. How does this course prepare your pupils for what they do next. if this is KS4 how does it prepare well for Btec or A Level and then beyond into the worlds of work and further study. downloadLook back at your KS3 courses. Of course these may yet need a tweak but if you love the content and outcomes of your KS3 then how well does this dovetail. This is a bit more pig’s ear than silk purse at the moment as you are changing GCSE but not KS3 -however the decisions you make at KS4 will stay for several years and no one likes a change of spec-worth a careful think. To some extent the definitions of KS3 4 and 5 are artificial – think like that to help you decide. AND don’t forget the added complexities of post 16 funding as some BTec are weighted in different ways. [Paul Hanks @The_Data_Adonis is worth following at the least and worth contacting for advice on funding issues post 16 too.]


imageimage5 Resources
. It would be naive to ignore your bank of resources or the resources on offer from the Boards. I guess this means a default starter being the spec you study now. However your job is to teach, help the pupils  learn and a massive desire to inspire. Do those results or your creative juices excite you – do they make you want to teach this tomorrow?

6 People You probably aren’t making this decision on your own , you have to bring other staff in your dept along with you. So check the dept view, check the other networks you are in; maybe professional groups like the ASE or local networks or teaching alliances. Also think about using twitter; you can create a list and add those other ‘history teachers’ to it and get chatting. Perhaps you attend teachmeets and ask trusted people what they are choosing and why. Remember it’s your call so don’t decide because someone with 2400 followers says so, just pick a few brains and move from the foggy grey to a black and white conclusion.

Patron Saint of lost causes - St Jude

Patron Saint of lost causes – St Jude

Finally then jot down your reasons. Get ready to share with the dept with SLT, the Headteacher and possibly governors. You need two or three reasons why you chose them and two or three why rejecting the others. In fact not just for the dept for your conscience and for the pupils to be rocked and rolled.

In the end whatever “others” do to us as teachers, we must use the tools we have to do the very best for the children and young people we teach, and do you know what? We usually do.

part 4 – from good teaching to great teaching



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I am deliberately avoiding calling this “Good to Outstanding”. Ofsted can do what they wish but I want to see great teaching and learning and do very often. We teachers always try and produce good lessons and positive learning but we have bad days, pupils have bad days; whole school stuff disrupts, SLT disrupt! However we can consider moving from good to great with a sustainable manageable approach, bringing inspiration, inspiration, inspiration – that get’s pupils learning by definition! Here are my top ten:

 

1 Great teachers know their subject inside out

Not only do they have good knowledge of their specifications, they have a wide grasp of their subject. They understand it very well, they can apply ideas and synthesise them. This is not about pedagogy (yet) it’s about wisdom in the subject. It’s about keeping up to date, reading, identifying interesting stuff in the news or other media. It’s about maintaining a network of contacts to follow the latest developments. It might even be about visiting places of interest like museums or going to lectures, of picking up podcasts. It might even mean rereading text books. Always try to find time to read and expose yourself to new stuff in your subject.

 

imagesCA5QXQ852 Knowing the tough topics and lessons

It takes time to suss out what pupils find hard and of course it varies by ability and age but this is the next critical aspect to make a sustainable difference. What topics pupils find hard and challenging ; what skills they need that prove difficult to develop. Its about knowing the best introductions to topics, the best conclusions, the most effective assessments ( formal or informal) that help build confidence and show the teacher what needs to be done next. Our big duty as teachers of KS4 and KS5 exams is to ensure our pupils know what they have to do to achieve a given grade and then teach them to those standards. Be absolutely clear what they must do to get that A* or that E whatever is appropriate. Phrases like “they need to work harder” or “just understand more” are probably correct but of little value to the pupil who is willing and works hard. However knowing what they need to know and do, we work backwards to build that into the day to day week by week lesson plans. I’m not keen on lots of past papers and exam practice I’m very keen on my students understanding my subject. This is a big challenge when we all face new specs but hang it we all face that – so look out for blogs, read exam boards support stuff and  well much won’t change – if pupils find equilibrium difficult now in the GCSE spec, they probably will next year with the new spec.
3 Maintain enthusiasm, humour and jazz

imagePupils love a teacher who knows their stuff, they enjoy the relevant anecdote or story telling and they like a touch of humour. (Great teachers do not grow old they just lose their class) They like to try and distract you and …you know it. You have taught for a good while now, so you know what works, what goes down well and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Hone and refine the skills – you should feel like the conductor of the orchestra.

4 Know your pupils inside out

G0414677Some of the older pupils you taught when younger or came across in your football team or orchestra, maybe even had a run in as a head of year. You might well have taught an older sibling. So you understand the dynamics of the family and you know how they are likely to respond and for those you don’t know so well, you know your school community better. You also know how to handle the reactions. If you have to call home about homework there are after all only a few responses from parents: “thank you for telling us/so what/we don’t have any issues from other staff it must be you”. So you know what to say in response, you know who else to mention on the SLT if necessary. Exploit this to raise standards, to flush out more work and better quality work. All that investment in the craft of the classroom over recent years should after all bear fruit. It really isnt a blank canvas. You should know the G&T the SEND and more-so you should know what works and what doesn’t, so take it in your stride.

5 Systems

You know all ISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006of the school systems such as those for behaviour management and discipline those for reporting problems and those for reporting achievements and awards and merits etc. You know when reports are due and mocks or tests come along BUT by now you should be able to work a system which suits you and your subject. No whole school assessment system can suit every subject, so where do you need to branch out? When do you need your own mock, when do you need an extra assessment. You also know the rhythm of school and seasons, for example it’s not a good idea to leave a really difficult 3 week topic to mid winter; you know when illness is at its worst and can sort out work around it. You have a sense of the need for a really really outstanding lesson to lift spirits ( yours and theirs). You know what to do about ill pupils, about those who get stuck ( see me after the lesson? – not really going to work is it; what does work?). So within this class this group add a layer of your own systems to supplement the schools

6 Confidence and Resilience image

You can be confident in the classroom, a confident teacher, a confident behaviour manager, a confident leader. Ooze that confidence to your pupils and ooze it so much that your pupils pick it up. They need more confidence and resilience, make sure you pass that on to. How? Well by inspiring their progress and pointing out how far they have come -as much as the distance they still have to go. Help develop them as independent learners; it wont be easy and it definitely wont be less work but it will likely be a greater impact on their state of mind. Tell them -this topic is tricky and tell them when they’ve got it and of course when they have not got it. They need to go into your exam full knowing a) this subject is tricky b) I have to work hard but I have worked hard and c) I have been well prepared and can perform. It’s no different to the big football game or England vs Australia for the world cup ….oh hang on.

Then there is resilience, the ability to cope with stuff thrown at you and designed to throw you. You cope quite well with that, have a think how you do so, think what wisdom has brought you to the point of coping better now than the last time you faced that issue. You need to bottle this, not least for yourself ( see end of post) but also to start to work out how to pass this on to those pupils who need to develop it all too.

7 Activities and resources

You have plenty now, as above you know what works and what is still weak. Look ahead if that Powerpoint didn’t work last year it needs a tweak. That lesson which was rather boring and lost the pupils, does it need something extra. SOmetimes though, be frank the topic is boring the lesson can be boring and this bit of learning is boring that’s how it is but you should know this now.You alos know the subtle bits, you know sometimes that some content isn’t covered so well and needed more time but it’s now time for revision. OK you are the wise professional balance the time carefully for the pupils. When they say ” have we finished the spec yet?” reply confidently “not quite yet but we will and more importantly how do you feel your understanding of the spec is going?”

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8 Talk, converse, chat, discuss…..

I have taught for 34 years but I still love chatting Chemistry to my colleagues. Still asking what I might do to improve. Still observing an NQT or a student and thinking that is clever. Still talking about classes. I recently had a Y13 who were very quiet and so I spent much time with a colleague discussing what we might try to do, even discussed them with other subject staff. Talk to SENCO, talk to HoYr talk to parents and most important talk to the pupils. Check you spend as much time talking children and subjects as you do moaning about me (the head/SLT) or the government or the weather. However do have a moan. we all need that.

9 Data, pupils or surprises

imageYou must know by now there is a lot of data for you. FFT (new)  Sims, prior knowledge and especially exam board performance data on question level etc etc Use it but not without care or discrimination.  Your own analysis of previous pupils performance tells you a lot – do they do better on exams or coursework; this bit of this unit is really challenging. When you check how your pupils performed on Q3 of paper 1 last year that was to inform you as to what to do this year – the same or different. Yes maximise those marginal gains. Data should show no surprises. I had a conversation the other day ” We were disappointed not to get more A*”. Should some pupils have got A*? Did they get A* in other subjects? Were their various targets A*? If the answer was their prior performance  predicted no A*, like everyone be the optimist and sure “aim high” we all need that. However stop beating yourself up, be realistic, be of sober judgment, sure aspire, we heads love all that but the job needs to be sustainable and enjoyable as well as all the inflicted pressures – try not to add to that yourself or on your colleagues. However more important then being level 5b or blue ladder 6 or smiley face yellow is “you know this, understand that can do the other and NOW to improve you need to do this….” Knowing pupils not knowing data is critical. Data should avoid surprises – I had no idea she was that good/bad/struggling etc

10 Inspire, Reward and Challenge……and honesty

You teach a great subject, yes? You teach generally great pupils yes? You know how the classroom heart beats yes? Good, good, now capitalise on all that inspire them, praise them and when they slip challenge them or when they get it challenge them even further. Oh and you make a few mistakes, the odd idea doesn’t work – you are big enough now to admit it, share it and sort it, not under the table but on the table.

other responsibilities

My last point isn’t advice but challenge. My guess is you also have responsibilities three

1 Family – don’t neglect your rightful duties to families not just children but parents and grandparents too and friends who need you. It’s a challenge

2 Other responsibilities in school . After 4/5 years you might well have other responsibilities: pastoral as a heads of year or academic as a subject lead or other jobs like student mentor etc etc. You need to fulfil these duties swiftly, clearly and deftly but the key difference you make is as a classroom teacher and that is in the day to day in the classroom.

3 Yourself. I’ve seen too many people who end up burnt out, or cynical or the poorer in the job. It’s never simple to say why but make sure you look after yourself. Personally this is the one I find hardest. Getting to the gym, taking enough time off, reading for pleasure etc etc check out the #teacher5aday and enjoyreading what others are thinking about and doing and check yourself. Why not get a critical friend to help you? My previous head often emailed me at 10pm saying get off that **** computer and talk to the family.

imageAND be uplifted to be a GREAT teacher isnt even rocket science you can do it and be the great teacher you can be.

 

 

 

part 3 – from NQT to RQT

This is a bit new, even to me, the term RQT presumably a “Recently Qualified Teacher ( as opposed to retired, or rare, reformed, regular, revolutionary , and hopefully not yet a regretfully ..this could go on.

So with a full year (or maybe two) under the belt, what now?

1 Improve your teaching

You should be confident by now that you can sort out basic issues with learners. Like behaviour and background disruption. these are never going to go away but the mistakes of PGCE/training and even the odd error of judgment last year are put behind. By all means read, research, listen and then try new things but the basics of classroom craft should be learnt. Now ask yourself ” is there a better way to teach X or Y”. Relentlessly try to improve your teaching.

2 Improve the lot of learnerspareto_principle_improve

You have many resources, you might have a Y11 class following  their Y10 time with you and therefore new content but a majority will have been taught once. Get those reflective planners at the ready and where you put *** Must improve this if I ever do it again then…improve it. Oh you didn’t do that annotation, shame! Still revisit and re-edit and talk to experienced staff. You have tried one activity in the classroom to help learners on this unit/topic, so what else might work? Really work out what works in your classroom for different groups: SEND Gand T, PP, EAL after all you know the acronyms and know the children so sort out even better learning experiences for them. You are the true professional now…nearly.

Oh and another important matter, you have taught some of these youngsters before. You know their family a bit but you know them well, you know what they find hard or easy; a richer information than any data number – so really rock and roll in pushing their learning. It will not be easier, if anything it’s harder but it’s much much more effective teaching.

3 Keep even better records

Plan, annotate, add resourceIMG_2499s and spend a bit of time searching for new ones. Talk more with staff and pick their brains. think and plan ahead, ask around, join twitter or the TES forums and networks, get to a teachmeet. Hey throw that weight around and move from good to great!

 

 

4 Share

You felt like you were the end of the queue, and you were but you aint no more, so share your idesparkleras of what worked too. Do that in department meetings, tutor team meetings and mostly just in conversations in the staffroom. build some self confidence as a teacher professional in helping others. I had a great RQT colleague a few years ago and she showed me some new resources and ideas….yep teach the old dogs in school, new tricks.

5 Volunteer

You might have a label RQT but most pupils think you are a wise, experienced and knowledgeable member of staff. SO get stuck into some new things this year, take on a bit of responsibility that you are genuinely interested in. it could be extra curricular, sport drama music. It could be within the dept, there is plenty to do: use of data, work with EAL or SEND pupils. help with the planning of a new GCSE or a new  A Level. It might be within the pastoral work? are their seeds of your first promotion in getting to know much more about…..x, then get on with it.

6 Stimulation

The last two years had pressure now it’s you as an autonomous teacher ploughing ahead in the fields to plant in the minds of enthusiasm sat before you. What challenges do you need for yourself? Which classes have had a bit of a raw deal from you? tackle them. Check out the teacher standards, identify your weakest three areas and sort them.

7 TransparencyimageAll of us feel there were things we just about got away with, what were yours and what do you need to do about them? Did you not prepare for a parents evening but fortunately they were mainly pleasant. Did you let a pupil off but they didn’t bring any extra issues? Did the head ask for something and you forgot but heck so did she? What things must you do better?

8 Challengechallenge

Teachers can be professionally socialised by their schools. You have probably been in the same school for a this year and NQT year. There were things surprised you – the Y7 data collection came very early, you wondered why but obviously kept your mouth shut last year. Maybe you jot down a few questions like this to help improve the school. Share with an experienced colleague or even the SLT link you know best. Dont be afraid for a asking a sensible challenging question. there may be a good sensible answer but you might just have asked a really good one.

8 Keep talking

talk-clipart-RTAk5EqTLThe PGCE or training courses (remember them) have structures to support and help and encourage you. So too, NQT year BUT now you have made it to RQT and they all disappear. No more meetings about you it all becomes informal ( save number 9 below). So please keep talking to those you have found helpful or found as critical friends.

 

 

9 Performance Management

You now come under the appraisal umbrella. Chat to others about how it works, read the school documents. Do not see it as a threat, just find out what others do, prepare for you first meeting with an appraiser, who will hopefully know you well. Maybe look at what I said in 6 above and ask for some extra training in an area, or try and spend a lesson observing someone to fit the direction of travel you have set. Oh you haven’t set a direction? Shame cos in the rough and tumble of teaching if you don’t choose, the winds will blow you around.
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