Please don’t ask your students where they went during the summer…..

As I’ve spent most of the summer packing up my house and moving, as well as saving money for various bits and bobs for said move, we didn’t actually get away abroad this year (I know, you can hear the violins, right?!). This summer though, simply reminded me of the ones of my youth, in NI, living in a family of 8, where you NEVER got to go abroad. Nope, no way, never. So, back then, 8 weeks of summer holidays was a very long time. Time spent laying in late, watching TV, playing around outside, just doing what you could in the manner of trying to entertain yourself. We must have driven my mother mad……..Don’t get me wrong, I had a great childhood, the beauty of having 5 siblings is there’s always someone to play with (or wind up!) and we did go on day trips sometimes (oh, the days of cramming lots of kids into a car without enough seatbelts for everyone!) and we lived in lovely countryside where you’d go off exploring, or on your bicycle and you’d usually end up finding some kittens (don’t ask!). My parents did their best for us all and I have never felt that I “missed out” on anything simply because I didn’t get to go abroad.

Anyways, my point was, I hated those long summers. I loved seeing the “back-to-school” adverts on the TV, as I counted down the days to getting back to school, to seeing my friends, to having a purpose again, to just simply be doing “something”. What I used to dread though, was the inevitable 1st day “tasks” set by teachers, to write/discuss where we went during the holidays, or “icebreaker- talk to the person beside you about what you did during the summer”, or even “Human bingo: Find someone who went to Mexico, went to Spain” etc etc. I dunno why they bothered anyways, it was always obvious who had been away, the tans made that pretty clear, but each year I’d think to myself “English teacher/Form teacher (whoever!), I told you last year, we didn’t go anywhere!! Grrrrr” and I’d end up making something up, just to not feel like a leper. I couldn’t even escape it in French; “Qu’est-ce que tu as fait pendant les grandes vacances?” Argh! Unfortunately, kids being kids, there’d be some sniggers from some who’d be like “what do you mean you didn’t go on holiday? Are you poor?”

Anyways, I made a pact with myself that I’d never put any of my students in that awkward position, because we don’t always know what our students’ home lives are like. We do know, that for some students, school is a sanctuary, a crucial routine in their lives and there are students who can’t wait to be back. Perhaps, like I was, they’re tired of being the “on-call” babysitters and want to do something for themselves. Who knows? But let’s not make them feel worse by putting them on the spot to talk about something that has been and gone by the time you ask. The ones who do want to volunteer where they went and what they did, will always find a way. The others? Just move on. They’ll appreciate that. Believe me.

Seating Plans

There has been a bit of talk on Twitter about seating plans-  are they useful or actually a hindrance? Even, are they a sign of a teacher who is actually unable to control a class? I don’t think so. I, am not ashamed to admit; love them. I have always used them. Even my form class have a seating plan. They just work (for me). I find they help keep order in the classroom. If the students see that they need to sit where you decide, well isn’t that just the first step towards demonstrating to them who is in charge? Yes, I’m not afraid to say, as the teacher, I AM in charge of the classroom (darn straight). My students WILL learn and make progress, but when it comes to deciding things, sorry, but I’m the one in charge and that’s just the end of it. Yes I do, as a “reward” allow them to choose where to sit on some days, but that is an earned reward and the students respond well to it. I have also, as a bright-eyed NQT, allowed the students to try the whole “Ok, so, I don’t know you yet, so please choose who to sit with and make sure to choose wisely, otherwise I will know you’ve made the wrong choice and will be forced to choose for you”. All the while, the students fight every natural urge not to offend their friends and not sit with them (the end result is that they can’t help themselves and invariably always choose to sit with or near their closet friends). You can’t blame them! They’re kids! Of course they want to sit with their friends, I did when I was at school!

On INSET Days, sometimes whoever is running the session decides the seating arrangements. Now, this *does* annoy us, because, as a staff, sometimes we are happiest being insular and sitting in our faculties/with the colleagues who we get on best with. However, what happens when we do that? We chat. And we don’t listen (sometimes!). But when we have to sit where we’re told? We’re out of our comfort zone. We’re forced to speak to and work with people we might not ordinarily do so with. We (probably) work better and more effectively.

So there, I will always be for the seating plan. It’s the easiest and first piece of advice I give to all my new NQTs and trainees. I am sure they shall continue to create debate. I do think, though, that teachers should be allowed to use what works for them and their students. You know them. And if you don’t know them yet, do a seating plan!!!

Not marking everything!

We made a (radical) decision in our faculty a couple of months ago; we sat down and said to each other “we’re actively not going to mark everything the students do. It’s impossible”. When I relayed this to my SLT link, naturally, he looked at me; puzzled. I don’t blame him. With pressure from Ofsted and even, our parents, to “mark the books”, he couldn’t understand what I was saying when I said we won’t be marking as much. What would be different, I said, is that while the marking would be noticeably reduced, it would be, I assured him; BETTER.

Inspired by lots of DIRT marking and seeing so much meaningful student reflection from colleagues on Twitter, I knew this was what was currently missing in our school/faculty policy. Also, though, as a HOF, I was mindful that my colleagues were struggling at marking fortnightly, because of the sheer volume of work that was in the students’ books. In MFL, our exercise books are an integral part of the students’ learning. We use them for EVERYTHING. Listening tasks, reading tasks, textbook exercises, translations, noting new vocab, speaking prep, homework, mind maps, writing exercises, you name it, we (probably) do it! So, as teachers, when we were collecting in these books, to keep SLT and Ofsted happy, we were always trawling through masses of recorded work and to “mark” it, meant, quite simply, “Tick and Flick”. We knew that everything we did already gets assessed in class, whether peer or self- everything gets a NC Level, where possible, and this is recorded on their progress tracking grid in the front of their books and on our in-house system. Homework is always marked by the teacher and gets a www/ebi, 2, summative assessments are done every 1/2 term. The work WAS being marked, and recorded, but obviously, we needed to do checks, to try and sort out potential problems with presentation of work, recording vocabulary, constructing sentences etc etc.

So, to show the student that we do care about their work, and want to see it, but also to ensure that staff didn’t feel pressurised by the sheer volume of work and so, turned to “tick and flick”, we decided that we’d do something called “moderated marking”. We would choose a sample of classwork, stamp the top of the page with a stamper that we bought saying “this classwork has been moderated by my teacher” and we do this every 2 weeks. We scan through the students’ classwork, looking for any errors in spelling, verbs etc (in line with faculty literacy policy), checking students record the date, title, LO and underline it (in accordance with school policy) and sample the understanding from that classwork, depending on what the LO was. it could be, therefore, presumed that if a student is showing lack of understanding, of say, past tense verbs because that’s what was looked it, it’s likely that they’re repeating that error throughout their book, and so it needs to be “tackled” as a formative target. At the end of that section of marking, a target to address what has been seen, is written and a highlighted box is drawn to probe the students’ understanding of their target and how they could make their work even better. This gets done when the books are returned to the student next lesson. Then, in 2 weeks’ time, the teacher can go back to this box and the dialogue begins. This is so much more powerful because it’s personalising the marking and, because it’s more manageable for the teacher, than marking 5 or 6 entire lessons worth of class work, it makes you, the teacher actually ENJOY marking again!

So, while, there will be pages in the exercise book which LOOK like they haven’t been marked, simply because they might not have a little green tick at the bottom of the page….tick and flick marking has no place in any robust marking policy. You may as well just leave it blank than do “tick and flick”.

Less volume-based, but frequent and more detailed marking, is a much better idea, in my opinion. I will post back how we get along, when we fully implement this in September (I’ve currently trialled it with my own classes and as a result I like marking again!). Now, I just have to wean students and parents off of “tick and flick”…..!!!

The future? What we do plan to do, is to take this moderated marking further, and to say to students at the end of the lesson, “ok, I am collecting your books in to sample today, can you go through what we’ve done either in today’s lesson or look back at the last 2 weeks and choose a lesson you want me to sample. At the bottom of this page, explain why you want me to look at this, what do you need further help with?” and get the students to feel more ownership over what gets marked, and why.

Hope this makes sense! I have attached our faculty policy, should any one want to have a closer look. Please post back with how you balance the fact that work does have to be marked, along with sustainable workload for staff and students.

Modern Foreign Languages Faculty Assessment and Marking Policy

Why go to a show?


While on the train to Birmingham, I posted on facebook that I was enjoying my first class seat (is there any other way to travel!? ha ha.) I was heading to the Education Show 2015. Almost immediately, I had a friend interject with a comment that he thought taxpayers’ money should be spent at grassroots level, in the classroom, on the children, and not on “jolly outings to events, in 1st class”. So there I was, thinking “woooaaahhh”, I put him in his place and said that I PAID for my own travel ticket, I’m going on a weekend and the event is free to attend, as it’s sponsored by educational companies. Result. Checkmate 🙂

This got me thinking then, about why it is that teachers and other people involved in schools give up part of their weekends to attend some of the many educational conferences out there? Surely it’s not for the freebies!? A friend and I were joking about the absurdity of people being excited at free pens. I mean, they’re not expensive, pens, are they? We can buy our own any time we want to, no!?!

3 separate events were trending at the weekend; EdShow15, LanguageWorld15 and ASCL2015, so that is quite a few teachers involved in giving up part of their weekend. But why do they do it?

The answer is, maybe, why not?! Personally, having only ever attended 2 education shows (both of them so far, this year) I have to admit, I didn’t really know much about them, but now I think I know why we do it. It’s brilliant to be able to see new technologies and ideas, in real-life and get to ask more questions about them. It’s inspiring to see what some teachers are doing in their own classrooms and get ideas which we can take immediately back into ours, straight away, come Monday. It’s reassuring to hear someone speak; whose ideas align with your own, or challenge you to see things in another way. It’s informative to keep up with the latest discussion and changes in a fast-paced profession, like ours. I personally also think it’s just nice to meander around the stalls and get to grips with your own thoughts and practice, in a job where you’re always thinking about others.

Let’s also not forget how great it can be to connect with colleagues and people you’ve met on Twitter and share ideas in real life. If you’ve never been to a show, I highly recommend giving one a go, but do go armed with an idea of what you hope to get out of it. Plan your visit in advance and charge your phone! Take note of who’s speaking and aim to see as many talks as you’re interested in. Perhaps also, don’t do what I did and start with Bett as your 1st one; the Education Show is much more wide-ranging, whereas Bett (although fantastic) is VERY tech-heavy and can, perhaps, be quite daunting and confusing for a newbie.

Finally, let’s be honest, everyone DOES love a freebie, don’t they? Even if it is just a pen.

International Women’s Day 2015

At school, I was offered a form activity slot (like an assembly slot, but done in the classroom with the form groups) for the week of the 2nd March. Seeing this coincided with the week of International Women’s Day 2015 on the 8th March, I jumped at the chance.

I am passionate about getting our young people to rethink the society they’re in and especially with the huge media impact on the status of women and their role in society.

Hopefully my presentation will make the students think twice about women’s rights and equal rights for all.

Some help for this resource was taken from users of the TES website, who I acknowledge and thank here. INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY FORM ACTIVITY 2015