Friday, 19 June 2015

Why I'm a proud magpie

"When ideas are shared, the result is always greater than the sum of the parts" Rich Willis

I have never set myself up as an original ideas person, I'm a magpie and proud of it. One of the great joys of my role as Teacher Tutor is chatting to the new staff and the students who come through our doors. Their 'homework' for our meetings is to bring an idea to share. I love hearing about pedagogical gems and observing others to inspire me in my teaching. 

I am also somewhat addicted to reading educational books to glean inspiration from them. My shelf in school is laden with books I have read and covered with highlighter and post-its as well as more I intend to read this summer. I lose myself for hours on Pinterest checking out ideas for my teaching, I have to set myself a time limit on the TES resources site and I am pretty active on the MFL resources forum. And as for Twitter... 

I cannot begin to describe the impact that Twitter has had on my development as a teacher. Firstly, it is one big, supportive staff room with loads of ideas, humour and support. It has also introduced me to the #mfltwitterati and to the #niedchat guys. Tweets on there have taken me over to Southampton, Newcastle, London and York, amongst others, mainly at my own expense, to share CPD with other like-minded teachers. And the ideas I have learned about have filled me with passion for my subject and for learning in general. The friendships I have made with other #mfltwitterati teachers are a constant source of support and a sense of "we're all in this together" We bounce ideas off each other, we tease each other, we get a buzz out of sharing with each other. 

Similar tweets led to the birth of Teachmeet Belfast, #niedchat and now #niedcamp. It is awe-inspiring to collaborate with fellow educators for the love of teaching and learning. And I love that it is happening in Northern Ireland. There is such a buzz starting about sharing ideas and getting to know other teachers. There is a sense of community. The word is spreading. 

It is a source of immense pride and joy to me that after 19 years of teaching, I am still enthused by the learning in my classroom and how best to teach and reach all pupils. I love it. It is therefore with pleasure that I am working with the #niedcamp team to help teachers share with teachers, educators inspire educators. 

Are you with us?

Saturday, 7 March 2015

#ililc5 Lisa Steven's Keynote @lisibo Cooking on Gas

The #mfltwitterati legend that is Lisa Stevens who blogs at gave us a splendid Keynote to finish entitled "Cooking on gas"  At times I put my iPad down and just listened and enjoyed so these are rough notes, apologies. Lisa has blogged about her session here

Cooking on gas has different meanings; giddy, really making progress and all is going well.  As Lisa said, we are all teaching different languages, we have different ways of teaching and we teach at different schools. Lisa tweeted re the essential ingredients for a language lesson and here are the replies:

What proportions will you use of the above ingredients in your lessons? 
Are the games the flour or the chocolate chips? What are the essential ingredients? 
Each group is different so therefore you use a different recipe. 
Do you always get the same result from following the recipe? 
We might all do some stuff from this weekend at #ililc5 and not have the same result. 
Cupcakes are a treat, a reward. Our ultimate purpose is to feed and nurture. Is all praise and no correction not going to spoil them if we feed them only cupcakes and no proper food? Is primary language teaching seen like this by some secondary teachers?
Lisa says that pupils need a balanced diet of "yes you're doing well but here's what you're doing wrong" 
She made reference to the Great British Bakeoff where Richard was often the star baker who made the best showstoppers, but he didn't win. Teachers can pull an excellent lesson out on the day for the inspector but their day to day basis can sometimes be poor teaching. Lisa compared teaching to bread - do some kneading, then leave it alone for a bit, the finished product takes a while to get there. 
She then made reference to the infamous scenes from the GBBO with Ian, where there were accusations of sabotage. In the same way, we can feel that losing pupils to music lessons, SATs, sports fixtures etc, you can be left feeling that they are out to get you. And we also feel like throwing it all away. Sometimes things go pear-shaped and we are tempted to never use it again. Don't give up. Sometimes we focus on the wrong thing (ice-cream melts) and actually there are bits that were very good in the lesson. 
Lisa then moved on to Celebrity chefs - what makes them a celebrity chef? Opportunity. Being in the right place at the right time. There are plenty of excellent chefs who aren't famous. We are no less teachers because we aren't talking at the conference and vice versa. 

There are kids who need our attention, it doesn't matter if positive or negative. 

Who is your language hero?  Your A level teacher? Lisa's teacher's pencil case used to come flying across room and it was your turn if it landed on you. She was eccentric but her lessons had great content, She wasn't there to pass an exam, but to make the pupils love Spain and Spanish-speaking countries. She used cultural titbits to keep the pupils engaged. She made kids feel valued and that they could do Spanish. 

There are things pupils are good at and not good at. Pupils need very basic instructions and to know where to look for them. 

Are languages les fruits moches of the curriculum? Are our pupils seen as that? The kids who find it difficult, who struggle, often benefit most from languages.  They often interact more in language, they want to contribute. Yet they are always taken out for extra help. Give him a break, he's enjoying Spanish. Do deals with them, get there. The only reason some pupils behave like that is because they are too bright for that group. 
Cooking well doesn't mean cooking fancy. It's good if it looks nice but it's not essential, that's not what we're interested in. 
Lisa talked about Herman the German friendship cake - people sharing, up to you to take away, make your decision which bit of recipe to use, what flavour etc 
A balanced diet is vital, use tech etc, just judge which tools to use at the right moment. 
Remember that following the recipe doesn't always mean success and you don't have to be famous to be good.  

This was a brilliant Keynote to finish off what was a fabulous and inspiring weekend. To quote Heather from TeachMeet Belfast "We are the people we have been waiting for"

#ililc5 Rory Gallagher @EddieKayshun Spaced Learning

Spaced learning 
I was very excited to hear this session and given the buzz in the room, so were many others. There was a lot of audience contribution and feedback as the session went on. 
As Rory points out, the brain is good at remembering but also at forgetting.  
Spaced repetition Ebbinghaus, 1885 - how do you avoid a drop off of memory? 

 Rory recommended that material be reviewed after one day, one week and one month. One day review makes a big impact so tell them when you would like them to do the HW. The month review is the issue. 

Old school is the Leitner system which they use in Germany (according to someone in the audience) pupils move forward a box as they learn the information. 

Rory asked if we did a test of 20 words and only had 1 min to learn it, what would we do? Suggestions from the audience included:
Make a weird picture in your head, place the objects in the picture. 
Tell yourself a story. 
Categorise words - classic cheat to learn words, more likely to learn a couple per category than 5 total. 

Rory then moved on to talking about Spaced learning, stating that the spaces between the learning are key, as they allow the brain time to process rather than cognitive overload.  It doesn't matter what you do in the rest sessions so long as it's not cognitive. It's good to do something physical. eg get them to follow you down the corridor, get them to think about how they walk, what do their legs do, etc

Here's a quick explanation of Spaced Learning in Languages (not as well expressed as Rory explained it)
1) Using Quizlet flashcards, do 10 minutes quick fire shouting out the TL and English for  c.75 single words. Tell the pupils not to worry about trying to remember them, to just let it wash over them. 
2) Take 10 mins rest doing something non-cognitive like making animals out of paper or Play Doh. 
3) Do 10 -15 minutes quite fast, going back over the flashcards, give them a hook or get them to think of one for as many of the words as possible. 
4) Do 10 minutes of yoga breathing. 
5) 10-15 minutes for the final test of the new information. Give them the flashcard on the board and the whole class shouts out the answer. Try to keep the whole class on board. 
NB A key point is that there is no writing down. 

The problem is the forgetting. According to Rory, kids can remember 30-40 words of the 75 at the end of an hour. They need to consolidate and revisit the vocabulary. 
Rory suggests doing this at the beginning of a chapter. Pull out the easy ones that they already have, depending on the class. Another idea is that you could do phrases e.g. You could do 20 A* CA phrases. 
You can measure progress because you can do a test (maybe for the 3rd session in the lesson) or set HW and do the test the next week. Testing is a good way of memorising. 


Spaced both ways - some key points. 

  • As teachers, we do something and move on, so it's not in their long-term memory, we need to come back to it but just at the right time (one week later and then one month later) 
  • Move on even if not mastered and come back
  • Interleaving (I need to check this out)
  • Drilling the perfect tense for two weeks = brain overload. This is a way round this. 
This session struck an immediate chord with me and after some gentle persuasion on Twitter,  the legend that is Rory Gallagher produced a 5 minute relaxation podcast for me to use in class. Our periods are 35 mins, so I did 30 words, 5 mins Play Doh to make the best animals, 10 mins to go back through the vocab finding hooks, 5 mins relaxation podcast and then a check on recall of the vocabulary. I have already done this with both Upper 6 classes as well as my class of 28 Form 4s (Year 10 in England) and all the pupils were very engaged and felt that it had helped them. I was particularly pleased with their attitude to the podcast, especially given that half of the Form 4 are boys and the potential for chaos was fairly high. I'll let you know the longer-term results and feedback. 

#ililc5 Ryan Hoy @Taisez marking

The above quote is from @marymyatt, an inspector who tweets and blogs.  Ryan asked in his session "How do we mark?" We did a sample marking exercise showing that we use different systems, eg using highlighters, using a code eg circle and W for word 
Pupils have hugely different experiences of marking and they can struggle with this. 

Ryan developed the following system which is now used throughout the school:
Pink for bad and green for really good, code. Leave out stuff that's correct but not really good 

Exp - express it better, explain it more. As Ryan explained, the planning stage is the most important stage. Give success criteria for the question so that pupils know how they can score well.  

In a slight twist on this, I gave U6 their timed essays that they wrote earlier in the week back to them and they went through highlighting their fabby phrases (idiomatic language, connectors, subjunctive, etc) in green and any errors they now spotted in pink. Those who wanted to then swapped with a peer to repeat the process of proof-reading. It will interesting to see what they have picked out when I mark it. 
I think more than anything, the point that resonated with me was on the slide 'no ego-building comments, green is more than enough' I am going to trial this approach and I'll let you know how it goes. 

#ililc5 Ryan Hoy @Taisez Investigative learning

It was lovely to hear a fellow Norn Irishman at ILILC and Ryan delivered a very impressive session on investigative learning. He did his examples using History rather than focus on one language. 

For the first activity, we had to move along the room according to prior knowledge, whereby the top of the room was strongly agree, the centre (where we all landed) was I'm not sure and the bottom of the room was Disagree. We then moved on to the second  task which was in groups. We had to put 8 battles in chronological order. With the clue on the board of "getting to know your neighbours is always a good idea" we quickly realised that only 4 of the cards had the information we needed on them and that we had to talk to another group in order to complete the activity.  Having done this activity, we could respond better to the first timeline now.

John Connor @bootleian  got a shoutout here with his belief (and mine) that we need to move from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. ie we need to move away from giving the pupils everything. The temptation is to give them the answers but that doesn't move them on as effectively in their learning. Ryan also pointed that authentic collaboration is where pupils are working together on a task that genuinely needs more than one pupil to work it out, rather than a group of pupils doing a task that could easily be done by one pupil. 

So what do good investigations have? 
Intense challenge 
Team work/collaboration 
A shared outcome 
Red herrings 

  • Confusion to a) heighten challenge b) induce engagement.                            Engagement not fun, two different things.                                                            Gave them all time activities at the start of the lesson and worked backwards 
  • Extreme challenge (throwing students into the "Learning Pit") throw them in and let them climb out at the end - James Nottingham 
  • Group-based investigation 
  • Independence (silent beginning, cryptic instructions) eg our starter activity here 
  • A roving, "prompting" teacher  - to help them along with 

Ryan ended the session by showing us a 14 minute video which had been recorded over an hour's lesson with him and a class of above average pupils. The key points were: 

  • There were paper signs for start of lesson - Hola and Sentaos por favor, rather than him speaking. 
  • First activity on board - unscrambling. The pupils started to talk to each other. Activity 1 was blue tacked under the desk - the groups had to organise words into sentences. The group discussions were very insightful. 
  • Activity 2 A sentence on the board said "Comparatives always bracket a noun - ¿estás de acuerdo?" (Do you agree?) There were Spanish phrases stuck up round the room. There was an icon of Eyes on the screen as a clue along with a series of comparatives in English to translate.
  • Activity 3 was a series of sentences which started with half Spanish and half English and worked towards full sentences in English to translate into Spanish. 
  • Activity 4 was to rank the drugs from least addictive to most addictive. 
  • Finally there was a Plenary on whiteboard 
This was an excellent lesson and an impressive session overall. The pupils were working at a high level with very little input from their teacher and even those who struggled were engaged with the tasks. I enjoyed this session and look forward incorporating ideas into my lessons. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

#ililc5 Eleanor Abrahams @elvisrunner Challenge and Differentiation

I started to blog about this fab session by the ever-enthusiastic and gifted @Elvisrunner aka Eleanor Abrahams and then realised that my soft-focus photos were no match for her blogpost

Opening with a great quote and a dramatic chair-falling off incident by @lancslassrach, this session was crammed with good ideas for challenge, focusing on 6 key areas.

Eleanor talked about one of my favourite current topics on Twitter, Growth Mindset. 

How do you get their buy-in? How do they say they can do it and believe that? 
 She gave us some tips for having that conversation with the pupils. 

 Eleanor recommended reading "Advancing Differentiation" by Richard M Cash.
She then got us to do the following activity.
1) We had to draw an eye
2) She gave us a set of 5 eyes drawn by hand and told us to select the one that was closest to ours
3) She then asked us did we think we could copy the next-best drawn eye. We set to, with the sample to guide us and the option of a "How to.." photocopied page.
4) Eleanor then asked us did we think our drawing had improved.
This was a way of pointing out how our pupils feel and how we could encourage them better in the tasks we set them. If you put the perfect version on the board at the start, a lot will say "well I can't do that" If you get them to do theirs first then show them how to improve, it empowers them.

Put this map up on the board and ask them to write sentences for the weather forecast. 

Ask them "Which colour best represents your sentence?"
Now give them another go, showing pupils step by step how to improve their work is less upsetting for them. Tapping into Growth Mindset, it's about making them believe they can do it. 

Here Eleanor talked about turning traditional differentiation on its head and providing more of a challenge from the start. 

I used this activity today with Form 2 and it was really successful. It can obviously be used at any level too which is always an advantage. 

All in all, this was an excellent session and I left totally inspired with some wee ideas to put into place immediately as well as more long-term planning to incorporate into our Schemes of Work. 

#ililc5 Rory Gallagher @EddieKayshun Student feedback

In this excellent session, Rory talked about student feedback and teacher attitude to student feedback. Are we honest with ourselves? Do we really want to find out? We also need to qualify what you mean by feedback if you say that you get student feedback. There's a difference between:
Informal - oral, scribbled on paper or exercise books
Formal - structured interviews or surveys 
Do we trust our pupils? 

Here is a holistic overview of what would make a good teacher:

Timing is an issue as usual and you need to consider the ethics of who is going to use that data. However, before you are put off, Rory suggests that we take ownership of this student feedback before it gets imposed on us. The idea of feedback has been made negative and yet it can be a very rewarding process for the teacher and the class.  

The benefit of Rory's toolkit is that it displays strengths and weaknesses by category. Rory talked about radical collegiality - a way of working together, given that there aren't always levels of trust in in departments.  

We go back to the teachers who influenced us at primary school, that and the school are the bias that affect our teaching. Rory said that his aim was to get teachers to borrow the toolkit, try it with their own teaching and share it with a colleague. Then they could share strengths and weaknesses with colleagues to help each other with good practice. 

What are the benefits for the pupils? The moment you ask pupils their opinion seriously, the relationship changes. The moment they see you take their feedback on board, they buy into their learning. 
Rory also talked about listening to the silence, paralinguistics and non-verbal communication. He spoke of mindfulness, being in the moment. In line with several other speakers this #ililc5 weekend, he then talked about nurturing the positive relationships. If you find people are negative, Rory suggests being relentlessly optimistic which generally wears the negative people down. Listen to yourself, slow it down and open up. 
Rory has a Student feedback toolkit on Google Drive. The student survey is anonymous and Rory says it is vital to check with school that you can gather anonymous data in case of disclosures. 
You need to decide if you are doing it as a department or on your own, with all pupils or just one Key Stage. Finally you need to consider how will you share the feedback with the kids. 
Getting student feedback is about taking control of your job and your professional development. I did a similar thing years ago with Transforming Learning and I am excited to do this and see where it takes us. I'll keep you posted...