Sunday, 18 March 2012

A/A* GCSE conference

Friday afternoon is not the ideal time to enthuse 60 GCSE students about revision, but that is the task I've been charged with, and the free lunch and goodie bag of revision aids does help. The students are off timetable and individually invited by letter to raise the status of the event.

Rather than bang on about revision techniques, this afternoon is aimed at what it really takes to get the top grades. The sessions include:

Using Music to Aid Memory
Using Art to Analyse
The Internal and External Locus of Control
Time Organisation
SOLO Taxonomy - Relational and Extended Abstract Thinking

There is also an introductory video with 6th Formers talking about what did / didn't work for them.

It is all delivered by staff at the school. The Time Organisation session, voted one of the best, is delivered by a Faculty Support Manager and is a version of CPD delivered to teachers at one of our learning fairs.

Last year it went extremely well, the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive with all the sessions scoring 3.5 or more out of 5 for usefulness. After Easter, all students except one (but there is always one) said they had used something they had learnt to help revise over the holiday and something from the goodie bag.

The goodie bag includes:
Post-it notes
Coloured pens
File cards
Memory sticks
Key ring memo blocks (from Muji)

The most popular being the file cards and the least the memory sticks (which happily flies in the face of claims that only flash, expensive things appeal to kids!)

Well, I hope it goes as well this year as last. Our A/A* results increased significantly. Of course it's impossible to tell how much this contributed to it, but I like to think it played some part.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

PETER paragraphs replace poor performing PEE

Yes, I enjoyed writing the title.

Never having been entirely happy with students PEEing down the page, (not because it's slightly naughty - that's great) I've recently changed the way I've been teaching essay writing for years.

The problem with PEE (Point Evidence Explanation) is that students don't get the 'Explanation' part. The well-trained amongst them will dutifully respond with, "It means saying how or why", some even capable of describing it as analysis (PEA). But that doesn't mean they can show the skill they need to in an essay. After all, "The writer uses a simile", or, " The writer wanted to catch your attention", are possible reasons 'why' and 'how' something was used.

So, after reading the AQA English examiner feedback from 2011 criticising the use of PEE, I decided to come up with an alternative. PETER paragraphs were born (Point Evidence Term Explore the Effects and Relate. It was only a couple of weeks later, I realised this new approach fitted in really well with teaching SOLO taxonomy too.

A problem I had reading SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools by Pam Hook and Julie Mills (2011) was it is focused on thinking and has very little on converting that thinking into writing. Yes, it has useful vocabulary to use to show the different levels of thinking, but that doesn't help students structure their responses and paragraphs. The more ambitious amongst my students also want to jump straight to Extended Abstract thinking, failing to realise if you can't link it to the Relational stage, it remains just abstract, not Extended Abstract.

PETER is helping my students in the following ways:
Point and Evidence are fairly simple to teach, but students tend to either avoid using technical terms in their point, so now T is in there as a reminder. With my more able, I have change Point to Pattern to encourage them to identify style or genre features and improve the quality of their analysis.

Explore the Effects is encouraging students to develop their analysis, rather than simply rewording their point and evidence. It clearly signposts them to write about audience and purpose. It is also deliberately plural to invite different interpretations. This starts students making Relational points.

Relate has an obvious link to the SOLO Relational stage too, but also can be understood as: relate to the question, make a comparison, or simply connect to the previous paragraph. At a higher level, this is also where you can show Extended Abstract learning as students can relate it to their own experiences, wider contexts and concepts.

Early days yet, but it does seem to be helping my very able Y10 group and A level classes. I have yet to experiment with my other classes, but C/D borderline Y11 are redoing their Macbeth CA in 2 weeks, so I'll share the results of using it with them then.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Job interviews: lessons to be learnt from dating

My first teaching job interview was a failure. I thought it had gone pretty well. The feedback was that I had taught, 'by far the best lesson', but that I had not asked the right questions in the interview and not seemed interested in the school.
I was gutted. Now I see it as one of the best things that ever happened. Why would you want to work in a school where they valued ability to interview well above ability to teach?
The thing that a lot of NQTs forget is that job interviews are a two-way thing. You have to make sure the school is the right place for you, or you are going to have a truly miserable first year (it's hard enough in the right place). It is really difficult not to leap at every opportunity to get a job at this time of year, especially as everyone else on your course seems to be finding that 'dream' placement, but sometimes the right thing is to wait.
I got my first job in July. The school had flooded overnight and it was as the HOD and I splashed through the corridor, knee deep in water, laughing, that I knew I really wanted to work there. I found out later that he had made up his mind to offer me the job at that point too. I'm still in the same place 13 years later.
Just like dating, it is not enough for one of you to fancy the other. It has to work both ways. I realise that now sounds like I fancied my HOD, but that really isn't what I mean!
Having been party to lots of interview lessons over the years, I have a bit of inside knowledge that might prove useful about what we look for at my place (this is inspired by an ex-student who is now looking for his first teaching job). There are plenty of websites with lists of questions to help you to prepare for the interview, but the day is about so much more than that.
1. The interviewers are looking for someone they can work with, who fits in with, or complements, other members of the dept. Never underestimate the break time 'meet the department' session or the student interview panel / guides. Their opinions on you will be sought after the event. Smile, be pleasant, be your (professional) self. Hard as it may be, don't sit there worrying about your lesson. Equally, alarm bells should be ringing if you aren't invited to meet the rest of the department - why on Earth not?

2. The lesson is perhaps the most stressful aspect of interview. When I'm observing, what I am looking for is a connection with the students, an attempt to use names, listening and responding to the children in front of you. Essentially, I'm looking for someone who is not going to be cooked and eaten by the natives, but also someone who is there to teach children and not just their subject.
3. Bearing in mind the above, the lesson itself does not have to be all singing and all dancing. It MUST for fill the brief though, so if you are teaching poetry to 'Top' set Y9, find out exactly what that means. Is that level 5/6/7, or a mixture of those? It needs to be pitched at the right level, and some thought about differentiation is essential.
4. Ask questions beforehand. Get a class list, find out about SEN/ G&T, the resources available in the room, what the class has been studying recently, all things you would do if they were your real class. This might seem pushy, but I would be impressed by the thoroughness of the applicant who did this. It is also going to help you plan and teach a better lesson.
5. Use the people around you. You have access to loads of people who would be willing to help by discussing your lesson, checking your lesson plan, lending resources and doing mock interviews. It amazes me how many student teachers seem to think they have to do it all independently, that having an AST, mentor, or HOD checking their interview lesson is somehow cheating. It really is silly not to use their experience and expertise.
6. Ask if you can have a copy of the school's preferred lesson planning format. It will help you see what the observers may be looking for. For example, if the school uses MUST/SHOULD/COULD, WILF/WALT, Bloom's taxonomy, etc. it is a good idea to show you know how to do it too.
7. Go prepared to withdraw if it is not the place for you. The first opportunity is usually after the tour of the school. Where they take you and what they show you is very important. Did you see a range of groups, subjects, facilities? Why/why not?
8. Ask about how they support NQTs / new staff. At our place we have weekly training for 30 mins after school on a Tuesday which covers everything from report writing to SEN, praise to plenaries. We also have CPD every Wednesday afternoon from 2pm to 3.30pm (I am aware that either sounds really onerous, or incredibly supportive depending on your mindset!).
9. Make sure you get feedback afterwards on all aspects of the day. It is really useful, but don't forget, it is about finding a match. Just because you don't get one job, it doesn't mean you are a bad teacher. You just didn't fit with what they were looking for - your perfect match is still out there. Also, jotting down the interview questions before you forget them is a great idea. That way you can think of an answer to any tricky ones before the next interview.
10. Don't wear an amusing tie.