Turning Learning Barriers into Learning Gifts

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A diagnosis of dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety or any other learning disorder can be an overwhelming experience. It may come with a sense of relief: Finally, there is an answer, a reason for why it has been so difficult for your child to concentrate in class, why they have been labelled too busy, non-compliant or why they are simply unable to do things that seem so effortless for other learners.

But, this diagnosis is not a solution – it is a signpost towards helping a student learn in the way that is best for them. Children with learning barriers often need more sensory stimulation, more hands- on experiences, they need answers to the questions that are burning in their minds before they can focus on multiplication! Put simply, they ‘learn differently’ to the way education is usually structured in mainstream classes.

Frequently, a diagnosis can also come with a range of misconceptions and too often, this term, “learn differently” brings to mind a conditioned form of thinking that implies non-academic, or intellectually deficient, but this is not the truth. Many of our learners at EduExcellence are “out of the box” thinkers, that simply require education to be presented differently. I am frustrated, challenged and sometimes exasperated by students. But it is rare that I go home unimpressed. On a daily basis, I see a fierce sense of independence, a thirst to genuinely learn and a willingness to debate topics that most students simply have not paused to question.

Recently, almost half of our Gr7 and 8 learners qualified to move forward to the regional round of the 2018 Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. We are immensely proud of our learners’ participation, and the bronze (Giovanna Machado and Jessica Meijboom) and silver (Luca Zannos) medals won, as well as the Popular Mechanics special award for The most promising Engineering Project (Luca Zannos).

At EduExcllence, we celebrate the fact that students have inborn, entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to ask ‘why’ – even when this does not fall neatly into a curriculum plan. We respect that students are young adults in training and need to be given responsibilities to help guide them towards making a meaningful contribution to the world one day. In accordance with this philosophy, we also held a work experience week for our Stage 8’s recently. The teenagers interned in everything from veterinary Science to IT and received glowing reports from their supervisors.
Students who learn differently are just as capable of being the engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs of the future, the pioneers who will try something new because… ‘why not?’. Far from being a hindrance, their ’barriers’ can be their greatest assets – providing them with an ability to see the world differently from their peers– sometimes quite literally! Although these children still need firm boundaries to structure their learning within, I believe it is time we start shifting our thinking to celebrate learners who think in a non-linear way and recognize what they are truly capable of.
**EduExcellence is a mainstream, therapy- based school that specializes in children that learn differently. We are a Cambridge Curriculum school with a unique neuro developmental program that works concurrent to the academic curriculum.

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Managing Multi-Grading and Differentiation

In school and university, I thought that if one studied science teaching, one would became a science teacher. That was that. Science would be forever your domain.

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The reality is a lot more messy. In a school, gaps open up and someone has to fill those gaps. As a person who struggles saying no, that someone has often been me! The Result? I’ve taught everything from Year 2 Maths to mixed Year 7/8/9 English – and I’ve never taught a single year group or subject for longer than a year.

Although I’ve experienced many days of tearing my hair out, crying from self-imposed stress and cursing how much work I have to do, I am so, so thankful that this has been my career trajectory. In 4 years of teaching, I have never yet been bored. But perhaps more importantly, teaching so many grades and subjects (sometimes simultaneously!) signaled a fundamental shift in my thinking: Grades are almost completely arbitrary. There are young children quite capable of studying topics that are ‘Grade 7’ in difficulty and there are final year students who have still not mastered writing a paragraph.

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Curricula are important to give you a framework for planning lessons – teaching can be aimless without them.  But by blindly sticking to the curriculum, all we guarantee is that children come out the other end ‘schooled’-  a frame of limited thinking that I had to fight for a long time to escape. How much of the curriculum the children take on is also almost totally dependent on the learning experience. If they’ve had a stressful year or haven’t connected with their teacher, they’re unlikely to have learned much.

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The classic comic which effortlessly illustrates the illogicality of standardised testing

So how is this knowledge – that children are not as standardized as one may expect -useful when dealing with the scary prospect of teaching a multi-graded class?  Well, as my mentor once succinctly said: Think differentiation, not grades . It doesn’t matter if half your students are Year 7 and half are Year 8: Look at the areas of the curriculum (i.e. Grammar, Speaking and Listening),  identify the keys skills you want to teach and teach them! Then, follow up with activities that can be made harder for those who need extending. You will not necessarily  know who needs extending at the start of the year – this will come with time.

I once taught a mixed Year 7/8/9 English class where abilities ranged from 3rd language English to completely fluent. Because of the circumstances I was under, I was forced to throw most of the curriculum out the window and just teach whatever English I could. We read and analysed my favourite books, played speaking games/held fun debates and I did a new grammatical concept with them once every two weeks.

I cannot stress enough, I did the exact same ‘lessons’ with all 3 grades (just mildly differentiating worksheets and activities) and very often, I felt like we were just playing at doing English. However, at the end of the year, each student wrote their externally set, grade specific exam and – to my genuine shock- they all they all scored between 50 and 80%.

My awesome mixed English class

So often, we teachers feel that if we have neatly ticked off every outcome and student books look pretty, we have done our job. I feel it comes down far more to classroom experiences. Good planning is essential to proper differentiation and neat, well presented books DO help the learning process. But just as important, is letting go of your lesson always going according to plan. Listen to your students: Let them have fun and make their voices heard. You have to be willing to experiment and go where the class takes you. As long as you know your learning objective well, you can always bring things back to where you’re meant to be heading,  even if it takes a more meandering route than anticipated.

Right, so this this post has gone a little further down the rambling road than I intended . Here are a few practical tips to help you survive your multi-graded/very differentiated classroom.

#1: Do a comprehensive, start of year assessment

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I would say assessments at the beginning of the year are even more important than ones at the end. If you are teaching a mixed Year 7/Year 8 class, design a few assessments based on the end of previous year’s outcomes for BOTH grades. Use the results to help you plot your unit plans and use homework to help fill gaps you cannot address in class for individual students.  This is not really necessary in Science but essential in English and Maths.

#2 Be flexible with how you teach

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Always try to arrange your year’s outcomes to get the whole class doing a similar or the same topic. For example, if Stage 7 is meant to do Particle Theory of Matter in Term 3 and Stage 8 in Term 2, rearrange!

Sometimes, there’s just no way to teach the whole class at once. If one group needs to study germination and the other group the human heart, it just ain’t going to work. In this case, consider designing unit-long individual or group learning programmes where you act more as the facilitator and less as a ‘teacher’. You can take a look at my TES shop if you want to see an example of this here.  In this example, students had to independently work through a Powerpoint, watching the videos, using links to visit specific websites and then completing a series of tasks. I was then easily able to assess the group using the tasks they had completed and observing and interacting with them while they were working.

I have found my students very often learn more when are put in charge of doing independent projects like this.But it does involve you having to ‘know your customers.’ Some students might need a lot more facilitation than others.

#3 Focus on the most important opportunity that school provides

Pure joy from some of my year 3’s after launching their egg protection systems into the air

Most of the value of a teacher lies in the experience they are able to create. Especially in our modern world,with its excess of isolating entertainment obsessions, the classroom experience should be rooted in social interactions – In essence,we are social coordinators!

That doesn’t mean that spending a quiet lesson writing or a lesson here and there asnwering questions from a book is harmful. But if this is the backbone of your teaching, you need to question if you’re having the kind of impact you want to be having.

Don’t stress too much if you don’t manage to meet all the outcomes in the year – just keep track of what you have done so that you, or the next teacher, know where the holes should be. Focus on giving your students a happy experience of school where they are learning something – even if this doesn’t precisely match the curriculum. In this way,they will hopefully have the motivation to fill in any gaps on their own.

#4 Win the war, not the battle

For whatever reason, your fun, awesome, well prepared lesson is not going according to plan. One thing I have learned, time and again, is that forcing them to carry on does not work! Stop and do a ‘brain break’ for 5 mins. Do a quick test on Quizzizz .If things have really gone off track, just admit defeat. Try the lesson again the next day or just cut your losses and make peace with the fact that lessons rarely work out the way you imagine.  Here is a link to an awesome collection of brain breaks: http://brainbreaks.blogspot.co.za/

At the core of all of this is the understanding that every second of class time does not have to be spent ‘doing work.’ Spending time building relationships, exploring interests, creating a fun environment… all of this is fundamental to a student wanting to be at school- and only when a student feels happy and safe can they optimally learn

Final Thoughts

The different ideas and strategies I’ve mentioned here may  not be considered “good” teaching by some. But what is good teaching really? I think its different for every class and you have to be willing to to try new new things and make mistakes. The only way to find what works for a specific group is to experiment. And when you truly experiment, there is bound to be failure. Learn from it and don’t hide from your students that you are always learning too.

I’ll end with one of my favourite quotes, that another mentor introduced me to

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Using ISPACED to vary sentence structure in writing

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I’m always struggling to find ways to encourage my students to vary their sentences. They  tend to  ‘go with what comes naturally’ and stubbornly stick to the same general structure,especially when it comes to sentence openings.

This is troubling as good writing has to be diverse  and quite a sizeable portion of marks is allocated to sentence structure in formal assessments.

ISPACED is a wonderful way to open up sentence starting possibilities. The Acronym functions as a reminder that sentences can begin in many ways and works as follows:

Ing words

Backing away slowly, the man lowered his weapon

Similes

As quiet as a mouse, he creeped away.

Prepositions

Under the bridge, there were 3 trolls.

Adverbs

Cautiously, Kevin approached the gorilla.

Connectives

Because I wanted an ice cream, I decided to go to the beach

ED words

Terrified, Jessica ran away from the lumbering monster.

When I first introduce ISPACED to my classes, I like playing a game. It works like this:

  1. Each student gets an A4 sheet of paper on which they write a simple opening sentence. They then have to pass their paper to the left/right
  2. The next person carries on the story, using an ‘Ing’ word. Allow for an approproate time limit and when the time is up, they pass the paper on again.
  3. The next person carries the story on using a Simile. And so on…

Eventually, we have a collection of collaboratively written stories that show that you can find many different ways to say the same thing. Students really enjoy racing the clock to come up with a sentence and it’s a fun way to explore this concept.

Here is a link to a great ISPACE Power Point on TES: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/ispace-sentence-starters-6355095

Try it out as a starter for your next Big Write and let me know how it goes in the comments!

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CAPS vs Cambridge

A curriculum is just that, a curriculum: the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college. In a good teacher’s hands, a bad curriculum can be good and in a bad teacher’s hands, a good curriculum can be bad. It is not the single, most important factor in determining whether or not a student gets a good education.

However, after teaching the South African National Curriculum (CAPS) and then experiencing the Cambridge Curriculum for 2 years, I’ve seen that a curriculum can play  such an important role in what a teacher prioritizes. This can have a trickle down effect on everything from lesson plans to student enthusiasm. If I can help it, I will never teach at a ‘CAPS’ curriculum school again. Below are my reasons

**I am comparing CAPS and Cambridge because these are the two curricula I have taught. IB is also excellent from what I have read and heard but until I have taught it, I can’t give my personal take. For the sake of this article, I have focused on comparing Science in the Cambridge and CAPS curricula but many of the observations could be applied to any subject.

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An extract from the CAPS Grade 4 Natural Sciences Curriculum: Just 3.5 weeks of content

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An Excerpt from the Grade 4 Cambridge Science Curriculum – on this one page are almost all the objectives for the year

  1. Amount of Content

As Marina Goetze put it so well in this article, CAPS is packed. Scroll up to the image taken from the CAPS Stage 4 Science document and see for yourself: Content is meticulously laid out in terms of terms and weeks, with very little wiggle room. This leads to a stressful teaching schedule where one is always racing to get through the curriculum.

By comparison, the Cambridge Curriculum document is stripped down and consists of only the essential outcomes. Content can be built on these outcomes at the teacher’s discretion and depending on the current class and context. I.e. A teacher in New York may build their ‘habitats’ unit around an urban context while someone teaching near the Kalahari desert may focus on more natural landscapes.

2. Curriculum document Presentation

The CAPS curriculum document is busy, with tons of unnecessary information.  This can cause a sensory overload where teachers, especially new teachers, have no idea what the important bits are.

The Cambridge Document is fairly minimalist.  More detailed ‘term curriculum plans’are available but these are intended as a helpful guide if needed. They are by no means mandatory.

3. Structure of the Curriculum Objectives

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The objectives in the CAPS curriculum are laid out as ‘content.’ Each topic has a number of very specific things that children need to know i.e. “Air is invisible but real”

In the Cambridge Document, content is laid out as ‘learning objectives.’ This is a subtle difference but an important one. In Cambridge, many of the objectives are not what the children need to know, but what the children need to do i.e “Investigate how different animals are found in different habitats.”

Especially in younger grades, where learning through play and investigation is critical, this leaves much more scope for how a topic can be taught. It encourages more of what I would call brain based- learning: Learning through all kinds of sensory methods to appeal to a range of  learners, not just the visual.

There is also the scope and encouragement in Cambridge for a teacher, who observes that a student is not meeting the outcomes for stage 4, to look at the stage 3 outcomes and look at how and why a gap needs to be filled.  While I have never experienced it firsthand, I have heard of teachers being reprimanded by CAPS inspectors for deviating from the curriculum for weaker or stronger learners. Within Cambridge, differentiation using outcomes from years above or below the one the student is expected. Naturally, this is all heavily dependent on the leadership structure at your school. CAPS can be stringently or loosely applied and so can Cambridge.

4. Critical thinking/Scientific Inquiry as Objectives

There is a page of the CAPS document, entitled “Major Processes and Design Skills” which encourages critical thinking and scientific investigation. However, there are no explicit outcomes in the different topics for investigation. Below are the Major Processes and Design Skills for the whole of Intermediate Phase Science.

In Cambridge, there are quite specific scientific inquiry outcomes that get progressively more challenging with age.

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5. Teaching Freedom

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CAPS contains a teaching schedule of sorts. Each topic is allocated a certain number of hours and the content is intended to be taught in the order in which it is laid out.

Within Cambridge, The teacher is free to order the year’s curriculum outcomes however it best suits his/her classes.  This leaves plenty of opportunity for integrating learning objectives into school wide events such as Book Week or even term long themes such as The Olympics.

6. Assessment

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Finally, but perhaps most importantly, is Assessment. In the South African system in particular, there is a worrying overemphasis on testing. This is partly because teachers are’t often trained in assessing any other way . However, it is also heavily encouraged by  the CAPS document which specifically details the formal assessment that must be given for each subject. Even projects are phrased as tests per se. Teaching within this curriculum, I found Assessment was associated with stress for everyone involved!

Although testing is still expected within Cambridge, the approach is somewhat different. No tests at all are encouraged for Grades 1 and 2 and only minimally from Stage 3, with expectations being progressive. Only one test per year is required: The Progress Test or Checkpoint test at the end of the year. This leaves MUCH more time for teaching and learning.

Within CAPS, there is also similar assessment requirements in all subjects, including Life Skills; a subject where content cannot be easily assessed through a test. This more or less ‘wastes’ a subject where real life skills could be promoted – A subject that could and should be exploratory and, well, ‘fun.’

As I stated at the beginning of this article, a good school will find a way to work with the curriculum and make it fun and functional, if the teachers have the skills and passion to do so. However, as a starting point, Cambridge makes the trek to a fun and engaging lesson far more manageable.

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Why South African Private Schools should embrace the 3 term approach

Growing up, I attended public schools in South Africa and blithely accepted that a school year had 4 terms. I could never imagine any other way because I had not seen any other way!

It was only when I started teaching overseas that I realised that most Northern Hemisphere schools have 3 terms, with short mid term breaks and slightly longer, end of term holidays. After teaching within this system for 2 years, and seeing the many benefits that it brings with it, I found myself at a loss as to why more South African private schools have not embraced this approach.

An Overview of the the 3 and 4 Term School Years

A 4 term system involves the school year being broken down into 4 ‘terms’ with holidays of varying lengths in between. Terms are usually about 10 weeks long but can be as short as 9 or as long as 12.

A 3 term system breaks up the year into 3, approximately 12 week long terms (The first term being longer, at 16 weeks). However, midway through the term, there is a one week break (‘Half Term’) and at the end of the term, there is a two week break. This roughly equates to 6 weeks of holiday spread throughout the year and then, of course, the ‘long holiday’ (around 1 month-6 weeks) at the end.

Random Mathematics Meme! Because I am a teacher and I like Maths puns

Pros of the 3 Term System

  • Curriculum can be broken down into 6 week ‘chunks’

An 11 week term is too long to do just one unit of work so we usually pack in at least two or three. However, there is almost always a ‘muddle in the middle’ and at least one of the units doesn’t gets started or finished properly

In the 3 term system, the curriculum can easily be broken down into 6 week units that can be properly started, developed and assessed before the half term break. 6 weeks on one overarching topic follows a much more natural rhythm and, as a teacher, is so much easier to plan around. One can always see the end in sight

  • The Half Term Break: Perfect for planning and getting admin up to date

In the 3 term system, the 1 week holiday is not a ‘holiday’ per se. It’s an opportunity for teachers to get admin up to date, review the unit that has just been completed and flesh out planning for the 6 weeks ahead.

As a teacher, you obviously do your yearly plans at the beginning of the year, same as in the 4 term year.  However, short term planning never seems too overwhelming with the 3 term approach as one can constantly look at the progress of the children and plan meaningfully for the 6 weeks ahead.

  • No ‘end of term fatigue syndrome

I recently spoke to a friend who analysed their school data and saw they had an average absenteeism rate of 27% in the final week of school. This does not surprise me at all. At the end of an 11 week term, teachers are too tired to plan anything interesting and students are too tired to show up. It just doesn’t work!

When ‘term’ is run as two 6 week units with a one week break in between, none of this exhaustion pops up. I was truly amazed to see how little last week absenteeism there was when I worked overseas. We kept working right up until the final days, which took the pressure off trying to plan fun, ‘non curriculum specific’ activities for the few kids who do show up in the last bit if term as well.

The Final Word

Holidays work out roughly the same, planning is easier, attendance goes up and teacher/student exhaustion is reduced. All this is why I strongly feel that more South African schools should embrace the 3 term system. Do you disagree? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Why good teachers leave

I recently resigned from my first international teaching job. All teachers who had been there for more than a year chose not to renew their contracts and it was a devastating situation. I adored and admired my students and in the classroom, I  loved my job. However, I chose to leave and because of one all encompassing reason: My managers

I am a teacher. It is hard work. It is physically and emotionally draining- and I love it. Teachers are people who do not fit neatly into a category. We come from all walks of life, perhaps have had many careers. We are scientists, writers, actors and historians… But we have all been drawn to teaching because of the uniquely wonderful  opportunity to shape a life: To guide a person through the process of discovering who they are and what they want to be.

I am not, therefore, a foot soldier. It is likely I will sometimes spot errors in logic or poor decision making  and I will draw your attention to it. I will (respectfully) question: Because if I don’t model what critical thinking looks like, how  can I expect my students to think critically themselves?

Why I left

First and foremost, management was top down and autocratic. I was expected to blindly obey orders, even if the logic behind these orders could not be explained or justified. Any form of questioning seemed to be taken as an ‘attack’ on management, including simple and sincere requests for more information. The attitude of management towards education also did not match what they heavily promoted on their school website. Worse, we were expected to maintain this hypocrisy – prompting an ethical dilemma for all of us along with a professional one.

No professional development was provided (despite being promised and promoted as part of the job offer). New tools were introduced and we were told to “Youtube” how to to use them. There was also no clear system for maintenance. Teaching tools such as laptops and projectors were taken away in the middle of the day, with no warning and no consideration as to how this may impact teaching plans.When I first began at the school, there was an outstanding head teacher. She really held the ship together, using her more than 15 years of teaching experience to deftly manage a multi-national, multi-lingual staff in such a way as to make everyone feel included and valued. Sadly, this teacher was given unreasonable amounts of work, carrying out all head teacher duties on top of a full teaching schedule (approx. 30 hours a week) which pressed her to the point of resignation. This resignation was then poorly handled. The head teacher offered to see out the year but was then suddenly told to leave on a Friday afternoon as ‘a replacement had been found who was starting Monday.’ It gets worse…. this replacement did not show up Monday morning, leaving us us with no head teacher for the remainder of the year.

The atmosphere plummeted  from this point on and it was only the professionalism of the teachers that kept the school running relatively smoothly.  We took on extra teaching hours and continued to work in the evenings and on weekends to try and keep up with the demands of teaching multiple grades in one classroom and differentiating for students with massively varying English abilities.  Despite this, the professional judgement of teachers was not respected or, even sought, most of the time. Teachers were deliberately kept at a distance from parents and ignored or told it was not their place to recommend if a student should be given SEN assistance.  Frequently, teachers were not given clear instructions but then belittled or berated if the vision of management for a particular event was not correctly executed.

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Source: Teamwork and Leadership (Michael G Rodgers)

I could go on but by now, you’re probably getting the  picture. Teachers were also frequently made to feel physically or emotionally unsafe and sometimes, I feel like this job has given me a master class in how not to make staff happy and motivated. Almost all of us were, at one stage, willing to stay for a long time. But bad management is a daily event to suffer through and after a while. the misery derived from that wins out over any satisfaction one is getting from the classroom.

As a teacher, I know that one is expected to put in time after hours and I will give 200% without having to be asked. I will sit until late at night preparing resources and tasks. I will deliberate and debate over the best way to help a student in need. But I cannot, and will not, be unquestioning. To all head teachers and leaders out there: If you want to keep me (and others like me), engage with me, involve me. I may not be in a leadership position. But every teacher is a leader – we lead our students every day: Whether this supporting from the back or guiding from the front. The best way to keep a good teacher is to make them feel valued.

 

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Giving Useful Feedback to Students

Giving continuous, useful feedback is such an integral part of good teaching. I’m at a loss as to why it does not form a bigger part of the PGCE!

Many new teachers (myself included) struggle with how to give good feedback. Finding the time to do it, finding the motivation to give it and, of course, doing it effectively.

There are many different methods to give feedback and the best way to find YOUR best way is to experiment. Below are a two methods I frequently use, both of which can be pretty easily integrated into the teaching day.  Please comment any ideas or methods you use which work well!

1. WWW and EBI

Whenever my students complete an assignment, I try to assess in the form of  a “What Went Well’ (WWW) and ‘Even Better If’ (EBI).

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When I first started giving this detailed feedback in books, I was amazed at the response! I think something about it really affects the students as they know I have truly taken the time to read what they have produced: I have noticed if they have listened and tried, however successfully, to put into practise what I have taught.

Depending on how much time you have, the WWW and EBI back can be one line or a whole paragraph. What’s important is that is precise and goal oriented.

A few more tips

  • You can colour this feedback these, so students know that certain colours mean certain things. For example, purple is praise and green is for goals/ways to improve
  • For a bigger project or for term target feedback, always try to give a detailed paragraph of feedback that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely)
  • Do it verbally! A really great way of giving feedback after an oral presentation is to immediately ask the class for some WWW’s and EBI’s. This has the added bonus of encouraging the class to listen more critically as they know they will need to give feedback afterwards. Any gaps can be filled in by the teacher at the end.

The WWW and EBI method is powerful because its  its positive. Sometimes, all I give is a WWW! Just an acknowledgement is often constructive: Students are more likely to do something again if they are  been validated and reassured that they did it right the first time.

Yes, doing this does  take time…. a lot of time. But it also provides ample evidence for report writing. And more importantly, it is a useful way to spend time – unlike many silly admin tasks that unfortunately make up too much of our time as teachers.

 

2. Setting an Assignment/Subject Term Outcomes up for self assessment

This may not seem like giving feedback but it very useful in training students to self assess and take responsibility for their own learning.

It works by simply providing a checklist of things for students to tick off as they complete/after they complete a task. This obviously needs to be precise and linked to the specific outcomes of the task. A simple example, for writing a story:

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You can also use this principle to help students track their progress through the  learning outcomes for a particular subject. I find this easiest and most useful in the form of an ‘I can’ booklet or document where students can rate their knowledge of outcome as Red, Amber or green (RAG).

I have created a booklet of ‘I cans’ for Year 7,8 and 9 Science that have been coupled with Revision tasks. You can purchase these from my TES shop here 

Remember, feedback does not always have to be given by the teacher! More often than not, your students are capable of giving reasonable, good advice to their peers if they are given the chance. Get the students to swap books and assess each other’s work- Just make sure you assist the weaker students so everyone gets decent feedback.

Some final thoughts

I ran a little thought experiment this year as I was trying to figure out for myself the difference between ‘feedback’ and ‘marking’. Every time I assessed, I mentally examined the difference in my own feelings when examining an assignment for ‘marks’ and examining general classwork tasks.

I found I was instinctively a lot more objective and critical when it was just classwork. There is such a sense of pressure that builds up around tests and projects ‘for marks’ – stemming from parents, teachers and the students themselves. I care about the students and their sense of self worth and I want them to feel proud of themselves so I look for ‘marks’ wherever I can find them. In the process, I sacrifice an opportunity to show a student how they could improve at something.

This is what has motivated me to make a conscious effort to constantly think about ‘giving feedback’ rather than ‘marking’work. It has also motivated me to minimize formal assessment as far as possible in my teaching practise. Yes, a certain amount of standardised testing is needed for students to get qualifications. But, in the journey to get ready for this, there is no need to repeatedly put students under similar pressure. It will not make them any more ready and more importantly ,it will necessarily help give them skills that will make them more employable or entrepreneurial in the future

This is also why I advocate for school wide systemic change – there is something very wrong with a system which, in 2017, still tries to convince students that test scores are more important than being able to do something . As Sal Khan speaks on so beautifully below….

 

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Learning to Learn

John and Hank Green are two of my innovation heroes. They have transformed the online landscape in so many ways and Crash Course and Scishow (though both have their faults) are pioneering educational video channels. They are also just all round incredible people who continuously make the world more awesome. Here is one of my favourite John Green presentations where he explains why learning- real learning- is such a special thing

#Teachergoals

You can check out Vlogbrothers, Crash Course and Scishow below: They’re all well worth a subscribe!

Crash Course

SciShow

Vlogbrothers

 

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Amazing Hoop Gliders

Continuing the STEM theme, I present to you…. The Amazing Hoop Glider!

There’s not a child in the world who doesn’t love making paper airplanes. Recently, we decided to do another combined  science class where students had to just that… with a twist.

Objectives

  • To follow instructions to build a paper glider using specific materials
  • To think scientifically about an initial design and make improvements so as to make the glider fly faster/further

The Amazing Hoop Glider is a specialised paper plane design which involves attaching two hoops to a straw and… that’s more or less it! Science Bob provides detailed and easy to follow directions here

We gave a basic introduction, put the instructions up on the board then let the students play.

They did a great job so we headed outside for a test flight

After the initial planes had been made,we got students to turn the demonstration into an investigation by thinking about the following questions:

  1. How well did my Hoop Glider fly?
  2. What could I change about the Hoop Glider to make it fly faster/further?

We then set the challenge of students building a second hoop glider… making only ONE modification from their original design.

Some decided to change the card material to paper, some added extra straws and some added extra hoops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, we went outside again for students to compare which of their hoop gliders flew better… and to think about why.

Obviously, there are plenty of other factors that can affect how well this test works but overall, it was a fun activity to do and a great opportunity for students to think scientifically about something they do all the time.

 

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Defining Democracy for Secondary Students

If you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve probably picked up I think students knowing their civic roles and responsibilities is vital. We live in an era where there is too much tension and hatred – of other races, religions, ‘cultures’…. and mostly because people are not educated about things that matter!

It is so important that students understand how a democratic system works and what their place in it is. It is important students know that we are part of a global community and our actions, no matter where we are in the world, can affect others very far away.And of course, its important for students to have fun while learning it.

This week, we decided to hold a mock election. It was a wonderful success with students having fun and collaborating beautifully but also coming up with some fantastic ideas. This is a perfect end of term filler for when tests are done and one can afford to stretch out a topic for as long as it needs- activities like this tend to take on a life of their own

Lesson 1: Democracy vs Dictatorship

I used this great power point here to cover the basic differences between living in a democratic nation vs living in a dictatorship. Students, of course, have heard a lot about North Korea in the news lately so this led to a great discussion about dictatorial nations and whether other, democratic countries have the responsibility so help them. And if so, which country should be the most responsible?

Lessons 2: Forming a Political Party

Students were split into groups (political parties) and I explained that they would be running for student leadership at our school. We don’t have a student council at our school yet so we just did this as an exercise in democracy. However, this is a great opportunity to chat to your HOD or Principal and use this is proper democratic election where elected students get to represent the student body and try to make their campaign promises happen.

I then used a power-point to go through what a political party is, how political parties appeal to voters and what the purpose of a manifesto is- using the English Labour and Conservative Parties as examples. Students were then given their official task which is embedded in the power point. You can view the resource (“Let’s get the political party started”) and download for free at my TES shop here

Lessons 3 and 4: Developing a Manifesto and Campaign Poster

This is when the fun really begins! Students had to come up with a manifesto and campaign poster that includes their name, slogan, symbol and campaign promises.

They then had to present their posters to the class, focusing on effective group presentation and incorporating all their party members. After this lesson, we hung up the campaign posters for the class to read and consider for a day or two.

Lesson 5: The Vote!

Last of all, of course, is the vote!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We created a full election situation where students voted secretly using ballot papers. Afterwards, of course, we had a post election party where the winners were congratulated and everyone respectfully applauded each other’s efforts.

This lesson plan was created on a bit of a whim but it worked fantastically and I will definitely do it again!

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