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January 2019 Blog

Our coaching programme is one of the main tactics we use at Crookhorn to develop our vision of teaching and learning towards ‘Excellence as Standard’. Last year 92% of the teaching staff felt that coaching had a positive impact on their practice in the classroom. This is obviously great and what we now need to focus on, is the benefits now becoming embedded into our daily practice. We know as a teaching body, our GCSE results have been disappointing over the last couple of years, and the only way we are going to improve these results is to improve the quality of teaching provision our students receive on a regular basis.

Every term, we meet as a group of coaches and discuss the key coaching themes moving forward and also recapping some of the essential techniques we have been working on with staff. In our training this term we looked at some more strategies used in ‘Teach like a Champion’.  The first is Cold call which is where we target students for our well thought out planned questions, moving away from hands up as this often allows students to hide in a lesson and let certain students dominate. This is also one of the strategies to check if students have actually learnt what you have taught them. Check for understanding has been promoted through how we use mini whiteboards, exit tickets and other questioning techniques. We also discussed if we were seeing staff moving towards live marking in the classroom as we know this has a real benefit to our students. The students often tell us that this type of feedback, which is short, sharp and in the moment really helps them. At Academic Board last week, we discussed the worrying performance of the boys and disadvantaged students in GCSE’s, and the research shows us that when we use these techniques I have recapped above, it has a positive and substantial effect on their performance. In a recent Blink, it was stated that in too many classes, the boys ‘have a place to hide’ because our teachers are not targeting them with questions or checking what they have learnt. Reflect on your own practice now, are these strategies really established in your teaching and if not, what do you need to do to make it embedded? If you feel the students are not making the required progress in your lessons would some of these strategies help if you focus on making them part of your daily routine?

In my last blog, I wrote about how we must improve our student’s vocabulary and some ideas on how to do this. In our examination system in the UK, the amount of writing and quality of writing will determine the academic success of our students. As coaches, we discussed the strategy of Show Call which is a technique where a teacher uses student work to project on the screen and students and the teacher give feedback on what was done well, and what can be done to improve. This is developing the idea of a ‘culture of error’ and also gives students live feedback on how to improve their work. When you use this technique, think carefully about what works to choose, is it exemplary, or does it demonstrate a common error; or does it have a good balance of strengths and weaknesses that will be good to go through. Planning where you use show call, is essential. This might be after a section of writing has been completed, after a reteach and rewrite on a piece of writing, or maybe partway through a task- to give the students quick feedback and help them make quick progress. Consider also how many students you will choose to show call. If you have not used one of the college visualisers yet, please speak to your HOS who should have access to one. Our aim is to make sure all teachers have a visualiser so we can all be using them as part of our routine.

I know a fear we have at Crookhorn is how we get students to write for a sustained period of time and also producing a high-quality piece of writing. As a result, we need to think about building up their stamina for writing just as you would build stamina for running or swimming: start small and scale up. Make the initial task about one minute’s worth of writing and make that expectation clear. You can add that by the end of the next lesson, you know the students will be writing confidently for at least 5 minutes, and it will not be stressful to them, because you will be training them in small steps. The most important thing is to have students’ practice being successful at writing steadily through a block of time when asked to, not only because seeing themselves succeed convinces students that they can, but because it makes a habit of writing steadily through the time allotted whenever asked. The idea is that when you say go, they write straight through because they can’t imagine anything else!

Another way to make sure students hit the ground running is to make sure they have some decent ideas to work from, making it all but impossible to fall back on “I can’t think of anything.” Before you say go, ask students to do a lightning-quick mind map and two-minute discussion. Then, very quickly, say “Now that you’ve got some ideas, you may begin. Go.” Give them the expectation that their pen should be moving for the majority of the time (let them know that there will be pauses for thought and student reflection if needed). This is useful because it’s visible and therefore clear and easy to manage on your end.

Writing is one of the most effective ways to process information, but all too often we run out of time for that end-of-class reflection.  Instead, try building in time at the beginning of class for writing.  Following your teacher input, allow students to write about the objective or concept, and then build in time for students to discuss their written thoughts with one another.  Creating a space for writing at the beginning of the class, as opposed to the tail end of class, gives priority to the importance of writing and allows you valuable check for understanding time as well, that might help shape how the rest of the lesson is facilitated. If a student has not put in the required effort, you have the time for an immediate rewrite. As teachers, we often accept mediocrity as we are just happy they have done it, but we must all get better at saying that at times, that is not good enough and that they must do it again. This is a key learning process, and we must not shy away from it.

We finished off our coaching training at looking at the ‘Door to Do now’ technique. This is making sure we have an efficient and effective way of making sure students enter the class and then start work immediately. Meet them at door, expectations are made and make sure all materials needed for them are on their desk. The students have a clear seating plan that they know, and the first task is in place for them to be getting on with.

There are many research papers and studies about improving boys’ performances over the last 50 years. There are also thousands and thousands of articles about how to improve disadvantaged students’ academic achievements. They all agree that the biggest influence on improving these groups of students is quality first teaching. We all entered education to make a difference and we have chosen to work at a College like Crookhorn because we know we can positively change lives through education, and we will do that through the high-quality provision that what we deliver in the classroom. Please give these strategies and techniques a real go, work on them on every lesson you teach and talk to your coach if you are struggling to embed them in your daily practice.

You can click on any of the blue links which will take you straight through to extra reading on the strategies discussed. Any feedback on the blog, or just how you are getting along in your teaching is always gratefully received.