Learning Strategies that really work

Teaching effectively is more important than ever. Unsurprisingly, increasingly stretched resources, increasing class sizes, and the use of ineffective learning strategies can have a huge impact on teacher workload and wellbeing. Ineffective learning strategies also have detrimental effects on the outcomes for children.

Carl Hendrick, head of Learning and Research at Wellington College, has written extensively on bridging the gap between research and teaching practice. In his book What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?, he points to mounting evidence suggesting that a lot of what teachers have been asked to do in the classroom has been at best ineffective, and at worst a waste of time. He goes on to say that this has led to an unsustainable level of workload and teacher burnout.

Hendrick shares his views in an article written for The Guardian. Here he argues there is significant evidence suggesting that teachers should prune what they do in the classroom and create conditions where children can gain long-lasting knowledge that can be applied across a broad range of subjects and situations.

In a book review by the Chartered College of Teaching, Hendrick’s publication is being lauded as an incredibly timely book. “Interest from teachers in educational research has never been greater, but understanding how to apply it in the classroom can be a minefield.” They recommend that all teachers read the book, both those new to the profession and the really experienced.

Hendrick distils effective learning strategies into six main areas. Here are his key principles for creating effective learning strategies in the classroom:

1 – Revisit learning: It’s not enough to teach a subject and expect pupils to remember everything. Effective learning requires teachers to expose children to new information a number of times.

2 – Check understanding: Teachers need to know their pupils well and recognise common misconceptions. Judicious questioning to test students’ knowledge is imperative.

3 – Provide meaningful feedback – On students, not work: Feedback needs to enable children to do a better job next time. If the feedback doesn’t help them do that, it’s pointless.

4 – Create a positive classroom environment: Expectations in terms of behaviour need to be clear. If what is expected is clear, it becomes the norm, not an aspiration. Creating an environment where children are respectful and understand the privilege of learning is paramount to effective learning.

5 – Offer lots of support and guidance: When children encounter difficulties in learning they need encouragement and support. Limitations in memory can be problematic for some students and usually only expert learners are able to work independently. Guidance in the form of additional explanations and examples, along with sufficient instruction are crucial for enabling students to succeed and work independently in the long term.

6 – Avoid overloading learners: While too little cognitive load leads to diminished learning, overloading learners, especially in complex tasks, has been shown to exceed cognitive bandwidth. New information should be presented in small steps with worked examples in order to provide the building blocks required for effective learning.

All Different, All Equal

Stop Bullying

Anti-bullying week promotes difference and equality in schools

Anti-bullying week, held between 13th and 17th November, is a reminder to children, young people and adults of the impact of bullying on individuals, both in the classroom and out. While there are no official statistics on bullying and cyberbullying, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reports that there were 24,000 Childline counselling sessions with children about bullying in 2016/17. The NSPCC assert that bullying is an issue that affects almost all children in some way.

Anti-Bullying week, coordinated by the Anti-Bullying Alliance and supported by SafeToNet, aims to shine a spotlight on bullying and encourages children, teachers and parents to take positive action against bullying throughout the year.

The theme of this years’ campaign is ‘All Different, All Equal.’ The aims of the campaign are to:

• Empower children to celebrate what makes them and others unique.
• Help children to understand the importance of feeing valued and included in school, and be able to be themselves, without any fear of bullying.
• Encourage carers and parents to work closely with schools and talk to their children about bullying, difference and equality.
• Enable teachers and professionals to also celebrate difference and equality, and to take action to create safe spaces and prevent bullying behaviour.

The Anti-Bullying alliance offer a range of resources for teachers and are encouraging schools to display the official Anti-Bullying Week 2017 poster. They also offer resources and ideas for lessons and assemblies designed to promote an anti-bullying culture within school and beyond.

This year the Anti-Bullying Alliance are encouraging children to wear odd socks to school for the week. It’s a fun way for children to express themselves and appreciate individuality and uniqueness.

Bullying is an ever-present problem in schools, and can easily go unnoticed if teachers don’t follow an active plan to stop bullying from happening. Here are 6 things teachers can do to reduce bullying at school:

1 – Discuss bullying: give children the opportunity to talk openly about bullying. Let the children get involved in making the rules to prevent bullying behaviour. Discuss the harm that bullying can cause and strategies children can use to help them if they experience bullying.

2 – Teach cooperation: children need to learn how to compromise and assert themselves without demanding. Cooperation and collaboration are important skills.

3 – Develop an action plan that children can defer to if they are confronted with bullying behaviour or witness it.

4 – Act immediately – any form of bullying should be dealt with swiftly to reinforce the rule that it is unacceptable for anyone to be mistreated.

5 – Don’t challenge bullies in front of their peers. Confront bullies in private.

6 – Involve parents and listen receptively to those who report bullying behaviour. Always investigate any reports of bullying and feedback to parents the action that has been taken.

To praise or not to praise?

Well done

How to use praise effectively in the classroom

There’s no question that praise is a good thing in the classroom, but over-used it can become ineffective and demotivating. As a new teacher, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-using praise. Praise is the natural way to recognise your students for their endeavours. There’s no doubt praise is essential for growing confidence and boosting self-esteem.

But, excessive use of praise can deem it disingenuous. In an article written for The Guardian, English teacher and blogger, Jamie Thom, said “As an NQT, I was guilty of effusive over-praising. I wanted students to try hard and I wanted them to see that I cared about their efforts, so I resorted to what seemed like an easy win: praise, praise and more praise. Superlatives were tossed around like cheap confetti in response to even the most incoherent of grunted answers. Then one afternoon the reality struck: my obsession with praise was making my students lazy and unresponsive.”

Praise needs to be thoughtfully handed out. Here are 4 ways to use praise with appropriate effect in the classroom:

1 – Praise effort where it is due

Praise should be used to recognise engagement, improvement and perseverance. Acknowledge your pupils who have demonstrated hard work and overcome difficulties, regardless of their intellect. Praise effort and accomplishment, not ability.

2 – Give specific feedback

Specific feedback will endorse the legitimacy of the praise you are giving, and allow students to develop more understanding about the skills they need for future tasks. Specific praise helps children to become more reflective.

Simply stating ‘good job’ doesn’t give students exact feedback about what they are doing well. ‘Wow, you found some great sources for writing that poem, good job’ lets the student know why he or she is receiving the praise, and enables them to be confident in using those skills in future tasks.

3 – Highlight good behaviour

Highlighting good behaviour is an essential teaching tool, especially in challenging groups. Praising good behaviour will also have a positive impact on other students. Recognise pupils when they are striving to achieve good behaviour, but be mindful to set standards high. It’s not generally effective to praise pupils with challenging behaviour for achieving simple everyday tasks, such as getting their pen out.

4 – Consider individuality and what motivates each of your students

Empathy and sensitivity towards your pupils will guide you to understand what it is that motivates each of them. Some students will love public acknowledgement of their efforts, while others will find that embarrassing. Find ways to praise your students appropriately according to personalities. Praise can be given in a private conversation or in written feedback, as well as verbally in front of the whole class.

Music the key to improving school results, not maths

Girl playing the guitar

A primary school in Bradford is attributing its newfound SATS success to the fact that it is giving all children up to six hours of music a week, according to a recent report in The Guardian. With music and arts continually being squeezed out of the school curriculum to make way for the academic subjects seen by some as the panacea to SATS success, this news is literally music to many teachers’ ears.

At Feversham Primary Academy, head teacher Naveed Idrees, has embedded drama, art and music into every part of the school day. The results are proving remarkable. The school’s surrounding area is one of Bradford’s most deprived neighbourhoods, and 99 per cent of the school’s children speak English as an additional language. Inside the school at least 30 different languages are spoken, but music is proving a great unifier.

All children at the school are given at least 2 hours of music a week, including two 30-minute music lessons, and an hour assembly consisting of the appearance of a guest musician and group singing. Songs are heavily incorporated into all other areas of the children’s learning, such as singing times tables, or singing songs relating to history.

All areas of music are covered, from the Beatles, to current pop songs, Muslim worship songs and Christian music too. Initial resistance from a small number of parents about the religious origin of some of the music soon disappeared once they saw the progress their children were making. Not only has the school’s attendance increased to 98 per cent, teacher morale has improved significantly and local families want their children to come to the once-failing school.

Headteacher, Idrees, came to the school in 2013 when the school was in special measures. There was immense pressure for results. The turnaround in the school’s approach came after 11-year old boy on the other side of the city killed himself due to bullying. Feversham piloted a project in the school to help deal with peer pressure, failure, and dealing with negativity. The project focused on game-playing while listening to music.

The school’s approach is based on the Kodály method, which is based on teaching, learning and understanding through music. Children learn about rhythm and movement in a way that helps reading, writing, maths and memory. There’s a wealth of reasons for incorporating music into school learning. Music expands kids’ vocabulary, crosses cultural divides, provides a safe space to conquer fears, is relaxing, teaches teamwork and builds imagination.

Supply teaching – a beginner’s guide

Teacher at work

Supply teaching is becoming a more desirable choice for many teachers. From new teachers wanting to get on the ladder and gain some experience, to experienced teachers looking for a better work/life balance, and those simply looking for a way to earn some extra money, supply teaching is proving the perfect choice for many.

It has long been recognised that supply teachers are a natural port of call for schools in a crisis. Maternity cover, sick leave and staff training all impact on the availability of permanent teachers within a school. For many supply teachers there will always be work. The most important thing is to build up a good reputation.

There are many advantages, and some disadvantages, of becoming a supply teacher. Here are the main points you will need to consider before taking the leap. Importantly, the more flexible you are over location, age groups, subjects and type of schools, the more work you will get.

The advantages of supply teaching

• Working in a variety of schools, you’ll pick up some great ideas that you might not have if you were in a permanent position in one school. Supply teaching in different schools is great for personal development and employment prospects.
• Flexibility – you’ll be able to choose when you work, and go away on holiday when you wish.
• You’ll be less involved in planning, target-setting and assessments, leaving you to get on with the job you love – teaching.
• You’ll get to meet a wide range of people, from heads and teachers through to pupils. It’s a great opportunity for networking and building a fabulous reputation.
• Supply teaching is a great way to get back in the classroom and refresh your skills if you’ve been out of the industry for a while.
• You’ll gain insight into the type of schools you may like to work in permanently.
• Earn as you learn. Many teachers are able to undertake a part-time Masters degree at the same time as working.
• You choose whether to accept or decline work.

The disadvantages of supply teaching

• Handling money difficulties is probably one of the most common problems that supply teachers face. While work is abundant, there isn’t a problem, but when it’s harder to get a placement it can cause financial insecurity for some. A lack of regular income may also be a problem should you wish to apply for a mortgage.
• Availability of work may be irregular if you are an NQT (newly qualified teacher).
• Short-term placements aren’t for everyone. It can make some feel like they don’t belong.
• Access to continuing professional development and mentoring can be irregular.
• It can be difficult to get to know the children and staff if you are only working in a school for a short time.

What you will need to register with us

To register you will need:

• 2 forms of ID, one of which must be your Passport
• Valid visa (if appropriate)
• Proof of address (bank statement, utility bill from the last 3 months)
• DBS disclosure (some agencies can organise this for you)
• Overseas police check (if appropriate)
• Contact details for 2 referees
• Teaching degree certificate or transcript
• P45 9if you have left a permanent job in the UK)
• GTC number. QTS teachers will be checked against the Teaching Agency Register for proof of qualification and suitability.
• To provide an explanation of gaps in your employment history

Everything you need to know for your first day working as a supply teacher

• Research your school before you arrive. Look at their website and inspection reports from Ofsted.
• Plan your route and leave plenty of time to arrive early.
• Dress smart and comfortably.
• Always take for DBS and ID so the school can verify your identity.
• Always take work and equipment with you. Some schools will have plans they want you to follow, others won’t. Things like board pens and scrap paper are useful and easy to carry.
• Fit in with the school. Don’t introduce your own behaviour strategies, unless you are on a longer term contract. Changing things too much doesn’t usually get the children on your side.
• Be personable, positive, helpful and flexible.
• Use your TA to get to know the class and the routine. Don’t ask the children to help you with the school routine. If the class doesn’t have a TA, ask another teacher.
• Go the extra mile – help with breaks, assemblies and after school clubs. This will help you build a positive and professional relationship with the school, and they will ask for you again.
• Don’t disappear as soon as the bell goes. It doesn’t create a good impression.

Questions to ask on arrival at a new placement

1. Who is your line manager?
2. How do you gain entry to the school each day?
3. What are the timings of the school day, including breaks?
4. What time are you expected to arrive each day?
5. Are you expected to do extra duties, such as lunch duty?
6. Are you expected to attend staff training days, staff meetings and parents’ evenings?
7. Do they have a plan or map of the school?
8. Where is the staffroom, cloakroom, toilet?
9. Is there a seating plan in the classroom?
10. Has work been set for the class?
11. Is there any guidance on marking work?
12. What is the school’s disciplinary policy for disruptive behaviour in the classroom?
13. Do any of the pupils have any medical conditions you should be aware of?
14. What are the arrangements if a child falls ill in class?
15. What are the emergency procedures, in the event of fire?
16. Is there a dress code?
17. Are there any children in your class with special educational needs?
18. Are there any statement pupils?
19. Are there any particular routines, such as lining up outside the classroom before a lesson?
20. Who is the named person for reporting child protection concerns?

Final top tip – don’t be afraid to try something new!

How to make your classroom dyslexia friendly

Dyslexia concept

Approximately one in ten of the population is estimated to have dyslexia. As many as one in five children leave primary school with below the national average levels in reading, writing and mathematics, according to the UK charity Dyslexia Action.

A survey of teachers, carried out by Dyslexia Action, found that as many as 60 per cent of teachers did not feel satisfied that their training had equipped them with sufficient skills to teach those who are struggling to read and write.

The British Dyslexia Association is campaigning to encourage schools to work towards becoming dyslexia-friendly. They recommend a multi-sensory approach to teaching and learning and are encouraging schools to join up to their programme for a Quality Mark Award. You can find the abridged version of their guide to good practice here.

Here are 11 ways you can start making your classroom dyslexia-friendly. With your help, dyslexic children don’t need to be afraid of books.

1. Give directions one step at a time – this helps reduce the processing time and helps to cater to memory deficits.
2. Preview and review – set out what you will be doing for the day to help pupils organise, filter and prioritise information. At the end of the day, review activities to help students remember and categorise what they have learned throughout the day.
3. Warn students when activities are about to change – let children know when an activity is coming to an end and what is expected of them. Try counting down; for example, there’s 5 more minutes of reading time, before we start our maths lesson, 2 more minutes etc.
4. Slow down instructions – make sure students have time to process information. Be clear and explicit when explaining tasks, and assess children in intervals to ensure they have understood what it is you have asked of them.
5. Assume nothing – never assume children understand connected concepts. Teach one concept at a time and draw connections with all new material presented.
6. Provide visuals wherever possible – children with dyslexia will likely have some processing issues. If they miss important details in their note taking, visual outlines will help them to recap and are more likely to secure ideas in the memory.
7. Use numbering instead of bullet points where possible – dyslexic children can easily lose their place.
8. Ensure that you use dyslexia-friendly fonts, such as Comic Sans, Sassoon or Arial. Avoid Time New Roman or other cursive scripts. Use double line spacing on homework sheets or notes.
9. Use a colour background on PowerPoint slides, and use off-white paper for handouts.
10. Teach key vocabulary and provide new vocabulary lists at the start of each new topic. Also explore different spelling techniques to make words more memorable.
11. Set suitable reading tasks for homework. Research resources about how to support reading for dyslexia.

Dedicated reading time should be at the heart of the school day

Children with books

Few can argue against the idea that good literacy skills are the key building block for learning. A recent report in the Telegraph highlights the obvious fact that there is a clear correlation between literacy improvements and the amount of time spent reading. The article, however, also asserts that all too often schools are unable to build dedicated reading time into the school timetable. Many Independent schools manage to factor in time, so why can’t state schools do the same?

Literacy at school does get the attention it deserves, but time dedicated to reading for pleasure is often squeezed out of the academic timetable. According to the Telegraph, “a recent survey of young people found that, overall, just half of six to eight-year-olds, 25 per cent of 12 to 14-year-olds, and 11 per cent of 15 to 17-year-olds, get the opportunity to read for pleasure during the school day.”

The Renaissance study of young people’s reading habits found that primary school pupils across the UK push themselves to read suitably difficult books, but secondary school pupils often do not read books sufficiently challenging enough to develop their reading skills.
As a result, the research found that reading ages are slipping to such an extent that by the time pupils come to sit their GCSEs at 16, they typically have an average reading age of a 13 year old.

This has far reaching effects for pupils in their GCSE exams. With poor reading skills pupils will struggle to understand examination questions. It is clear that dedicated reading in schools from an early age will have huge benefits across a broad range of subjects. Dirk Foch, Managing Director of Renaissance UK, the organisation responsible for carrying out the research, said, “the question now is for policy makers and teachers to develop ways to build more reading time into the school curriculum, particularly in secondary school. If we invest time into this now it will pay dividends for future generations in the long term.”

Book with page folded in heart shape

Here are 5 top tips from the experts on how to get your pupils reading more:

1. Talk to parents to find out what support they need to encourage them to help their children to read at home.
2. Keep up to date with children’s literature. There is a great book out there for everyone. See if your school is able to appoint/nominate a literature specialist to advise on introducing a wider range of poets’ and writers’ works into the school.
3. Encourage children to read every day. Give children 15 minutes a day to read in school, and get reading buddies in the classroom to support reluctant readers.
4. Turn your school into a book-loving place. Start by setting up book clubs to include all of the teachers and all of the children.
5. Celebrate reading achievements in special book-themed school assemblies.

Could digital pop-up books be reinvigorating an interest in reading?

Augmented reality children’s books are growing in popularity, and have been since the Pokemon Go augmented reality game craze. With children increasingly engaged with technology from an early age, a move to join up traditional reading with technology could be the smartest move yet to reinvigorate an interest in reading.

Primary teacher, Frankie O’Reilly’s children’s novel, The Boy with his Head Stuck in a Book, uses augmented reality in an attempt to engage Year 6 boys in reading. While augmented-reality books have been on the scene for a few years, this is thought to be the first written for the key stage 2 curriculum.

In a report by TES, Ms O’Reilly said “Year 6 Sats were really leaning towards classical fiction, like Treasure Island, The Jungle Book and White Fang. And the boys in my class were so switched off. They didn’t want it. They were just really disengaged.”

Ms O’Reilly’s journey with The Boy with his Head Stuck in a Book started as a poem in a bid to get the boys in her classroom engaged with reading. The story is about a boy who is forced to go to the library, but doesn’t like reading, until he discovers a magical book. Ms O’Reilly soon realised that books and stories alone weren’t going to be enough to inspire the boys in her class to read, but she knew that putting an iPad in front of them had a different effect.

And so the augmented-reality version of The Boy with his Head Stuck in a Book was born and it’s had a surprisingly positive impact. She said, “it’s a bit of novelty, I guess, but the boys have a book in their hands now, and that’s exactly what I wanted.”

Augmented reality is a ridiculously good idea when it’s teamed with a great story, and The Boy with his Head Stuck in a Book is great read about a mysterious book with a mind of its own. Anyone reading the story is catapulted into a magical world filled with dinosaurs, dragons, pirates and ghosts.

The technology works by downloading an app to your smartphone (in this case Zapper), and then snapping pages when instructed to do so. You then bring the story alive on your phone. It’s definitely a book to inspire a love of books. For a preview take a look at Zappar’s YouTube clip. You can’t fail to be impressed. Digital pop-up books could be the best move yet to inspire kids to read again.

New term resolutions: how to minimise marking and reclaim your weekend

There probably isn’t a teacher across the UK who hasn’t had their weekends blighted by a spate of marking. Every Friday teachers leave schools in droves armed with a pile of books that require their attention in order to provide effective feedback to pupils in the classroom the following week.

Marking is a time-intensive process, and it needs to be done properly. With administrative tasks in the classroom creeping up, it’s no wonder many teachers reserve their weekends for marking work. There are, however some surprisingly simple ways to minimise the marking workload. Want to claw back your weekend? Read on for 9 brilliant tips to minimise marking and reclaim your weekend.

1 – STOP writing so much. Shorten the amount of feedback you give. Learn to be succinct and cover the main point that will benefit the child in terms of feedback. Matt Pinkett, a head of English at a school in Surrey, reported to The Guardian, “a smarter way of marking is essential. Rather than scrawling endless comments over 30 books, I now write down things the class do well – or not so well – on a crib sheet of A3 paper and feed this back verbally to the class.”

2 – Not every careless mistake needs correcting. You can’t close mark everything.

3 – You don’t have to grade every piece of work.

4 – Mark pupils work as they are doing it, and discuss feedback with pupils in real time. This is much more useful to pupils than written feedback on work pupils will have forgotten about by the time they get their marked work back the following week.

5 – Get your children to hand in their work in alphabetical order. It makes it easier for recording grades in your gradebook or register.

6 – Try some peer marking (where it’s age appropriate). Get the children to grade some of their own work by swapping books with a class mate. You can go through the answers with them in class.

7 – Grade some work in the classroom while your pupils are busy taking a test or working on an activity requiring minimum supervision. Always take any opportunity in the classroom to get on top of the marking.

8 – Get the children to put a marker tag in their workbooks on the page that requires your input. This will save a little bit of time when you’re going through the marking pile!

9 – Don’t get hung up on Ofsted. Even Ofsted are trying to bust the myth that extensive marking is beneficial for pupils’ learning. Sean Harford, HMI National Director for Education has advised Ofsted Inspectors not to report on marking practice, or attribute the degree of pupils progress pupils have made to effective or ineffective marking.

Reduce marking time and you’ll not only reclaim your weekends, you can spend more time doing things that will make you a better teacher, and help you to have more enjoyable and fulfilling weekends. Your pupils will benefit instantly from your renewed energy. Marking all weekend is soul-destroying and will eat away at your morale.

9 things teachers simply must do in the school summer holidays

Teaching isn’t an easy profession. It’s definitely rewarding, but pressure and demands are high. One of the biggest perks for teachers though is the summer holiday. With the school summer holiday break stretched out in front of you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have all the time in the world to enjoy it. Start your school holiday without any plans and your summer break could pass you by in the blink of an eye.

There’s nothing more unsatisfying than feeling like valuable time off has been wasted. Plan your summer break well, with a mixture of pro-active tasks, leisure time, relaxation and thinking time and you’ll be able to go back to school after the summer hols with a spring in your step. Here are 9 things you simply must do to make the most of the summer break:

1 – Sleep – catch up on those zzzzs. After a long school year of early morning starts and late night marking, you deserve some extra zzzzs. Allow yourself a few late starts and some early nights, but don’t get into bad habits and waste the holidays doing nothing. There’s a balance to be had here.

2 – Meet your 9-5 friends for lunch (because you can). It’s payback time. Think of all the times your friends have taken days off during the school term for lazy lunches, while you’ve been stuck in the classroom.

3 – Make the most of the outdoors (but on rainy days catch up on the box sets). You’ve just spent the best part of your year cooped up in the classroom. It’s summer. Go for walks, get to the beach, spend time in your garden. Make the absolute most of fresh air and sunshine.

4 – Catch up on DIY. You’ve got plenty of time to tackle some of those bigger projects you haven’t had time for at weekends. Getting your house in order might feel like a chore, but when those tedious jobs are finished you know how good you’ll feel.

5 – Get back into an exercise routine – there are health benefits, and it will give you energy. Of course you’ll feel virtuous too!

6 – Shake up your menus and practise recipes for healthier snacks to get you through the next school year. When work takes over, menu planning and healthy eating can fall by the wayside. Now you have the time to give your diet an overhaul. Spend time enjoying cooking. Invite friends over to share in your newfound culinary delights.

7 – Delve into your personal development plans that have been shelved throughout the school year. The summer break is the perfect time to think about you, not the classroom.

8 – Don’t leave the next school year’s lesson planning until the last minute. Factor in a few hours a week over the summer to keep on top of the workload. Set yourself small targets and stick to them. You’ll be so pleased you did when your colleagues are stressing out a few days before the start of the next school year.

9 – Do some proper classroom research. With your head focused on getting through the workload all year, you’ve been literally paddling like crazy to stay afloat. Give yourself some breathing space and research some of the ways you can make your next school year work better for you and your pupils. Think outside the box for a change.

Renew your resources, your energy and your health.