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The story of an outstanding lesson. I’d want to make clear at the outset of this post that I no longer believe there is such a thing as an ‘outstanding’ lesson and would like to refer you to this post. Outstanding lessons are all alike; every unsatisfactory lesson is unsatisfactory in its own way.Leo Tolstoy (and me) It’s all very well writing a book called The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson, but it does rather set you up for a fall. People expect you to be able to bang out Grade 1 lessons to order.

Anything less than outstanding would be a bitter disappointment. I’ve reflected a number of times that it must seem like the most appalling hubris to have written the damn thing; teaching a great lesson becomes a minimum requirement. Anything else and I am exposed as a fraud! Now, I’ve always had high expectations of myself and on those occasions where my lessons have been judged to be less than outstanding I’ve indulged in recrimination and self-doubt to the point of obsession. Students’ character questions Like this: Ntrolled assessment and why I hate it.

Yesterday I took a break from ploughing through my Year 10 controlled assessments to exhort myself to “bloody well get on with it” and stop moaning about my work load. Marking is virtuous. You know it’s important so you get with it. Plus, it produces a warm satisfying glow when you finally get the bottom of the stack and scribble your last improvement target. Students hard at work on an extremely worthwhile piece of controlled assessment.

Except, I got to the bottom of my pile of summatively assessed controlled assessments and thought, what was the point of that? I’ll hand it back on Monday and they’ll either be pleased or disappointed and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. In the old days, I could hand back a piece of coursework, students could scratch their heads about the targets I’d given them; we could have a conversation about how they could redraft it and hey presto! Not so now. I’ve got no problem with students working in silence on extended pieces of work. Work scrutiny – What’s the point of marking books? Marking is an act of lovePhil Beadle If you’ve never taken part in a whole school book scrutiny, I’d recommend it. Seeing how students treat their exercise books across different subjects is very revealing.

I’ll happily agree that students’ books can’t give a complete picture of their learning and progress in particular classes but they certainly ask interesting questions about whether marking and presentation matter. Just for a moment, let’s assume we all understand and agree that giving quality feedback to students is the most important thing teachers can do (click here for more on this.) Phil Beadle, in typically provocative style, puts it like this: You can turn up hungover every morning, wearing the same creased pair of Farahs as last week, with hair that looks like a bird has slept in it, then spend most of the lesson talking at kids about how wonderful your are; but mark their books with dedication and rigour and your class will fly.How To Teach To avoid this: We have this: 1. 2. Some thoughts on silent reading. Is silence is golden? “And Johnny, what makes you think that is suitable for silent reading?”

“Because Sir, you really would not want me to read it out loud”Jim Smith, The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook Apparently silent reading hasn’t been around as long as you might think. The 4th Century church leader Saint Ambrose’s reading habits were unusual enough for Saint Augustine to note in Book 6, chapter 3 of his Confessions that: When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.

Why is this important? The point is that I value silent reading very much. Doing a sopt of research lead my this list of reasons why silent reading should be undertaken in the classroom. The problem for non-members is described by the Matthew effect: the word rich become richer while the word poor become poorer. Maybe I’ve been damaged by my experience of reading lessons coupled with Accelerated Reader. Related posts Like this: But is it art? No. 5 – Jackson Pollock I’m a big fan of art. I wouldn’t claim to know a lot about it, but it speaks to me. Whether it’s standing, enraptured in front of The Ambassadors, climbing Louise Bourgeois’ towers, peering into Tracey Emin’s tent, or trying to mentally piece together Cornelia Parker’s exploded garden shed it grabs something inside me and compels me to be present. To pay attention. To be interested. I’m currently reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, Are You Indispensable?

“Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. And maybe there are artists who teach. Godin asks if we are selling ourselves short. The alternative is to love what you do. So does that make me an artist? So, this got me thinking about the kids. What happens if we tie all these ideas together? Related posts Why we should strive for perfection The art of failure Easy vs Hard Like this: Like Loading... Building challenge: differentiation that?s quick and works ? The Learning Spy. UPDATE: These two posts represent my latest think on differentiation: Is differentiation a zero-sum game?

April 2015 Why do we overestimate the importance of differences? November 2014 Since having a good long think about differentiation some while back it doesn’t keep me up at nights nearly as much as it used to. But this is still one of my most visited posts so clearly other folks continue to be troubled. I want to set out my stall early by saying that this is yet another of those troublesome topics which is far simpler than most teachers imagine. Another question which I’ve been kicking around for a while is the difference between ‘task’ and ‘outcome’. The truth (certainly the truth as I see it) is elsewhere altogether.

You will, no doubt, be delighted to hear that there are alternatives to much of the nonsense insisted on by poorly informed school leaders: the two ways I avocate approaching differentiation are: Marking & feedbackTask design The first is fairly straight forward. Effective group work « The Learning Spy. Just another example of effective groupwork OK. I have 3 points to make: Group work does not make us more creative and it does not make us work harder.Learning is social and effective group work (apparently) doubles the speed of students’ learning.Almost all teaching in schools depends on a teacher’s ability to create effective groups because, wait for it, classes are just large groups. Let’s deal with each of these in a bit more detail. Firstly, as I’ve discussed before, when we try to work together to work towards a collective goal we get, what is known as the Ringelmann Effect.

There is also the argument that group brainstorming makes us less creative as it actually limits our capacity to come up with interesting ideas. So, if we accept that while group brainstorming may not be all it’s cracked up to be but that talking to people about our ideas is hugely important then we should be well on our way to accepting that learning is essentially social. Yes, of course bad group work is bad. What’s the point of INSET days? « The Learning Spy. Recently, I overheard a colleague say that they had never attended an INSET (IN SErvice Training) day that wasn’t a complete waste of time. I have to admit that I felt rather startled by this as, with some notable exceptions, I generally enjoy these days. You get to natter to people you don’t see everyday, you get a break from the kids and often there’s a free lunch! But how often do I learn anything?

Well, that all depends on the type of INSET day it is. All too often the only requirement for staff is that they sit and listen. Either to an expensive motivational guest speaker or to a member of the school’s own leadership team. Hopefully though, this type of INSET doesn’t happen too much anymore. My favourite kind of INSET day is when I’m given time to work with my faculty in whatever way we see fit about whatever we think important. Basically, Dan says that in order to be motivated we need autonomy, mastery and purpose. How cool is that? Update: here’s what I think a year or so on. Go with the flow: the 2 minute lesson plan « The Learning Spy. NB: This post does no longer represents my latest thinking. I’ve updated my approach to planning here.

Like all teachers, my main aim in life is to run, whooping, out of the school gates by 3 o’clock. My time is therefore precious and I can’t be wasting it mucking about planning lessons. Fortunately for us skiving scoundrels, SMW recently told us that as far as Ofsted are concerned there is no need for lesson plans. As long as lessons are planned. These are my two guiding principles for lesson planning: Marking is planningFocus on learning not activities So, how’s this for a minimalist approach to lesson planning? What did students learn last lesson and how will it relate to this lesson?

By breaking the plan I mean that you should conduct a thought experiment where you anticipate everything that could go wrong and consider your response. The only other consideration I will typically indulge in is whether the plan is likely to produce ‘flow’. But can you really do all this in two minutes? Some thoughts on Learning Styles « The Learning Spy. The rusting can of worms that is Learning Styles has been prised open again and the wriggling mess is crawling all over the educational twittersphere. And on that note I will stop extending the metaphor. A visual metaphor for the visual learners who didn’t get my first sentence Last week Ian Gilbert wrote Learning Styles are dead, long live Learning Styles.

He said: I have been in too many situations where young people who weren’t ‘getting it’ one way then started ‘getting it’ when we tried a different way, to dismiss the whole learning styles thing as a fad.As a teacher, I don’t care what the different learning styles a class of children have (although knowing such things when working with individual learners can be useful in my experience) and I don’t care what you call it. This was later echoed by Bill Boyd who attacks Daniel Wilingham’s proposition that Learning Styles don’t exist and drags Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligences into the mix. So why am I getting involved? How to subvert target grades. Target grades are good aren’t they? They must be otherwise why would Ofsted be so damn keen on them.

Consider this: how would Monsieur d’Ofsted respond when asking an unsuspecting student in your class whether they’re achieving their target grade only to be told that their teacher didn’t let them know what their target grade was? Doesn’t bode well, does it? Here’s a somewhat contentious piece of information: if you grade (or level) students’ work you are actively preventing that piece of work being used formatively. That’s not right, you may be thinking, I can provide formative feedback on a piece of work which helps students make progress whilst also giving them a grade as a useful signpost to measure their progress against, can’t I? I’m afraid to tell you that you can’t.

Even worse, ‘target’ grades are nothing of the sort. But what about Ofsted? Grades can also have a pernicious effect on mindsets. Unless they have something like this stuck in their books: Is this ethical? Related posts. How effective learning hinges on good questioning « The Learning Spy. Hands up who likes asking questions? Questioning is an essential part of helping students to make progress but only if it causes thinking or elicits evidence that informs our teaching. And the thing with asking questions is that while there are some kids who know how to make the system work for them and actively participate in lessons because that they way they’ll learn more, there are those who don’t.

Dylan Wiliam claims that the students who are sufficiently engaged to put up their hands and answer everything we ask them are “actually getting smarter. Their IQs actually go up.” Now, I can’t vouch for the research on this but if it’s true, by allowing some students not to participate we’re making the achievement gap bigger. Not good. Just in case you don’t already know how to suck eggs grandma, a solution to this is some sort of randomised name generator. But the poor students’ problems aren’t over yet. But what sort of questions should we be asking? Here are my findings: Like this: Outstanding teaching & learning: missed opportunities and marginal gains.

I work at an ‘outstanding’ school where the teaching and learning is ‘good’. As such we are squarely in Wilshaw’s sights and almost certainly due an inspection at some point this year. We were last inspected in November 2011 but a lot of goal post moving has gone on in the intervening months. The new inspection framework is widely seen as a ravening beast out to devour schools that are not delivering to the lofty standards of our hero, the saviour of Mossbourne Academy. In essence, what this means is that if we want to retain the right to put ‘outstanding’ on our headed paper we’d better be able to demonstrate that our T&L has improved since last year.

Clearly this needs to be challenged but not by wielding a stick or telling teachers to try harder. In an outstanding lesson a lot of this ‘noticing’ happens at the point of planning. How do you go about broaching this with staff? No wonder I look smug: I came up with marginal gains. Via @HuntingEnglish Find your own lights Related posts. Much Ado About Marking and Progress.

The Road Not Taken Before I started my PGCE course, I was faced with a difficult choice: should I take a Drama PGCE or an English PGCE? If I took Drama, I would be faced with lots of extracurricular activities of shows, plays and rehearsals. Each thing is fun but a drain on my free time. If I took the English path, I would be faced with lots of marking as I faced roughly 150 items of marking per week. I know I am reducing each course down to one single thing, but it was an important thing: how much of my free time would be taken up with marking? I knew teaching was tough, but I wanted to be able to manage my time. Eventually, I decided I’d take the English route, as I could manage the workload and not be held to a set time. For this week’s blog I want to talk about marking and, especially, feedback. We know that Ofsted might (some cases recently prove they might not) look at a student’s exercise book. I have had a mixed past with marking and it came to a head about a year ago.

Feedback. Is teaching cheating?