Is a slow writer a bad writer?

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Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.

– William Shakespeare

At the end of last October I became an education blogger – by accident really. Swiftly, I set up a WordPress site, giving my blog the impressive tagline ‘simple and practical classroom solutions.’ Three months of reading, thinking, talking and writing about education later and my initial delusions of grandeur have become rather an embarrassment to me. I do not have all the answers; the longer time goes on, the less I seem to know. Thus my tagline has become: ‘In search of classroom answers’. I am sure this will be subject to change before long (especially if my blogging buddy, @BelmontTeach, gets his teeth into it!).

Let’s start with a confession. I find these blogs tough to write – I am not a natural. My 1996 hard won GCSE B-grades in English language and literature are a reflection of this, especially in contrast to the A-grades I achieved, effortlessly in comparison, in maths and science. Be that as it may, I loved English and reading, and, like a faithful yet badly mistreated dog, I kept coming back for more. Slowly and painfully I got a bit better. These blogposts take a veritable age to write; I agonise over every word, every sentence, every paragraph – I am never satisfied. The writing process is usually initiated on my evening dog-walks, when I rehearse my ideas in an obsessive internal monologue. Following this comes feverishly scribbled-up notes on whatever paper comes to hand; these are then typed up on Word; finally comes the copying-and-pasting onto the blog itself. Sentences are constantly reconfigured; a missed typo brings with it inordinate self-loathing. Below are my scribbled notes for this one:

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The point is, I have always struggled to write quickly. And many of my students do too. My last blog-post on Michael Marland’s The Craft of the Classroom took hours to write – I wanted so much to get it right. Funnily enough, this post has been much faster – probably because I am writing from the heart this time, not the head.

When I began teaching English in 2006, 40% of our English Language AQA syllabus was assessed by coursework that could be redrafted and revised as often as we liked. Many students took it home to lovingly craft, while at the other extreme some stared blankly at it for a few weeks until I, in a fit of panic, talked them through every single sentence. Was it a fair way to assess writing? Probably not. Those with the luxury of home-help, proficient in the dark arts of internet plagiarism, or particularly hard-working could over-achieve in relation to their real ability. Each year the weight of accountability grew greater,  each year the grades seemed to matter even more than whether the child could really do it.

Yet it is also true that many children found and honed their writing skills through this redrafting process – in much the same way as Ron Berger has argued in his wonderful An Ethic of Excellence. Fears of plagiarism and an unequal playing field led, three years ago, to the more formal ‘controlled assessment’ system, a system much vilified on the blogosphere. Making up 40% of the final grade – with the remaining 20% allotted to the now-binned speaking-and-listening, and 40% to the final exam – this was billed as a fairer alternative to coursework. Unfortunately, once again, in our hyper-accountable world, abuse of the system – or the allegation of it – is understandably rife. Speaking-and-listening received its marching orders earlier this academic year, so that this year’s weighting, unless you have opted for the iGCSE, is 40% controlled assessment, 60% final exam. The new GCSE English, to be assessed in 2017, will scrap all in-class assessment in favour of one high-stakes exam.

An option that provides less opportunity for cheating must be fairer, you might say. The problem is that the old systems took into account that not all good writers are good writers in exam conditions. Yes, academia will always require students to write under pressurised conditions…yet real life rarely does. The current 2 hour, 15 minute AQA exam is brutal to say the least. I wonder if I would be doing what I do today if my English GCSE, A-levels and degree course (I made sure I took an assignment-based one) had hinged completely on exam technique.

Here are some questions that I feel need to be answered by the new GCSE exam:

  • Will future GCSE English grades genuinely be more valid and reliable than they once were?
  • How true is the concept that fast writing is better writing?
  • How desirable is a nation of quick-thinkers over a nation of slow, careful thinkers?
  • Might 100% final exam lead to the valorising of written quantity at the expense of written quality?
  • How will questions and time be organised in the new exam to  give every child an equal chance of attaining highly?

Take my year 11 student, Chloe, for example. Here is a beautiful paragraph of carefully and lovingly written prose taken from a controlled assessment piece she undertook slowly in class. (I can assure you, there was no cheating.)

 Chloe

In her pre-Christmas mock exam, Chloe, thankfully, just scraped a C. Her answers, however, were a shadow of the above, which I believe to be her genuine writing ability. I am now in the Kafkaesque situation where Chloe must be advised to replace her developing expertise with a faster, pragmatic and ultimately inferior writing style if she is to reach her target grade of a B.

Another student in the same class came to me last Thursday to discuss her disappointing mock grade. I had to explain to her that if she had achieved only 50% in the question she had missed out, her C would have miraculously become an A. Lessons are now too often spent reminding students to move on to the next question, even if the previous answer is not perfect. Conversely, since the AQA change from two shorter exams to one longer exam three years ago, I have also found that an increasing number of distinctly average yet fast writers are achieving A amd A*.

I appreciate that we must do more to help our current KS3 students become more proficient under timed conditions. Chris Curtis shared a great strategy in his blog last week (here): ‘blind’ assessments should be interspersed with ‘structured’ and scaffolded assessments. Another idea I am mulling over is a gradual acceleration approach: as the years go by, so the minimum expectation of quantity rises.

I feel for my fellow ‘slowbies’. Many great authors take years to write; let us hope that there is also a place in society for the sluggish-yet-sometimes-brilliant  minds of the future.

Further reading:

Here are some of my earlier thoughts on why we should give students time to write.

‘Even love needs a method’: reclaiming child-centred classroom management

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Last week on a TV documentary about trainee teachers – I am sure you can guess which one – I witnessed something I was uncomfortable with. After his lessons had been repeatedly disrupted by the poor behaviour of a troubled boy, a young teacher was asked to sit in an off-camera meeting, mediated by a more senior member of staff, where the difficulties he had had with the boy were discussed face-to-face. Even though negotiation is a necessity in adult life, I have never found it to be successful in school when working with those teenagers who willfully disobey. To me, meeting in the middle suggests that both parties need to shift position, yet how can we shift position when all we are asking is that the student follow the basic rules that we, and the school, have laid down?

Before I continue, I would like to point out that I am very aware that my understanding of the incident has been shaped by TV editing. It is, however, the reaction to this event on Twitter that has puzzled me more some have argued that it is child-centred thinking that is to blame for this probably misguided attempt to find resolution.

A myopic focus on the needs of one child, at the expense of the majority, is not child-centred to my thinking. In fact, it is quite the reverse. To reach maturity, a child must learn how to take control of strong and contrary impulses during every day social situation. What better place to learn to do this than in an ordinary secondary classroom? For me, the child-centred approach is about taking into account the complexity of the children who sit in front of us, both in an educational and personal sense, and then using this understanding to ensure that they work hard, behave well and learn something. So how do we, as classroom teachers, craft the conditions that make this possible?

Giving in to the wills and whims of our students in an effort to win them over is not the answer. Michael Marland’s 1975 teacher manual, The Craft of The Classroom provided an answer that should not be forgotten (thank you to those who recommended it to me on Twitter after my recent post on differentiation). In the wisdom of Marland’s precise prose, there is a simple and timeless philosophy – the better I control and organise my classroom, the more opportunity I have to manage behaviour and build strong relationships that centre around the interests of the child.

Marlands approach was that, with methodical practice, the behaviour and response of our students is thoroughly predictable, and we can all learn to control the majority of it – assuming that we have strong school systems in place to deal with more extreme incidents. The book, therefore, is pertinent to both new and experienced teachers.

In Marland’s words:

“…there are many techniques of class management for the Secondary school that can be distilled from the work of hundreds of teachers and have almost universal validity.

And: 

“The paradox is that good classroom management makes personal teaching possible, for it frees the individual from constant conflict, and only then can the teacher be truly personal.

Marland also reminds us that we must try to ignore the natural desire to be liked by our students:

There is also a very understandable fear which many teachers have of losing the affection of pupils. This fear makes the teachers, like timid lovers, apprehensive lest the first dark look is evidence of favours withdrawn for ever If your demand is legitimate and for the pupils good, dont be tempted to abandon it. The relationships at which you should be aiming are those achieved by, say, the end of the year, not the end of the first week.

I wonder if the dark looks Marland mentioned are more of an issue than many of us would care to admit! Be that as it may, Marland’s was not a one-size-fits-all approach:

“When all is said and done, however, you will have to vary your approach to suit the individuals you teach. You must be consistent from occasion to occasion, but flexible from individual to individual. One of the specialisms of a school is that of knowing pupils. You will subtly vary your approach to each as you get to know him or her. With one you will need to remain always light-hearted, with another quiet and personal. One may require a look, another a sharp remark. You will learn that some pupils react badly to public rebuke, some can’t stand praise in public, others won’t answer questions aloud however hard you press, whilst some will try to answer a question before you have even asked it. Many pupils behave acceptably but cannot resist subtly baiting to provoke. The teacher who knows these pupils intimately knows how to side-step the provocation, retain his dignity and authority, and maintain a warn relationship. All of this requires a great flexibility of approach to individuals.”

At 100 pages exactly, the book is chock-full of practical advice to support its over-arching philosophy. In its pages, Marland discusses relationships, the classroom environment, routines and the rhythm of our days. Here are some of my favourite simple strategies to help foster relationships through, and not in spite of, sound and firm classroom management:

  • To smile at a student is a hugely effective strategy, especially after a stare.“Then a mere continuation of the stare may be sufficient, but it can be strengthened by a frown, or even a smile. This last may sound surprising , but a smile indicates you know the pupil was up to something he shouldn’t have been, that you are not furious – yet, and if it stops all will be well.”
  • Most of us stand at the door to invite our students in, but how many of us live up to Marland’s standards? “As each passes you, it is possible to put in a personal word to many of them. Private jokes, reminders, enquiries, warnings, encouragement, can all be easily fitted in. You have combined efficient supervision with warm personal relationships.”
  • Here’s one I have been making a conscious effort with this week. Speak to your students, rather than delivering into the ether. “The key is communication with your eyes. Feel the sectors of the room, and underline the structure and sequence of your remarks by directing phrases to the different sectors… Within each group, look only at one pupil, a different one each time you return to the sector, and cast your remark to him. Feel that you are communicating personally with that individual: look him or her in the eyes, and be aware of his or her expression.”

  • This one reminds me of Chris Curtis’ post on marking students’ work within the lesson  – here. “This may mean staying at your desk in the front of the room to do your individual helping. You are comfortable and stable, and able to talk more coherently. You can more easily keep the others quiet by a look without interrupting your work with the pupil.”
  • Lastly, the reason behind this weekend’s planned trip to the garden centre! “Some teachers cultivate pot plants on window sills or shelves. Such a pleasantness is appreciated by most pupils. The touch of colour and natural life softens the classroom, and increases pride.”

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In a time of great uncertainty – whenever we put our finger on what we think good teaching is it seems to slip from our grasp! – it is wonderful to read Marland’s measured, avuncular sentences. Marland’s book quietly and wisely refused to enter the discussion on what comprises good teaching. His approach is similar to those friends and colleagues who have influenced the start of my career the most. The child-centred approach should not be in doubt; instead, it is the route there we must consider.

Second-hand copies of the book are available on Amazon for a pittance. It is well worth a read.

Geoff Barton wrote a lovely obituary of Michael Marland – who died in 2008 – which is available here.

Probing the continuum

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From time to time, we happen upon a simple and effortless strategy that makes a fundamental difference to a key element of our teaching. Over the years we hone this down to something close to perfection, yet because it is so easy and straightforward we just assume that everyone else is doing the same thing. Forgive me, then, if you already do this, but here is my awkwardly named ‘post-it discussion’ in all its glory. It is simply the best strategy for initiating quality discussion I have ever put to use in my classroom, and this week it has become even better…

It works like this.

I give students a question – say, ‘Did Steinbeck present a completely pessimistic view of the world in Of Mice and Men?’ – and show them a continuum, from ‘yes’ to ‘no’, on the board.

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2. I tell them that I will give them a post-it note on which they will write their name. I remind them that they can stick the post-it along the continuum wherever they like. As I am dawdling round handing out the post-its, I let them chat to their neighbours about where they will place themselves. (The dawdling is a deliberate tactic that enables me to feed in a few ideas to those who are unsure or lack confidence as I go round.)

3. Once all the post-its are up on the board, it is time for the discussion to begin. I now know the broad sweep of opinion in the class, and can conduct the discussion however I like. In true Carol Vorderman style – ‘one from the left, one from the right and now one from the middle’ – I pick off the post-its, asking students either to comment on the reasoning behind their position or to feed back on the opposing comment we have just heard. As always, it is important to probe and refuse to accept badly reasoned points. I do also allow hands-up comments too as I think a total ‘hands-down’ policy can sometimes be counter-productive (as I explained in this post here). Giving an option to move the note to a different position along the continuum mid-discussion is also vital.

Above is the simple premise, but it is the recent tweaks I have made which have really excited me.

  • The first is to encourage students to use the ABC – agree with, build-upon or challenge – discussion format that Alex Quigley discusses here.
  • The second, which I put into action yesterday, added an extra dimension to the process comes from Doug Lemov’s comment on Alex’s blog. If students want to comment on another student’s point they raise two fingers rather than the whole hand (in the ‘victory-sign’ way, of course!) My initial feeling is that this makes them listen to each other more carefully and, when I want to liven things up a bit, I turn to a ‘two-finger’ student to turn the discussion on its head.
  • Another variation is to ensure that students have key words and concepts available as cues. If we are discussing a text, I like this to be available too so that they can support their ideas with textual evidence.
  • The most exciting I have left until last. I have been fascinated by the ‘art of the sentence’ idea that Doug Lemov has been blogging about recently – here. By giving students sentence starters, such as ‘at first glance’ or ‘throughout the poem’ not only are we prompting ideas, but we are giving them a syntactical structure that helps to generate new thinking. Getting students to practise using these structures during the discussion will neatly set them up for later extended writing tasks.

Have a look below at my Mark II slide:

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So why might it work? First, unlike some other ‘no opt-out’ strategies there is lots of opportunity to think ideas through before speaking. Second, the continuum promotes balanced, ‘shades of grey’ thinking when used repeatedly, especially so when in conjunction with sentence prompts. Third, if used judicially in the learning cycle it can feed directly into the scaffolding of writing. Last, despite the fact it seems to have become an unfashionable word in the blogosphere, it promotes engagement. This kind of engagement in language and quality thought seems to me to be very beneficial.

Two words of warning before you give this a try. Be careful when wording the question that you do not give students an option to take up a weak line of argument that could lead to genuine misconception. Note how above I asked the question ‘Did Steinbeck present a completely pessimistic view of the world in Of Mice and Men?’ rather than ‘Did Steinbeck present a pessimistic view of the world in Of Mice and Men?’ Watch out, too, for those shrinking violets who try to hide their post-it under another’s!

Please give it a try and let me know below how it has gone for you. More tweaking ideas would be gratefully received.

A special thanks to Dan Brinton – @BelmontTeach – for pointing out how risible the original title for this blog was and suggesting the slimmer title it now has!

Responsive questioning

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Before Christmas I wrote about teacher responsiveness and differentiation – here. Since then I have been considering the importance of responsive questioning, of how we respond to the unpredictable – and sometimes downright bizarre! – verbal feedback we receive from our students. Once again, this is about our on-the-spot agility, our knowledge of our students and our subject expertise.  We are actors in a forever unscripted play; planning can only get us so far.

It is helpful to consider the purpose of questioning in the classroom before we begin. It often seems a vague area. Is it to check learning or is it to springboard further learning? Even though both are relevant, I am more interested in the latter than the former. For me, it is about helping students to formulate new perceptions, about challenging lazy preconceptions and, in English at least, about encouraging nuanced interpretations. When successful, questioning will lead to discussion, and it is in these episodes that we build our relationships with our classes and cement the ethos of our classroom. Perhaps the crucial point is that questioning, I think, is about initiating and sustaining a high level of academic rigour; the more we probe, the more we push the discussion forward, the less we leave unchallenged, the better our students learn. For me, this is just about the toughest skill to master. I struggle along, if I am honest, failing at it every day.

When it comes to this kind of questioning, I am wary of ‘silver bullets’.  The current thinking tends to advise the following:

   Questions should be thoroughly planned before the lesson.

   We should avoid hands up.

   We should avoid too much praise.

   We should avoid repeating what our students have said.

   We should use random-selecting strategies – such as the lolly stick – to avoid allowing some to dominate and others to remain passive.

   We should use PPPB. Pose a question, Pause, Pounce on a student and then immediately Bounce it to another student without interfering.

   The teacher should keep quiet and let the students do the talking.

All of this advice is useful, but only partially so. Our complex classroom environments are far more fluid than some would have us think; more than anything else, we should listen to our students.

I remember hearing the ex-England goalkeeper, David James (he of the ‘Calamity James’ sobriquet), describing how he would spend hours in the shower visualising penalty saves over and over again. He found that this helped to hone his reactions on the pitch. In this manner, I have attempted a ‘visualisation’ of a short questioning sequence to demonstrate the kind of sharp thinking required.  I am asking the class about Curley’s Wife from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

 *

ME: So, what do you think Curley’s Wife’s role in the novel is? You have twenty seconds to think about it…

Pause.

ME: Josh, what do you think?

(My question was deliberately vague; I am after divergent thinking here. I pick Josh for a reason – like some others in the class, he jumps to conclusions too quickly. This is my chance to challenge these pre-conceptions from the off.)

JOSH: I think she is meant to be the evil character because she destroys the dream.

ME: When do we see her behave like this?

JOSH: Well, when we first see her she cuts off the light in the doorway.

ME: Is that enough to call her ‘evil’?

JOSH: No, not really. She also treats Crooks badly and flirts with Lennie which leads to him killing her.

ME: Interesting. Matt do you agree with Josh?

(I have probed Josh to give evidence, yet remained non-committal about his response.  Matt’s thinking is more refined and I know he will challenge Josh. If I had used a random selector at this point, there may have been the potential of the discussion finding itself in a repetitive cycle without the degree of insight I am searching for. The PPPB system is working well, but I do feel you have to pick your second student wisely. Most likely, students will all be rehearsing their answers to the initial question in their minds, so to ask for feedback on Josh’s opinion too takes a degree of multi-tasking; this may have an impact on the working memory of some leading to a muddled point.)

MATT: To an extent, but the way Steinbeck describes her death makes her seem weak and defenceless.

ME: Do you remember how Steinbeck described her?

MATT: No, not quite.

(Emily’s hand goes up. I nod to her. If I did not allow ‘hands-up’ at times this useful addition would not have occurred.)

EMILY: She was “very sweet and young.” (I look back at Matt. He is used to my body language. He knows I expect him to say more.)

MATT: So ‘young’ shows… (I shake my head; ‘shows’ is a banned word) illustrates that she is just an innocent child.

ME: Right everyone. Josh suggests that Curley’s Wife is evil, yet Matt feels she is innocent. Have a think about it. Where do you stand?

Pause. Choose Sian.

SIAN: Well, I think she has some of the characteristics of a villain but she’s also a victim. Steinbeck was making a comment about women in those times: Curley’s Wife is a victim of a masculine society who has no choice but to be the villain.

ME:  A* answer, Sian. Wow. That’s the kind of balanced interpretation we’re looking for everyone.

(Because, for me, class discussion is about searching together for the best ideas, I think it is important to stop and draw attention to quality answers. If praise is over-used, I find it can put a stopper on the discussion; you can inadvertently send out the message that that was good enough, no more need be said. )

ME: So, Sian, are you sure there were no other choices available to her?

(All assumptions, even the best, can be challenged.)

 *

The sequence above certainly represents a good day at the office (and, yes, my students rarely speak as incisively as Sian). Responsive questioning requires knowledge of the student, knowledge of the subject and lots and lots of listening. When students are less forthcoming, I often try the following:

   Give the student the answer you are looking for and ask them to explain how you got there.

   Give them two options, and get them to explain which they agree with most.

   Scaffold the sentence for them. ‘On the one hand, Curley’s Wife is the villain of the story, yet on the other…’

   Revert to hands-up mid-discussion. I tend to bounce a question round and when it begins to dry-out, I will listen to some hands-up. Is it right to leave great thinking unshared?

   Turn the tables. This is one of my personal favourites. The teacher takes on a role and the students question you in this role. On many an occasion I have found my meagre dramatic skills pushed to the limit in the role of a character or an author.

   Embark on a round of quick-fire closed-questions to cue memory and then go back to the original question.

   Stop the discussion and teach. I often find myself frustrated when the discussion has not elicited the level of perception I am after. I probably should not feel this way; it is entirely normal. As the expert in the classroom it must be the right thing to stop wherever we are to explain the learning they have not yet grasped.

I am dubious about hard-and-fast rules for classroom discussion and questioning. Listening sharply lesson after lesson is a tough ask, yet it is in the glow of these moments that I enjoy being a teacher the most.

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Further reading:

Tom Sherrington on probing questioning – here. Lots of great probing questions in this post.

Old Andrew on alternative ways to use hands-up – here.

My post on using a stimulus – here.

11/01/14 – Alex Quigley has written a great practical blog on conducting class discussion – here. Make sure you read the comments too.

Time-management in education: a win-win solution?

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Last academic year I became a union rep. It was quite a surprise to find myself in such a role as I do not have strong political beliefs or tendencies. Even if I passionately believed that we teachers, trusted with such a crucial role, should be afforded pay and conditions commensurate with the responsibility we hold, I had always been uncomfortable with the brash certainties of the unions. To convince me to take on the role, my predecessor advised me that it was about ‘standing up for the common teacher at the chalk-face’.

We all want to do a decent job. We all want to make a difference to young people in the one shot they have at education. Most of us want to become better teachers. The problem is, though, we never seem to have the time to fulfill this. Even the most inspiring CPD sessions can have a counter-productive effect, adding a sense of impending failure to the five-period day we have tomorrow. We become deflated by the realisation that we will not have the time to implement the ideas we were so excited by yesterday. We cross our fingers and hope that our coping strategies will be good enough to see our students – and us – through to the end of the year.

I have become more and more convinced that time-management strategies should play a central part in CPD. How better to sell professional improvement to your colleagues than by presenting them with a win-win scenario? You can have more impact in the classroom and you can save time. It is exciting to imagine that the two ideas might not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

To set my quiet revolution humbly on course, I have been working on the following strategies.

Organising 15 minute time-management ‘forums’ on INSET days. I originally suggested this idea from a union viewpoint, but have enjoyed taking responsibility for it myself. The idea is that a member of staff preferably a teacher with a full timetable – shares a strategy with the whole  staff that is time saving yet also improves the impact of their teaching. I delivered the first 15-minute session on marking in November discussed here and it seemed to go down very well.

 Always on the lookout for quicker options. In meetings and informal discussions, I have made it my business to question strategies that might have quicker, simpler alternatives. Fortunately, this has been made easier by having a department leader who thinks in a similar way to me. It takes a bit of courage to question at first, but if we remain non-confrontational and focus on the solution rather than the problem we can be remarkably successful. Questions such as I love the idea, but is there a quicker alternative? or Would it not be easier to do it like this? should be at the forefront of our discussions. Ultimately, new pedagogical ideas are much more likely to be taken up if teachers can see that the issue of time has been addressed.

Being wary of how I influence others. Like many teachers, I enjoy the challenge of designing tasks and lessons that both engage and instruct. Sometimes these lessons take a while to plan. We need to consider carefully how we share such ideas, especially if we are in the presence of inexperienced teachers who are still getting to grips with the basics and will be eager to please. We should constantly remind colleagues that the weekends and evenings are theirs, and – something I have too often been guilty of – avoid negative boasting’  do you know, I was marking until midnight yesterday. I would dearly love to see teacher standards and lesson observation crtieria that take manageability into account. Should a teacher be judged ‘good’ or outstanding if the observed lesson is clearly not replicable day on day?

Marking and assessment. I have been experimenting with using symbols instead of written comments for years, but over the last few months I have taken it to a new level by using symbols to help me plan strategically for student improvement see here. If you are struggling to write out endless repeated comments, may I suggest you consider switching to a symbols approach? My marking has never been as fast and effective as it has this year.

Behaviour. Purposeful, effective behaviour management is absolutely key. It is our bottom line. The better we enforce routines and expectations in our classrooms, the less time we need to spend following up bad behaviour. I am lucky enough to work in a school where expectations are well supported by SLT; I feel for colleagues in other schools who do not have this safety net. My main advice would be that you keep detentions short. Just keeping a child back for a few minutes can make your point as effectively as keeping them for an hour.

Planning. The trick with medium-term unit planning is to always have a destination in mind. How will they be assessed? When will they be assessed? What will they be assessed on? In my NQT year, I used my holidays to religiously plan every unit in advance, lesson by lesson. I saved the plans onto carefully labelled CD ROMs in the genuine belief that after two years of teaching I would never have to plan again. Oh, how wrong I was! Every class is different, every day is different, the best laid plans of mice and men… We need to be responsive teachers, listening to the needs of our children and adapting our plans within and between lessons to suit them. We must learn to rely on the skills at our fingertips, and remember that there is often little correlation – and sometimes a negative one – between time spent planning and the quality of learning. If our plans are over-detailed, we may lose sight of the needs before us.

Being strict with myself. We cannot escape the reality that during term-time teaching presents us with a heavy workload. It is too easy to blame others for our own shortfalls. Having a couple of ground rules which we diligently stick to is probably the way forward. Firstly, I always treat Friday like any other day and avoid the urge to go home early. Secondly, I hardly ever take marking home I try to stay at school until it is finished. I rarely work at the weekend. Alex Quigleys blog from the weekend (here) on New Year’s resolutions is well worth a read. Don’t worry about how others manage; find ways that suit you and the particulars of your life.

 Dealing with the guilt. Teach your bad lessons well was once my refrain. Bad lessons were classed as ones where I spoke too much, where there were no collaborative tasks, where I spent most of the lesson reading to the class, where I missed out the starter and/or the plenary or the students were just working on one task. Often they were the lessons I spent less time planning. Recently, I have started to ask a new question: what if my under-planned ‘bad’ lessons were really my good lessons? Reading pedagogy has really helped to assuage my conscience. Take Kirschner et al (2006), for example:

In so far as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners.

This evidence is a godsend to those of us who have spent hours and hours of our careers planning activities and resources with the aim of helping students construct their own meaning. While I am no enemy of engagement and independence, surely we can all feel a little less guilty about teaching from the front. Ofsted, thankfully, appear to have seen sense in their new subsidiary guidance.

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This is the argument of one ordinary classroom teacher and the difference, however small, I am trying to make. Shaun Allison, Deputy Head at my school, has written a great blog here calling for us to focus on simple principles, instead of wasting away our time on unnecessary frivolities. Let us hope that more school leaders follow suit.

Lost time is never found again’ – so wrote Benjamin Franklin. If we are going to genuinely improve both the life chances of our young people – not to mention our own life expectancies –  we might need to rethink our relationship with time in 2014.

And with that I wish you a Happy New Year!

Further reading

Michael Tidd has been re-blogging excellent time-management articles here.