Speed dating in Year 11 Maths

Year 11 are well under way with their GCSE revision in all subjects. In maths students help each other by “speed dating”.

Each desk has a ‘specialist’ who is a student that excelled in that week’s homework and on the other side of the desk, a ‘date’. The ‘specialist’ helps to explain how they answered questions that their ‘date’ got wrong. Students move around each specialist after a 5 minute visit. This supports both students: it consolidates the learning of the expert and helps the visitor hearing how a peer answered the question.

It also gives the students a break from the class teacher’s voice, but we are still on hand to help with any questions.

Mrs Papprill
Maths Department

Teaching and Learning: rewriting the rulebook

Teachers at Millthorpe School were welcomed back in the New Year to a new teaching and learning framework. The Millthorpe framework for Great Teaching and Learning is the product of teachers’ feedback from the professional learning they have taken part in over the past two years. All teachers have responded to professional learning modules, which have shared some of the best practice and educational research from around the world, by trialling strategies in their own classrooms.

Since we began this journey in 2013, we have run fourteen separate professional learning modules and held two training days led entirely by our own teaching staff. Teachers are professionals: they do not need telling how to teach. However, they do need opportunities to develop their practice and exposure to the best educational thinkers like John Hattie, Carol Dweck, Barry Hymer and Robert Marzarno, to name just a few. Teachers are then able to reflect on this research and apply it in their own classroom. Some teachers have invited colleagues to observe them using particular teaching strategies and others have recorded their own lessons using iPods to review the impact of new teaching approaches. The result is a teaching and learning framework that is based on what really works for our students and our teachers, who are continually developing as experts in the classroom.

Later this half term, teachers are meeting after school at a series of teach meets to share the work they have been doing since our October training day. We are hoping to gather all of this great practice and publish it, so that it is made widely available. We will continue to ensure that every student has a great experience at Millthorpe by constantly striving to improve what we do in the classroom.

Mr Bates
Assistant Headteacher

KS4 Revision Skills: annotating texts using Adobe Acrobat Reader

Year 11 have just finished their Pre Public Exams, so now is the ideal time to start the process of preparing for the public exams in the summer. Over the next few months, we will be offering a variety of tools and techniques to support students with their revision.

This week’s top tip is a free downloadable application that allows students to annotate electronic files. Adobe Acrobat Reader is the on-screen equivalent of highlighters and post-it notes: you can highlight and underline sections of text and add your own comments.

Evidence shows that annotating in this way prompts deeper understanding of the text, reinforces learning; and, because it is electronic, it automatically creates a revision resource that is easy to store and access and link to other resources for reference during revision.

The reader works with pdf files, which is the standard file type used by the school for documents including a mixture of text, diagrams, images etc. You can download the latest Adobe Acrobat Reader here: get.adobe.com/uk/reader/

The screenshot below shows how the various functions can be used.

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Click ‘Comment’ in the tab on the right hand side.

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This will open the Comment bar at the top of the document where you can select from a range of annotation tools.

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You can add sticky notes to annotate useful parts of a document.

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You can also highlight text to help with revising. Picture4

Lifelong learning at Millthorpe School

Teaching and Learning as easy as A,B,C? Well not quite, but a whole school focus on the characteristics and attributes of successful learners: Ambition, Belief and Creativity.

We have used photographs of students taking part in lessons around the school and displayed them prominently around the site to highlight these qualities. These photographs were not set up or posed for the camera. It was great knowing that we could just walk around with a camera and take a snapshot of the teaching and learning happening on a typical school day.

We will be focussing on a different characteristic each half term. Assemblies this week launched the project by emphasising the importance of ambition. We want our students to aim for the highest possible outcomes, not only in school, but in life in general. If students have the drive and ambition to succeed, they will surprise themselves with what they can accomplish.

Mr Bates
Assistant Headteacher

Millthorpe Welcomes The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Five trainee teachers from The Chinese University of Hong Kong spent a morning at Millthorpe School. The trainee teachers, who are training to become teachers of English back in Hong Kong, spoke with students, took a tour of the school, and spent time in lessons with Millthorpe teachers and their classes.

The visit was part of the trainee’s programme of study, which involves spending two months in an English speaking country. The trainee teachers were particularly interested in looking at Teaching and Learning strategies in the classroom and they said that they wanted to look at classroom strategies that were less didactic in nature.

At the end of the visit the trainee teachers commented that ‘the teaching environments (classrooms) are very similar to China, but the atmosphere is very different. The students here are more engaged and eager to take part in the lesson.’

The trainee teachers said they were looking forward to coming back to Millthorpe on Friday 3 July for a second visit. One trainee said ‘Lessons here are exciting, fun and engaging. Children are enjoying learning and we enjoyed it too.’

Mr Bates
Assistant Headteacher

Professional Learning Communities

“We will become better equipped to deliver great lessons by reflecting on our own practice and learning from each other.”

This term we have launched our new professional learning communities. These are training sessions that take place after school that all teachers take part in. However, professional learning communities differ from traditional teacher training, as they require participants to share and trial practical strategies as action research projects. Teachers know how to teach and there is a great deal of experience, knowledge and talent in schools. Professional Learning Communities create opportunities for teachers to share and develop approaches and strategies based on what has proven to work best in the classroom. The results of this action research will be disseminated at a whole school training day, where teachers train each other in the best classroom practice.

Teachers are introduced to the theory and evidence behind the learning community.

Teachers are introduced to practical examples that they can take away/use in their lessons straight away.

During the launch meeting, significant time is dedicated for teachers to discuss their experiences, examples and interpretations. These are summarised in a document along with others introduced by the lead teacher leading the session.

Teachers decide on specific actions and strategies that they want to try during the next 6 weeks. They may wish to arrange a lesson observation by the leader of the learning community or another member, in order to gain some feedback on trialling/implementing this practice.

As a collective learning community, teachers produce a minimum of one 30 minute workshop (larger communities or those with wide/varied examples may produce more than one workshop) for the whole school training day in September/October.

Two feedback and planning meetings take place before the end of term (at times arranged with the lead teacher), so that workshops are finalised and ready for September. Workshops are on a carousel basis and showcase action research and practical strategies that all teachers can use immediately in the planning and teaching.

There are a number of areas being researched and implemented during the summer term. ‘Not Behaviour Management’ involves exploring and planning strategies that motivate and encourage learning rather than strategies that simply manage the classroom. ‘Millthorpe Thinks’ is making use of a web based resources called The Day to engage students in thinking about wider world issues on a regular basis. Teachers taking part in ‘Inspire and Engage’ are trialling and examining strategies from colleagues, other school and educational thinkers, that inspire young people and enhance the learning environment. Some teachers are ‘Going Mobile’ by exploring the best use of digital and mobile technology in the classroom.

Talk Less Teaching in the History Classroom

Sara Bowland and Ruth Lingard, joint Heads of History at Millthorpe, meets the Northern History Forum in ‘Ringing the Changes’ to present ideas for best classroom practice on Wednesday 29 April at Leeds Trinity University.

Ruth and I have been lucky enough to take part in a comprehensive series of Continual Professional Development opportunities at Millthorpe during the school year. Led by a team of Lead Teachers (including Ruth), a variety of workshops have been developed that aimed to invigorate and improve our classroom practice. Having taken part in various workshops, staff were given the time to try the new ideas in their classroom, modify them to suit particular subjects and then share these with other staff at a Teaching and Learning Training Day. It was great to see teachers from all department areas, with a varied amount of classroom experience under their belt, sharing great ideas and good practice.

The History Department spent time developing these ideas to suit their subject and as a result have developed lots of resources to focus on the various areas developed in the workshops. The History Department have been looking at using ‘Flip Learning’ with Years 9, 10 and 11, developing our use of questioning in the classroom and really taking the time to embed the idea of ‘Talk Less Teaching’.

We had so much success with this approach in our classrooms that we took the opportunity to present the ideas to over 50 other History teachers at the Northern History Forum. This event, organised by the Historical Association, attracts hundreds of enthusiastic History teachers. This term the forum was called ‘Ringing the Changes’ and Ruth and I were pleased to be on the programme alongside the likes of Ben Walsh, History GCSE textbook author and adviser to Channel 4 Schools on the History in Action series.

Talk Less Teaching Presentation

The focus of ‘Talk Less Teaching in the History Classroom’ developed generic ideas presented to us by Lyndsey Parr (RE department) and was designed to share with other history teachers, ways in which to encourage the holy grail of independent learning in the classroom.

As a department we knew that we all liked to talk too much whilst our students listened passively. The session explored the methods and techniques we have used to make our students do the talking rather than ourselves. The session was jam packed with practical ideas to use in the classroom and was met with positive feedback from the other teachers.

There are so many good ideas that different teachers and departments can share with each other, we’re lucky that we have been given the opportunity and time within school to develop our methods in this way and it was a real privilege to be able to then share what we had adapted with other schools at the Historical Association forum.

Sara Bowland and Ruth Lingard
Joint Heads of History

Does anyone really know what great teaching looks like?

Millthorpe’s Assistant Headteacher, John Bates, begins the process of examining what makes teaching and learning great for children by asking the teachers; ‘does anyone really know what great teaching looks like?’

I have been unlucky enough to have been observed by Ofsted 4 times in 12 years. Each time I have been judged as outstanding. And, each time I have done some something completely different. Or, have I? The lesson contexts have all varied widely, from bottom set Year 8 Geography to Year 13 Business Studies A level, the inspections were in 3 schools, in 3 different LEAs, and the Ofsted framework has been tweaked so often that it is unrecognisable from over a decade ago. But, when I examine my teaching style: my manner with students, the balance of teacher input, student-led activity and Q&A, and my planning and sequencing of learning over the course of a lesson, little has changed in my practice.

I don’t say this to congratulate myself or profess that I have the ‘secret formula’. On the contrary, I am frustrated that I can’t put my finger on what great teaching is. Teachers (and I include myself in this) have been suppressed by a system that regulates teaching rather than improving it. The Ofsted model of observations has led to schools imposing systems that mirror an inspection. And, of course they have. They would be foolish not to, as the consequences of not performing at inspection are deleterious. I have done this myself in two schools and I have been congratulated by Ofsted for the accuracy of our self-review and evaluation on the Quality of Teaching during our recent inspection. I am also, perhaps surprisingly, opposed to the notion of Ofsted observations without judgements. So, where, exactly, do I put my flag in the ground on this issue?!

My concern is that I know what ‘Outstanding’ teaching is, not ‘Great’ teaching. I have lost count of the number of times I have ‘unpicked’ the latest Ofsted framework. Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) across the country will have a similarly strong and tenacious handle on this. In my previous school, for example, my pro forma for observing teaching reached version nineteen in consultation with SLT before it was even seen by a member of teaching staff! The problem is that in its current form, it is the process itself that is leading the actions of teachers, rather than observing the outcomes. We have become reliant on a misguided set of inputs; A checklist to outstanding. ‘How do I show progress over the course of my lesson?’, ‘How can I get outstanding with my bottom set, if I have to address behavior issues?’ ‘Do I need to show students peer marking and responding to their targets?’ are, I am sure, questions many of us have asked and been asked all too often. Similarly, schools and their teachers suffer from the ‘Flip-flop’ effect. There is a big drive on a specific teaching and learning priority, so everybody jumps to it. It is observed that there has been a massive improvement in this area, so the priority shifts to the next ‘big thing’ along with people’s efforts. It is not that teachers don’t think each priority is important or highly effective in the classroom, it’s that there is a genuine limit to what is possible within a single lesson, a school day, a school term, or even academic year. So why not abolish graded lesson observations?

As a profession, we cannot hide from the fact that judgements will be made about our performance and, despite popular ‘teacher bashing’ stories in the media, that we are highly accountable. Therefore, if no judgement is to be made about the quality of an individual’s teaching, the means of measuring performance will be the performance of classes, scrutiny of books and student voice alone. How we teach day-in, day-out, will not bear any relevance. From a whole school point of view, on what basis can you argue with an overall judgement on Teaching and Learning if you or they have reached no judgements?! This is a nonsense. Ofsted are making judgements, they simply aren’t telling us what they are. Then we can’t argue with the outcome. Similarly, I am perturbed by removal of comments relating to teaching styles. In a recent study by Civitas, 76% of a sample of 130 Ofsted reports showed support for specific teaching and learning approaches in 2013. With the exception of reference to group work, these were notably absent in the same sized sample from 2014. However, this was not due to a change in the comments and judgements of the inspectors, but rather that the removal or rewording as part of the redrafting process. I would encourage anyone to take a look at the full Civitas study but, in short, two worrying things emerge from this: one; Ofsted can’t agree or don’t know what outstanding teaching looks like; and two: inspectors are still making subjective judgements while in lessons, which informs their overall judgement. Even if this is not, and I believe it is, a masking of the issue and Ofsted genuinely believe in not reaching judgements or making comments pertaining to pedagogy and its impact, why turn up at your lesson at all?!

Teachers are not afraid of judgements. Nor are they averse to trying new strategies that yield a high impact with their classes. Since September 2013, I have handed my written observations of a lesson, including references to pedagogy and its impact, to the teacher as I leave. I leave their lesson with nothing in my hand. There is no judgement written at this stage, just statements, comments and questions. This gives the feedback to the person who owns it: the teacher, and allows them to digest the information prior to a feedback meeting, where we can engage in professional discussion and reach a shared judgement. We discuss what the students said and the marking and feedback in books and come to an agreement on the strengths and areas for development. Running alongside this staff commit to professional learning communities to explore teaching strategies and develop them in their own way to maximize their impact. The only INSET training day we’ve had on Teaching and Learning was delivered by all the staff to all of the staff, where they delivered and attended each other’s workshops. This was, without a doubt, the best INSET day I have organised, and apart from introducing it, I barely said a word. However, I still get drawn in to conversations about meeting the Ofsted criteria: ‘If I wrote “well done you have responded to your target”, would this show the learning journey?’, ‘Should I get the students to show their lack of understanding at the beginning of the lesson to prove they’ve made progress?’ And, there is still the temptation to show me what I want to see from the staff briefing last Wednesday morning. How do we get away from what has become so ingrained in all of us?

I recently addressed my teaching staff at a staff meeting, where I posed the question: “does anyone really know what Great teaching looks like?” ‘Great’ not ‘Outstanding’. Great teaching every lesson, every day, not something that stands out as above all else. Not every lesson can stand out above the last. I collated their responses and read each one. 68 teachers made insightful comments and produced far more criteria in an hour than I could have done if I made it my focus for the year. Does anyone know what great teaching looks like? Yes, teachers do!

This is the start of our journey to re-write our own framework and focus on great teaching in every lesson, every day. 68 heads are better than one!

John Bates
Assistant Headteacher