The day where I thought I’d gone to hell

By and large the Teach First Summer Institute was excellent, especially the bit in Bristol. It was the first year it had been run there, but was up there with the best training I’ve had across a range of jobs and settings.

All the same, there was the odd off-day.  This post is about one of those rare days and, specifically, about remembering that day when I’m in school teaching.

I’m not going to say which day it was, although any single member of the Teach First South West cohort could tell you. But the day involved us spending 7 hours sitting in one darkened classroom, listening first to a poorly researched, heavily biased two-hour diatribe and then to a half-baked pedagogical approach with no relevance for us as beginning teachers, on a blisteringly hot day, hardly moving from our seats except for a paltry 25 minute lunch break and a poorly conceived venture into the local park to deepen our knowledge of the half-baked pedagogical approach that was the pet project of one of our lecturers.

Unsurprisingly, the day brought out the worst in us as learners. We were disengaged, childish and finding any excuse to cause trouble. The highlight of the day was when several of our colleagues got stuck in a lift for an hour.

The point for me to remember is that days at school will probably feel like this for students, especially those who have been in a lunchtime detention. Whilst not excusing disengagement and poor behaviour, if 38 very committed trainee teachers had (temporarily) given up on life, what can we expect of teenagers whose reason for being at school isn’t necessarily clear to them at the best of times?

Action points for me then are:

  • Always try to consider a lesson from a students’ point of view. How engaging is it? Are they actually doing anything? What about the student in the corner who hasn’t spoken all lesson. Have they spoken all day?
  • When I get students at the end of a long, hot day, consider things from their perspective. Don’t excuse disengagement, but try to surprise them with a lesson they’ll enjoy, rather than being the latest in a long line of tormentors.

Highlights of the Teach First Summer Institute

Having recently finished the Teach First Summer Institute I’m feeling something of an information overload! However, already a few sessions stand out for me as highlights:

1. An amazing day on number: There were a lot of good subject studies sessions, but this day stands out as covering a remarkable range of content in considerable depth – the pace of the day was excellent. I don’t feel as though the link covers all of the great stuff we learnt – but at least some of it can be found here.

2. IWBs and technology: Some of the best sessions at the Warwick part of the Summer Institute were those delivered by current teachers (Teach First call them associate tutors). This very practical session was one of those, and it was brilliant.

3. Challenges in Leadership event: Teach First emphasises the role of a teacher as a leader (no bad thing). This event is part of the leadership programme, and was by turns inspiring and moving.

4. How an activity feels to pupils: Finally, this is a bit more of a personal reflection on the 6 weeks (one of many!)

Fostering a growth mindset

I feel this is a topic I’ll be returning to again and again. This time its in relation to a session at the Teach First Summer Institute on gifted and talented students.

Techniques to foster a growth mindset:

  • Don’t talk about ability; talk about persistence.
  • Create a climate where failure is good
    • No-one takes the mickey.
  • Pick out what it is that students are doing well e.g. arguing eloquently about uniform – and build on this.
  • See them outside the classroom and praise their efforts there.

How an activity feels to pupils

I saw some truly excellent teaching whilst training with Teach First, and had some brilliant tutors. Some of the very best where when I as a participant or as an observer felt comfortable with the pace of the lesson, and felt that the activities were really meaningful.

Which led me to reflect on how activities can feel to pupils:

  • Do they have time to get on with the activity?
  • Am I disrupting the whole class repeatedly?
  • Are they writing how they really want to write or performing to success criteria set by me or someone else?

Some of these points were quite subtle – for instance even when the pace was great, and the activity useful, sometimes I found that I wasn’t producing outputs that were meaningful to me, because I knew that the teacher was looking for a specific type of ‘answer’ i.e. they were defining the success criteria, not me.

A good example of someone else setting success criteria is our reflective diary entries – Teach First structure these so that you are directed to answer specific questions each week. Great to get you thinking about different aspects of pedagogy or professionalism, but often I found myself wanting to reflect on something different – and there was no space for this. In the end I would often write a ‘tick box’ reflection for Teach First, and then write a meaningful reflection myself in a separate entry.

In terms of my own teaching, then, I need to consider how I can plan activities that feel well-paced and meaningful to students. But I’m realising how hard this is to do – the way an activity feels is dependent on so many different factors. In turn this means that perhaps the best way for me to check how activities feel is to ask students themselves regularly.

Summer Institute highlight: An amazing day on number

I’m posting a series on the highlights as I saw them from the Teach First Summer Institute at Warwick. One of these was the first day we devoted to studying how to teach number. Diana Spurr and Marcus Shepheard covered a wonderfully rich variety of content in impressive depth – it was a really valuable day. Highlights include:

More highlights to come in a few days…

The wonderful world of the empty number line

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.36.44

How interesting can an empty number line be? Not very, I assumed. I’d read before about teachers raving about the concept. I’d always thought they were a little funny in the head. I am now officially a convert.

It turns out the empty number line can be used in a whole range of ways. Most simply, it can be a great mental tool for students’ addition and subtraction, by using multiples of 10, counting on etc.

For example, 12+13 becomes:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.36.51

25-12 becomes:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.36.56

So far so good, but it was what Diana and Marcus did next that was so exciting…using empty number lines to visually represent linear equations. (I’m aware there are many other ways to represent linear equations – this just feels like a particularly powerful one)

For example, taking the equation 3x+8=23:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.37.02


Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.37.11

so x=5


You can even use the empty number line to explore relationships between fractions, decimals and percentages:

Screen Shot 2013-08-11 at 09.37.18

What could A be?

Summer Institute highlight: IWBs and technology in the classroom

This is part of a series blogging the highlights (as I saw them) from the Teach First Summer Institute 2013.

Hannah Tuffnell and Joe Ambrose hosted a great session on IWBs and technology in the classroom. It was brilliant partly because of the content but also partly because, on the penultimate day of the Summer Institute, in a boiling hot room, at 7:30 they kept 20 or so exhausted participants engaged and learning for an hour.

The new technologies they promoted were:

  • Prezi: Most of us knew this one – a more engaging version of powerpoint. It’s time-consuming, though, so best for the occasional lesson e.g. introducing a new topic.
  • Powtoon: Use to easily create animations up to 5 minutes long – students can make them too.
  • Padlet: An online noticeboard where students can write on a wall (you can moderate comments!). Could be great for homework.
  • Edmodo: A safer version of facebook. You can use it to set up assignments, polls, resources etc.
    • Useful for homework setting
    • Marks multiple choice answers
    • Students can download an app that lets them do homework on their phone.
  • Google Forms: (find via Google Drive) Create a questionnaire to give to students. Useful for feedback on you as a teacher.
  • Poll everywhere: allows students to text into polls in real-time, and can embed within powerpoint.

In terms of IWBs themselves, some specific tricks:

  • Revealer tool: pull down a box to reveal specific parts of the board
  • Infinite cloner tool allows you to create duplicates of e.g. a coin
  • Layering can be used to allow some things into a box and not others
  • Using two colours can allow you to magically ‘reveal’ an answer
  • It is possible to lock things into place.
  • Shape recognition and text recognition tools are available
  • The magic pen allows you to:
    • Write in text that slowly fades
    • Circle (everything else goes dark)
    • Zoom in by drawing a square
  • You can create a random name generator with a hat (this allows you to differentiate by having different names in different areas of the hat)

SMART exchange/SMART world is the source of more information and training.

These IWB ideas are great, but have made me realise what I really need is a bit of time with the board to play around with creating and using things. I can already see how I could use these tools to sort shapes, or to reveal the correct answer to factorising problems.