Monthly Archive for November, 2014

Pedagogy Postcard #2: Learning Objectives vs Tasks

Very often, in the busy flow of every day school life, although I have an overarching idea of the broad learning goals, I plan the individual lessons in terms of tasks.  I think about what my students will do.  For example, in an electricity topic, they might make some circuits with different components,  measure voltage and current readings, plot graphs, discuss their findings, answer some follow-up questions…. And so on.  Some students will get more done than others and that’s the crudest form of differentiation there is.  At the end of all of this activity, I’m working on the assumption that they will have learned various relevant aspects of the science topic in hand.

Although task planning is a common, practical way to think about your lessons for the week it’s just hit and hope…. It’s far from ideal. It can lead to a lot of dissipated energy, wasted time and unfocused learning. My experience is that my lessons are much better when thelearning objectives are very clear in my mind; when I’m really clear about the purpose of all the tasks and I’ve got a reasonably tight goal in my mind for that specific lesson.

So, the learning objective for the electricity example above might be:

for students to recognise:

  • that voltage and current vary in direct proportion for a fixed resistor
  • that the curve for a light bulb shows that its resistance changes as it heats up
  • that the resistance increases as shown by the gradient of the curve.

This sounds obvious enough but it makes quite a difference.  It makes you ask yourself ‘why are they doing what they are doing?’ which can then lead to a more efficient use of time, cutting out activities that don’t support the learning objectives directly; it helps sharpen your questions and provide more focused assessment feedback.

Alom Shaha makes this point really well in relation to science demonstrations and class practicals.

Nuffield Foundation: Practical Work for Learning

If you want students to develop practical skills, to become familiar with apparatus and gain an understanding of the complexities of measurement, then a hands-on experiment is an essential task for that objective.  But, if you want them to make a connection between an abstract idea and its manifestation in a real setting, then a teacher-led demo is likely to be far more effective.

The same applies in other subjects.  For example, in History GCSE, it’s  useful to make a distinction between a learning objective about the historical understanding the significance of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam…versus an objective to understand the assessment requirements of a 10 mark answer on a source paper.  These things may overlap in the source analysis task, but what is the main learning you are after?

In English, it makes a difference if you are focusing on knowing and understanding Falstaff’s character development in Act II in broad narrative terms rather than the more technical ideas about Shakespeare’s use of structure and language in the text. And each of these can be developed more sharply if your objective is clear during the task of ‘reading and analysing Act II’.  Of course these things interact and overlap, but students get a firmer grasp if the focus in any given lesson is precise.  The terms ‘narrative’, ‘structure’ and ‘language’ need to be learned clearly before students can use them.. obviously enough… but that requires some sharp sequencing of learning objectives.

In Maths, if you want students to know how to learn how to solve simultaneous equations by substitution, then it makes sense to show them how, give a few examples and get them to practise their own before checking how they’re getting on. A group task or long lecture wouldn’t be as effective.  The specific learning objective helps to identify the most efficient and effective strategy.

If you want students to practise their ability to use language spontaneously in French, a role play or group task is going to help deliver that learning objective because they need interaction in that form.

I’ve seen plenty of must/could/should Learning Objectives in classrooms that are really just a list of tasks. Is that helpful? It can be.. but it’s not the same thing at all.  The most important thing is that you, the teacher, know what the learning objectives are; getting that very clear in your mind.  You really don’t need the students to write them down slavishly. I don’t understand why schools make teachers do that.

Behaviour Management: A Bill Rogers Top 10

1. The Black Dot in the White Square:

It is often necessary to get class or individual behaviour into perspective in order to maintain a positive atmosphere in the class.  In Bill Rogers’ model, the black dot represents the negative, disruptive behaviour of certain individuals or the class as a whole; the white square represents the positive behaviour of the majority or the normally good behaviour of an individual.  By focusing on the black dot, we are forgetting the white square. This illustrates the need to keep things in perspective and helps to avoid using sweeping statements that can harm positive working relationships

  • The class is awful
  • The group never works sensibly
  • The student is unable to behave
  • Everyone is being too noisy

This thinking made me realise I was one who would pick up on the late-comers, the noise makers and the students off-task, at the expense of reinforcing the good behaviour of the majority.  Is so much healthier for all concerned to swap that around.  I find it applies to homework too… focus on the bits you get in, rather than the ones you don’t.

2. Using Positive Language

This is so simple but packs a punch.  Instead of “will you stop talking’ you say “I’d like everyone listening, please”.  Instead of “John, stop turning around and distracting Mike” you say “John, I’d like you facing this way and getting on with your work… thanks.”

After watching Bill Rogers, I found myself saying ‘thanks’ all the time.. and it makes a difference.

3. Choice direction and ‘when…then’

Classic parenting techniques that work brilliantly.

  • Jamil, you can either work quietly by yourself or you can come up and sit with me,
  • James, you can go next door to work with Mr Anderson or you can work sensibly with Andy as I’ve asked.
  • Richard, you can do exactly what I’ve asked or get a C3 detention as you were warned earlier.
  • When you have finished tidying up your area… then you can sit wherever you want….

This works so much better than crude belligerent ‘do what I say’ command language.

4. Pause Direction

Students are in the bubble of their own a lot of the time.  Just because you start talking, doesn’t mean they hear you. Make a deliberate pause between gaining a student’s attention and a direction to ensure they have had sufficient ‘take up’ time. Eg.  “Michael  pause…David…pause…could you face this way and listen, thanks”.

You gain their attention, with eye contact, before you say what you want to say.  Try it….

5. Take-up Time:

This avoids the horrific teacher domineering – “come here Boy!” nonsense.  Simply, “Michael…(pause to gain attention)… come up here a sec please.” Then deliberately look away… talk to someone else.  Michael will come. He just will.  In his own time.  It works – try it.  It also works in the corridor.  “John, come over here for sec please… then walk away to a private area, away from peers.  John will follow  – and not lose face.”  You can then have a quiet word about the behaviour without the show-down.

6.  ‘You establish what you establish’

This refers to the establishment phase with a new class.  Right from the start, anything you allow becomes established as allowed; and anything you challenge is established as unacceptable.  The classic is noise level and off-task talking.  If you do not challenge students who talk while others talk, you establish that this OK; it is no good getting bothered about it later… Similarly with noise level. If you ask for ‘silence’ and then accept a general hubbub – then your message is ‘silence means general hubbub’.  If you want silence – you have to insist on it.  Bill Rogers is great on this whole area of planning for behaviour; investing time in setting up routines – a signal for attention, how you come in and out of the classroom, the noise level.  Talk about it explicitly and reinforce it  regularly.  The start of a new term is a good time.

At any point, if you are not happy with the behaviour in your lessons, you have to address it explicitly.  Otherwise, the message is that you accept it.

7. Teacher Styles

  • Don’t be an Indecisive teacher: hoping for compliance but not insisting; being timid in the face of a challenge; pleading not directing.
  • Don’t be the opposite: an Autocratic teacher : using a power relationships to demand compliance without any room for choice. (No-one likes or wants a bullying teacher.)
  • Be an Assertive teacher: This teacher expects compliance but refuses to rely on power or role status to gain respect.  The teacher plans for discipline, uses clear, firm direction and correction, but acts respectfully, keeping the aims of discipline clearly in mind.

In all honesty, the most common problem ‘weak teachers’ have, in my experience, is that they are not assertive enough; it is their Achilles heel.  The tough part is that this comes with experience for many.  I have learned to be assertive without being autocratic…and actually that is easier than learning to be assertive if you’re not. But you have no choice – it is a key teacher skill that needs to be worked on.

8.  Controlled severity – but where certainty matters more than the severity

Most great teachers establish very clear boundaries.  How? Well, usually, this happens through the occasional dose of ‘controlled severity’. A sharper, harder corrective tone that conveys: “No! You will not do that –EVER!” Followed quickly by a return to the normal friendly, warm tone. Ideally, the simple sharp reprimand is all that is needed – that cross tone that says: “I still love you dearly, but you know that is beyond the boundary and you know I will not tolerate it again”.  Most teachers regarded as ‘good with discipline’ only need to use the severe tone occasionally – because it works and the class remembers.

As with parenting, the art is getting the balance: not overused or generated from real anger – thus de-sensitising children OR under-used and ineffectual.  In both of these cases the boundaries are hit constantly because there is uncertainty about where the boundaries are.  With good ‘controlled severity’ the boundary is not hit so often –because the kids know exactly what will happen.  Like a low voltage electric fence!  You know where it is, without nagging or constant negotiation, and you know exactly what happens if you touch it – so you don’t go there. The key is that the consequence is certain to happen – not the level of severity.  Teachers who can never sound cross often struggle. Similarly, teachers who allow genuine anger to build up – also struggle; these are the shouters (note to younger self.) Worst of all are teachers who shout but then don’t follow up with the consequences. All these groups need to seek help and get help.

9. Partial agreement (aka being the Grown-up)

Bill Rogers has a strong line on teachers being able to model the behaviour they expect. This includes not wanting the last word. Partial Agreement is an essential strategy for avoiding or resolving conflict.  It means teachers not trying to have the last word, or asserting their power in a situation when a student disputes their judgement.

  • Student : “I wasn’t talking, I was doing my work”
  • Teacher : “OK, Maybe you were but now I want you to press on to finish the task.
  • Student:  “It wasn’t me… it’s not mine… I didn’t do anything”
  • Teacher:  “Maybe not – but we’re all clear on the rules about that aren’t we..and I’d like you to help me out next time, Thanks. ”

The focus is on the primary behaviour, giving students take up time and a choice about consequences.  Expecting compliance is key but we should not regard ‘giving in’ as a sign of weakness.  Communicating to students that you may be wrong is an important part of building relationships whilst maintaining your authority. My pet hate is a teacher who wants his pound of flesh; is uncompromising and moans about kids ‘getting away with it’. It never ever helps.  (This is where I find the concept of Emotional Intelligence helpful…some teachers simply cannot bear it when asked to give ground; it is a problem they need help to recognise.)

10: Behaviour Management is an emotional issue

The overriding message that I took from Bill Rogers is to recognise explicitly that behaviour is about emotions and associated traits: confidence, self esteem, peer relationships, group acceptance, empathy, belonging, resilience, .. and all the opposites.  Crucially, this is for the teacher and the students.  There is just no excuse for an angry outburst that has no resolution; for forcing a child into an emotional corner through power or using sarcasm to humiliate. We are the adults. BUT –we are human and we sometimes fail to manage.  Sometimes, things go wrong and as teachers we put ourselves on the line emotionally all day.  No other job is like that – where you risk being burned by a teenager just because you ask them to do some work.  So, Bill Rogers urges us to acknowledge our emotions – and, for me, this helped hugely.

If you do ‘lose it’… acknowledge it.. “I am angry because….’’;  “I am raising my voice now because I’m so frustrated…”  And then, after a cool-off, as soon as you can, model the behaviour you want to – calm, measured, warm, encouraging and showing you care. ‘Repair and Rebuild’ is a great concept.  Sometimes, the trick is to take the most difficult student aside, away from a lesson and build up a rapport so that they see you as human – and you see them as more than just a naughty brat.

10 Reasons To Love Teaching

Feeling tired and run down? Remind yourself why you came into the job in the first place. Below is an excert from an excellent BLOG

1. Doing the things you love while you’re at work

It has always struck me as remarkable and fortuitous that I am paid to do a job where I get to have so much fun. In my lessons, I have the chance to explore my favourite subject – Physics. Today I was talking about space, time and gravity with my Y13s; on Monday I took my Y9s outside to make a scale model of the solar system on the field. I had as much fun as anyone. Earlier, my colleagues were getting excited that our Cosmic Ray Detector, built over several years from scratch, was sparking nicely. Teaching is full of those moments – if you create them.

But it’s not just the joy of teaching your subject specialism – you can do all kinds of other things: play in the orchestra, watch or direct a drama production, go on school trips around the UK and around the world, coach a sports team; get involved in debates; run a Model United Nations; set up a club where students help you do something you want to do – make videos, create a garden, keep chickens, build a go-cart; go on camping expeditions for DofE. And so on. What other job is like that, affording so many opportunities to engage in your passions and to share them with other people.

2. Making a difference: Knowing it’s the most important job

As Chris Husbands, Director of the IoE, said to my students today, education is to the 21st C what oil was to the 20th C and coal was to the industrial revolution. We’re in the business of giving young people the greatest asset in the world economy. We’re doing the thing that transforms lives. It’s a big deal – which is why we spend so much time talking about how to get it right. But, across the wide landscape of careers, this is the ONE. You’re in the right place people. Be happy.

3. Young People are Wonderful

Today, students who finished their A levels in June came back for Prize Giving after a term at university. It was wonderful to talk to them…people I knew as 12-year olds, now adults living their lives, already with many tales to tell. My Year 9s can frustrate me – gosh, they like to talk! But they amaze me in equal measure – so many ideas, so curious about the world and always looking for a channel for their enthusiasm and joie de vivre. These are the people that make it all worthwhile; each one a unique personality with different attitudes and ways of thinking, bursting with possibilities for the future. The relationships you can form with your students as you strive together to maximise their learning are quite wonderful.

We may feel we’re teachers of a subject – but we’re not; we’re teachers of students learning our subject. It’s really all about them – and that’s the joy.

4. Local Community; Global Community

Schools are great places aren’t they? I love that sense of being part of something; belonging to a group of people with a shared sense of purpose; a common identity and common challenges. When you are a teacher, you are part of a much bigger project – there’s a vision for reaching audacious goals where you need to play your part. At their best, schools are giant families, offering that sense of togetherness and mutual support. We’re all in it together.

At the same time, and increasingly as social media links us all up, we’re all part of a much wider community as teachers. I love the idea of being engaged in a global profession. People are doing what I do in every town and village across the world. Even just within the UK, it’s exciting to think of all the connections we can make with other people doing the same job we do…sharing ideas, working together to improve the whole system, not just our tiny patch of it.

5. The rewards of achievement

School life has a routine for sure… but then it is punctuated with moments of pure joy. These are often when a student makes a break-through. “John, YES – that’s it – brilliant! Say that again…” “You see.. you CAN do it. That’s a really good answer; great piece of drawing; excellent analysis; well crafted paragraph; insightful essay”. These are the great moments…watching a student struggle and then to emerge with a clear grasp of an idea. At Prize Giving today, this struck me. It wasn’t the book; or the cup, medal or certificate – it was just the reward of having achieved that meant the most to them. Not many jobs give you the opportunity so witness achievement on a daily basis in that way.

6. Every Day is Different

There is never a dull moment in teaching …something is always going on. Of course, there are tough days…it’s a challenging job, just as any worthwhile job should be. But no two days are the same – especially if you teach so that every lesson is a bit of a journey into the unknown. The lessons, events, incidents and interactions with colleagues, students and parents that make up the week demand such a wide range of skills, engaging different modes of thinking: being strategic and planning ahead, analysing problems and finding solutions, being agile and responsive to questions and situations; and, very often, running through a range of emotions, from laughing to crying…it’s all in a day’s work.

7. Strategic challenges and leadership opportunities

Schools are fabulously complicated and challenging organisations. I’ve always found the intellectual and personal challenge of running a great lesson, a year group, a department or a school, incredibly rewarding. There are so many opportunities to lead people, organise events or projects and to put ideas into action. Given the complexity and importance of learning, I can’t think of a profession where strategic analysis and interpersonal dynamics mix in such a fascinating way. Teaching should be the No1 graduate profession; this is where the action is.

8. Being your own boss; creating your own space

Of course we all have things we have to do that we’d rather not. But teaching affords a fantastic degree of autonomy. If you choose, teaching can have an strong element of performance about it…you’re on stage, live and in the room with 9M; you can express yourself in a way that you never do around adults. Or, you can be quietly cerebral, wildly eccentric or straightforward and dignified. The classroom is your domain…your space to make things happen the way you want them to. Every lesson is yours to craft, the way you want it…testing out ideas, exploring off at tangents or just keeping it simple. I love that.

9. Learning, always learning

A teaching career is a never-ending learning journey. You learn more and more about your subject, you learn new skills continually as you engage in new ideas about pedagogy; you develop a broad perspective on social issues and the range of personal challenges people face…the learning goes on and on. You learn a lot about yourself and how your ethical and political dispositions fit with real-life challenges. You learn how to deal with people in every conceivable emotional state; you learn how to communicate a message and how to turn ideas into action.
Teaching IS learning.

10. The Holidays

I’m not being facetious. Teaching is incredibly rewarding but also incredibly demanding. But then the holidays come and we deserve them. Generally, teaching is a great job to be in to have a family, to have time for yourself and to have blocks of time to go travelling and to do other interesting things. I never take the bait when my non-teaching friends have a dig because they’re working during half-term or just get a few days at Christmas.  Not everyone wants to teach; not everybody could. But those who do, deserve every minute of the holidays.

Carol Dweck Mindset

Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills Learning Mats







Growth Mindset – Carol Dweck

Dr. Carol Dweck on how the two mindsets influence behaviour and achievement

Fostering Growth Mindsets

Benefits of a Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset – in more detail

Professional learning that makes a difference to students

Helen Timperley, Professor of Education at The University of Auckland, talks about professional development that makes a difference to student learning. Helen talks about the importance of combining careful assessment and analysis with pedagogical content knowledge, and ways teachers can gain this knowledge through cycles of inquiry into their practice.


School leaders, teachers and change.

Jennifer Garvey Berger points out that school leaders are now in charge of creating the right conditions for minds to be changed. She suggests that we apply our knowledge about ways children learn to enable the growth of everybody in our schools.


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