Just before Christmas I ran a short CPD session with staff on questioning techniques. Now the difficulty with such an area is that there is no secret ingredient or coverall fail safe approach (like with starters for example, you try an activity and it either works or does not.) However when it comes to questioning, this is not an activity it is a skill, so the first step is recognising what you are currently doing and asking if it is working or not. This is often best supported with an observation, another set of eyes that can listen to the questions asked and the responses given but this is not always the desired approach nor very helpful when running a training session. So instead I turned to my new set of books (and Google of course).
I started the session by asking staff the reasons why we ask questions. Now I know this is not a very creative start however it was necessary to emphasise that we know as teachers why we question (e.g. to interest, engage and challenge students, to check on prior knowledge and understanding, to focus students’ thinking on key concepts and issues etc) but what the research points out is that whilst we know why we question, very few questions are asked that promote reasoning, problem solving and evaluation or to promote students’ thinking about the way they have learned.
This got me thinking back to my PGCE days and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now I am not a big fan of teaching fads, however Bloom’s to me is different. Back in the 1950’s Dr Benjamin Bloom, educational psychologist and his team, designed a framework that focused upon Knowledge (cognitive), Skills (psychomotor) and Attitudes (affective). This developed into his Taxonomy, a six stage developmental programme of learning. So within my session I give teachers a blank triangle separated into 6 sections and they had to order the subheadings from least to highest order skill:
Teacher burnout seems to be at an all time high, well being is low and expectation pressure is increasing. Teachers leaving the profession is also staggeringly high. Whilst the stats from GOV.UK show a decrease over the past few years, this still works out that 45.5k join the profession yet worryingly 34k leave it. Almost a third of teachers leave the classroom within five years of qualifying (Department for Education).
Now’s the time to take charge and make some changes, regaining the balance between work and life and retaining those teachers who joined the profession with all the right intentions! Here are some of the things I have learnt, over the last thirteen years, to try keep my head above the ‘workload’ water.
HIGHLIGHTERS! This is my number one tip. When students answer exam questions, before you mark them (and probably write the same feedback multiple times) create a checklist for students to self assess their answers first. Ask your students to highlight where they have met the marks. For example key words, evaluation/analysis or links to the question. This way students identify where they have lost marks (thus a valuable learning process), have the opportunity to redraft or improve and you can focus your marking on the higher level mistakes. For more ways on using highlighters effectively check out Colour Coordination: Highlighting those Skills.
Organise your emails. Create folders to store important emails such as department/ resources/ students to watch, so that they don’t block up your email box. Delete all that do not need action and keep your main feed just for the emails that need your attention.
Book plans in advance. As teachers we have the luxury of knowing when our time off will be, so book nights out, coffee meet ups, breaks away in advance so that you do not risk working during these times.
Students only write part of essays/ exam papers. Rather than students writing a whole essay, instead focus on specific parts such as introductions or first paragraphs. You can spot technical errors early on, without having to mark excessive amounts.
Priority lists. Normally I have lists for everything but when the workload starts piling up, it is important to go back through your lists to work out what really needs your attention versus what you would just ‘like to do’.
Use the same resources. Each year I use the same resources because whilst I have done them before the audience in front of me have not. So unless your activity did not work as you had hoped or needs a bit of added ‘sparkle’ do not spend hours planning and creating new resources when your original worked.
Don’t spend longer making your resources than students completing them. Quite a few years ago I had a conversation with a colleague who said that she spent hours making a resource (some sort of card sort or puzzle) that only took the students a few minutes to complete. I am guilty of this too! Unless you can recycle the activity for future classes design resources that challenge the students more than you.
FB group support. FB has a wealth of teacher support groups so just search your subject and join the conversation.
Set times to work/ time off emails/ have lunch – it is so important to establish boundaries and stick to them. Set a cut off point to stop working, make sure you have time off at weekends, avoid reading your emails in the evening and make sure you stop to have a lunchbreak rather than working through.
Make sure students are working harder than you. When students are completing activities, this is your time to step back. Allow students to work out problems, use their initiative, ask fellow students for ideas and support rather than relying on you as a crutch to complete their work.
Even if you make just one change next year, hopefully it will help 🙂
This is old news now! The situation has probably flip flopped multiple times since I originally read the TES article that highlighted the Government’s plan to either add a mandatory extra 30 min extension or to fund a longer, voluntary 8-6 school day (8am-6pm-extended-school-day tes 2021). This Covid education recovery plan felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back. This huge slap in the face to teachers who, on the whole, have worked tirelessly through lockdown providing online educational resources, lessons and support to a significant amount of students, thus being their educational rock through a national pandemic without warning or training. Then from this, secondary and post 16 education, having to wade through the immense amount of marking and assessments to collate accurate and unbiased portfolios of evidence in order to grade and rank our students in their final years (with little to no recognition of the added workload from the government let alone the exam boards) was a hard pill to swallow. But this isn’t a pity party, teachers did what they had to do and stepped up to face these new challenges.
So when I heard of the ideas being tossed around by our government to extend the school day, it hugely saddened me. Not because I would have to do more work but because it just epitomised how little the government recognises how hard teachers, students and parents have worked through this crisis. This punishment, without substance, proposes that adding three hours to the school day will somehow bridge the gap of where students currently are to where they ought to be. Now I understand this is very important in primary schools when learning the foundations for future education but as students get older all we are saying is that they are behind according the national assessments and grading structures designed by the system. Are these students actually behind? Is there really “lost learning” (extended-school-day-more-same-wont-do-much tes 2021)? Or are they just behind when looking at schemes of work and exam specifications designed by our educational system? Shouldn’t these be what change rather than extending the school day in order to crowbar more learning into the old system? I have found that students have developed other life skills such as resilience, independence, responsibility through having to deal with huge uncertainty and often many lost opportunities.
These assumptions made by the government, adopt the view that longer means better. But from looking at the research and evidence this can be seen as not necessarily the case. After following the research over the years produced by Inner Drive it is clear that there is much debate over a student’s attention span, with some saying only minutes whilst other research saying 10-15minutes (grab-and-keep-students-attention Inner Drive; ‘Do Students Really Have an Inability to Concentrate During Lectures?’ Bradbury, Neil 2018). A common feature between research is that attention span in general is low. So by extending the school day, this will not promote more quality learning it will just mean going through the motion for more lessons. As Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary pointed out, “It’s not addressing the most important thing, which is the quality of teaching, quality of support or quality of enrichment.”(8am-6pm-extended-school-day tes 2021)
Second of all when looking at schools across the world, their school day ranges from 5 hours (Brazil/ Finland) to 9.5 hours (China) but often the longer school days include a two hour lunch so that children can go eat at home (France/ Japan) (we-compare-school-days-around-the-world School-Days Blog 2019). So whilst their school day is longer this is because they have regular breaks and extended lunches not because they are covering more educational material. Finland, for example, usually only have a couple of classes a day, have no standardised testing and are flexible around homework and start time of the school day (grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare Guardian 2016). Whilst I am not saying we should adopt a Finnish strategy, it is interesting to consider that “Finland has been ranked as one of the happiest and most successful countries in the world, and most recently was ranked as the number one country for higher education by The Economist.” (IPS News 2019; finland-leads-second-year-globally-providing-future-skills The Economist 2019) Can we not take a leaf out of their book when assessing the mental health and well-being of our teachers and students which seems to be the real crisis area here? Plus, setting aside how much this would cost, a number of other red flags seem to have gone unnoticed: what about after school clubs, if students work until 6 when will they eat, what about homework, what about life away from education, who will be blamed if it doesn’t work?
Finally, and I will make this brief, the government are setting a new target for the number of teachers it wants to train before the end of this Parliament, as part of the education recovery plan. Why not look after the teachers you already have!?!
This video goes through Unit 2 topic 3.1 on Analysing Situations of Crime for WJEC Criminology. You will need to know 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 to be able to understand this topic which can also be found on YouTube: