A blog about how you can work smart during lockdown, practise yoga or do the garden and still give your students a top quality education
Ok, so I haven’t posted for a long time. My excuse? we moved house, I became a director of subject and increased my workload and, yes, I got sucked into the working 50 plus hours a week once again. However, something that happened this week re-ignighted my passion for doing a good job and doing it smart.
On Monday we returned after half term to find new photocopiers has been installed in school. I rushed in to explore the shiny new machines with loads of questions. could I copy in colour, make booklets, staple and print in A3? In my overzealouness, I didn’t notice that we had been given a personal budget of £10 for the term and I had used this up in 10 minutes!
I panicked for a minute and then I thought, perhaps all is not lost, perhaps I could do things differently. I quickly reviewed my week’s lessons and asked myself, ‘Do I really need to print that worksheet, table, bit of information to hand out or is there another way I could do this?’ of course, I had the option of putting all my handouts through our reprographics department but they require 48 hours’ notice and I needed them in 10 minutes, so that was out of the question.
I looked through my lessons for the day and asked myself what was the main purpose of the handouts I had gathered to accompany them and were they really necessary? was there another way of using them that didn’t involve the kids spending ten minutes fighting over the glue sticks and hole punch?
hear are some things I came up with:
- Organiser for Working Memory snipped from a textbook. instead of giving them the full handout, they sketched the table and then completed it using the text book.
2. Write your own scenario: The second handout I was going to give the kids (in the same lesson!) was a scenario about shopping in the sales. I made up my own quick scenario about buying my new house and got the kids to jot it down. I talked about looking around the house, thinking about the furniture I had and where it would fit, wondering if my bedding would go with the curtains or whether I would have to buy more and could I afford it? etc etc. I then got them to annotate the scenario to show where I had used various parts of my working memory. even better, I could have got them to write a scenario of a personal experience and then annotated their own.
3. Essay plan template: I normally print copies of these and give them out so that students can plan upcoming essays. however this time I got them to retrieve the plan template from memory and jot it down before adding the information. This also helped them to retrieve their knowledge of essay structure so they and I gained from the activity
4. Feeding back on a test. Instead of printing out the markscheme (which are useless as they need interpretation anyway) I did a couple of powerpoint slides on whole class feedback e,g, general misconceptions and questions that were generally not answered well. then I used a visualiser to write in some model answers live so that students could correct their papers with me and then write a hint that would help them next time.
NB. I am old so my hands do not look greatt under a visualiser, bear this in mind if you try it yourself and invest in some luxury hand cream or maybe a pair of gloves!
I am liberated! I am no longer going to spend hours at the photcopier unblocking someone else’s paper jam that they gave up on and walked away from or hunting for paper in the first place as it always seem to have run out by the time I get there. I will have to wear an extra cardigan as I no longer carry the residual warmth of the daily 20 minute stint at the copier, but the time and freedom I have gained is well worth it.
In every staffroom up and down the country there is the group of ‘superteachers’ huddled in a corner drinking quadruple espressos and making snide comments about ‘teacher X’ whose ‘kids just work out of the textbook every lesson’. Fast forward to the weekend; Mr X is spending time with his family, flying a microlight, trout fishing or doing whatever else normal people do at the weekend while the ‘superteachers’ are spending hours and hours re-writing huge chunks of textbooks to make booklets, handouts and worksheets, occasionally misinterpreting theories and concepts in the hope of dumbing them down, or because they are just too tired to think about what they are writing.
If you are the ‘superteacher’ type PLEASE STOP this nonsense NOW! Not only are you affecting your own mental wellbeing but you are also not helping your students to learn. During hours and hours of martyrdom spent making a variety of differentiated tasks and activities for each topic, it is the teacher who is preparing for the exam in 30 different ways rather than the individual preparing themselves. Worse still, it makes very little difference to student performance and can actually make it worse.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with textbooks. They are written by experts in your subject who know the specification and are more often than not approved by the relevant exam board. Decades of recearch into memory shows us that long term memories are laid down when students actively engage with the material to be learned, be it presented in a textbook or any other form, and that effective learning depends on regular recall of that information. This means that it is the students who have to interpret, apply and analyse the information they need, not you.
Instead plan lessons and prepare activities for students based on their textbook. For example, ask students to summarise a theory in 6 key sentences or sketch-note a key study as you read it to them. Ask them to respond to a picture as a lesson starter or write one multichoice question as a plenary.
You can find more details including activity, resources, format, differentiation and teacher/student input using the link below. I hope you can adapt, use and develop them so that the students are the ones doing the work. A good rule of thumb for any planned activity is: If the teacher input is more than or equal to student input; scrap it now!
Oh and, by the way, I have a family, 4 granchildren, horse ride every week and practise cello every day. I do not and will not work evenings and weekends on a regular basis as that is my time. Happy textbooking!
A good friend of mine told me about a 100 year old method that she uses to improve productivity. This method involves completing only six tasks each day and she promised it was amazingly simple yet highly effective. At first, I was very sceptical; what constitutes a task in teaching? There are so many little tasks to do each day. Did teaching a lesson count as a task? In which case, teaching five lessons in a day leaves only one task remaining that I can complete that day. Furthermore, my friend is a highly successful director working in industry; could I really transfer these principles to my job as a teacher?
The method is called the Ivy Lee method after an American PR consultant who, in 1918, was called in to help increase productivity at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in America at the time. The strategy sounded too simple to be true but the president of the company, Charles Schwab, and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000 (around $450,000 today).
The method is summarised here by James Clear http://jamesclear.com/ivy-lee
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritise those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished (ignoring interruptions) before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
What makes it so effective? Colter Reed (Manage your Time, Manage your Life) https://colterreed.com/the-ivy-lee-method-simply-productive/ explains this below:
- It’s just six things (give or take). So many times I have found myself darting from one thing to another and accomplishing nothing. For me this method means that when I teach a five period day; that’s five tasks. I can only do one more task before I go home. This make me prioritise really effectively. Take today for example. I have taught five lessons and had an hour of time before the end of the day. During this time I planned my lessons for tomorrow and prepared equipment that my yr 8 class is going to need for their lesson on hydraulics tomorrow. My planner has six spaces so I have written in my four lessons for tomorrow and two tasks that must be done and no more. Now I can forget about work and go home.
- It encourages work-life balance. Going home and not thinking about work was an explicit part of Lee’s advice. If your subconscious wants to chew on problems, let it. But focus your conscious mind elsewhere. You’ve written tomorrow’s tasks. Turn off work email on your phone. Go for a hack. Write your blog.
- The end-of-day perspective. Planning at the end of the day has several advantages over planning in the morning. You have a more realistic grasp on what you can get done in a day. You tend to focus more on what’s important and less on what’s urgent. You already have a plan in place when the morning’s distractions try to overwhelm you.
- It encourages you to wrap things up early. The last task on your schedule each day is a given entity. How many times have you left school later than you meant to because you got caught up in doing just one more thing or answering one last email? I have learned to wrap up ten minutes before 5pm and leave work on time. (Again: work-life balance.)
- It’s simple. The more simple your system is, the more likely you are to stick with it. If you don’t make it through your list, don’t worry about it—you wouldn’t have gotten everything done by any other method either. I don’t sweat about what I haven’t done; instead I congratulate myself on what I have achieved (no one else will) and move unfinished tasks to the next day’s list.
The questions is, how do we adapt this method for teachers? Here are my insights:
- Do only one task at a time. As teachers we are so used to multitasking in the classroom that we apply the same chaotic principles to our ‘free’ non-contact time. Sitting down to complete one task without distractions until it is done is incredibly therapeutic and enormously productive.
- One lesson and its associated admin is one task. By all means use lesson time to get students to self assess work, put their own behaviour points onto the class chart and monitor their own progress. I even got a child to rate his own behaviour on his report card today (surprisingly he gave himself 5/10 for effort and behaviour where I would have given him a 6/10!) But remember, one lesson is one task. If you are teaching four lessons you can do two further tasks that day.
- Complete those tasks you keep putting off. For example that set of yr 7 books you keep meaning to mark. This had become a priority for me so, on a day when my ‘free’ was a period one, and having written it on my list the day before, I started immediately I got to work. I focused completely on the task, did not allow myself to become distracted, left my laptop in the cupboard and got two sets of books marked in the time I had allocated. Simple, but effective.
- Group lots of small, similar things into one task. Teachers often have lots of small tasks to complete. For example entering a set of marks or phoning a parent. I waited until I had a few parents to call and grouped it with other admin/data entry tasks. In this way I completed a lot of small things in one hit.
- Don’t think about it; do it. At times we can spend more time thinking about what is to be done rather than actually getting on and doing it. Because I set my tasks the night before I never have to go through the process of wasting thinking time at the start of each day. I know what is to be done and I simply do it.
Do Give this simple yet effective method a go. It has improved my work-life balance no end. I’m rarely working at home in the evenings and I haven’t worked at all at the weekend since the start of this term. Long may it continue!
Dedicated with grateful thanks to my friend, Gill Boot, for teaching me the Ivy Lee method and changing my life for the better.
It is very tempting, especially with a difficult class, to try to control everything that goes on in the classroom so that students stay firmly in their seats and do not wander around. After all, if they do not move, they cannot flick pieces of paper or rubber bands at the heads of other students they pass by on the way to the book cupboard (with the accuracy an Olympic archer would be proud of) or give a student a ‘friendly’ dead leg, steal his rubber, his book, his pen and so on and so on (the list really is endless).
My blog this week was inspired by an article written by leading educator, Colin Harris, published in the TES, 5th January 2017
In his article, Harris states, ‘All teachers need to aim high but they do need to stop aiming for perfection all the time… The difference in the two is so time consuming and is just not achievable with everything a teacher does.’
A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour (source-Wikipedia).
I recently joined a social media Psychology teachers’ group in the hope of sharing and gaining ideas for the teaching of my subject. In one such post I was horrified to read that the writer had her blancmange brains all made and ready to be transported into school for her students to label in their A level lesson.
Mastering others is strength; Mastering yourself is true power.” -Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoist Philosopher.
My question this week is how do we get students to master themselves and to know their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing essays?
Plato called Socrates “the wisest, and justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known” (Phaedo) and yet Socrates did not write down his lessons nor stand at the front of his class imparting the results of his experience, personal study and reflection. Instead he questioned his students and, once they came up with an idea, he questioned them again!
Behaviour Management, Differentiation and Worksheetless Bottom Sets.
When it comes to teaching science I’m rather like an old and decrepit NQT! Having taught A level Psychology for twenty years, last year was my first foray into the wonderful world of little people who refuse to stay in their seats, tap you when they want attention and speak all at once at a volume level that would fill a concert hall.