Lockdown Learning

The past eight weeks has taught me that you can work smart whilst delivering quality education and still achieve a work-life balance.  Read on to find out how.

The structure

I have found the most useful format is to give two lessons-worth of content each time so, for example, A level students get two of these each week. Setting single lessons over four days was a lot of work and some students were finishing them quickly whilst others were feeling overwhelmed and falling behind.  I use no more than four to six  power-point slides per lesson and narrate them so that I can help students to develop ideas and think more deeply about the content.  I want the lessons to keep students engaged and have them working harder than me so there is always some new knowledge, a summary note-taking exercise, a self-assessed task and a piece of extended writing or a summary quiz.

The routine

Routines are important for all of us but they are especially important for students and especially when they are working at home without you breathing down their necks.  Set the work at the same time on the same day each week and give them feedback the day after. This will let them know that you still care about them and their education. Give them a time each week when they can contact you if they need additional help. I set this up as a meeting on MS teams (audio only) so that I can get it done in 30 minutes. It also gives the class a chance to speak to each other and listen to answers to questions they may not have thought of.

The lessons

My school has usefully provided us with a template for delivering lessons which work really well at home.  This consists of a ‘big question’ to begin the lesson along with six different categories for content: ‘New Knowledge’, ‘Develop Together’, ‘Let Me Show You’, ‘Assess and Address’, ‘Retrieve, Embed, Refine’ and ‘Independent Application’.

Here are some examples of how you can use these at home.

This independent application task was set during a year 10 lesson on depression. The focus was on treatments for depression. I narrated the presentations so that I could talk through the slides, just as I would in class.

The Big question was: What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy? new knowledge was presented succinctly (I hate power point slides with loads of writing) with a summary of the stages of therapy plus web links that students could follow to view mock CBT sessions. I gave them an example of the kind of thought log a patient could be given as homework and talked them through the purpose and application of it.  I  scaffolded the independent application task (see slide below) which was to ‘Write a patient information leaflet for a person who is about to undergo CBT’. This extended writing task requires them to understand the knowledge through application and to think about adapting their knowledge for the target audience.


In the narration for the task, I asked them to consider the average reading age of a typical CBT client and the sort of information they would wish to have if they were about to undergo the treatment themselves.

Here is an example of what students produced (reproduced with kind permission) covering all four of the bullet points in the task plus additional interesting points.

Capturecapture 2

Assessment took about 15 minutes for the whole class; check that all the points are covered and make one recommendation to improve.

Here is a ‘let me show you’ example from an A level lesson on treatments for OCD.  I copied a page from the text book and talked through genetic and neural explanations for OCD. I then provided a table so that students could summarise their notes on one page and demonstrated how to complete the first row. students had to upload their tables so that I could see their note-taking skills and give prompts to help them fill in any blanks.

W35OCD lessons 1 and 2

For ‘assess and address’ I snipped a question from an electronic A level text book and asked students to complete the task, self assess and close the gaps.  I talked through the assessment (also snipped from the book) annotating to show where the marks were awarded.

I then asked students to show me their marked work complete with gaps in knowledge closed.

For each class, I also set one teacher-marked assignment per week which is usually an exam question. This does not have to be arduous, a 6 mark or 8 mark question does nicely. This gives students the chance to retrieve and embed knowledge from the week’s learning and refine it using my feedback on www and ebi.


It is tricky working from home and some students find this more of a challenge than others. However, do not be tempted to lower your expectations. I always finish with a summary slide (below) showing what I expect to see when students upload work.  If it is incomplete I return it with a message to complete and resubmit. I also note down which students are not meeting expectations.


Talk to parents

Parents have a difficult job, probably working from home themselves and coping with the supervision of their own children’s home learning.  For parents of small children, this is challenging but at least small children ‘treat life as a happy comedy whereas teenages treat life as a cold-war spy movie in which their parents star as the emeny!’ (Starling, B., n.d. Haynes Explaines Teenagers.) Even more reason then, that we talk to parents to let them know how their teenage cherubs are doing. Once again, this need not be arduous. I keep a record of students who are doing nothing, as well as those who are doing well and make it my mission to phone four parents every Thursday. This is deeply satisfying as, 1. they are guranteed to be home and 2. they are (by and large) very grateful for the time you have taken to speak with them.

I hope I have given you some useful things to think about with regard to home learning during these unprecedented times. keep up the good work and remember to work smart not hard, so that you have time to exercise, practise your yoga, tend your garden or whatever else brings you joy!

The Ivy Lee Method for Teachers

to-do-listA 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

  1. 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.
  2. Prioritise those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

What makes it so effective? Colter Reed (Manage your Time, Manage your Lifehttps://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.


Blancmange Brains Vs Blooms

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.

Continue reading “Blancmange Brains Vs Blooms”

From Little Acorns

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.

Continue reading “From Little Acorns”

First blog post

I’ve decided to write this blog as a record of what I’m about to do!  Do permit me to introduce myself.

I am a teacher in her early fifties, working full time in a comprehensive, earning £37,000 a year (PSP3). I am sole teacher of Psychology A level and also teach Health and Social Care and Science.  As a PSP teacher, I have a wider school commitment to mentor an NQT and I’m currently looking at setting up GCSE Psychology in September 2017 as well as running Psychology Club for year 11 students on Thursday after school. I work from 8am to 5pm Monday to Thursday and from 8am to 3.30 pm on Friday.  I have a fifteen minute breakfast break and a thirty minute lunch break.

The reason for setting up this blog is that I am going to try to do the impossible! I’m determined to try and fit all of my work into a working day!  Before you talk about long holidays, yes that is true but I have long been resigned to the fact that the holidays (apart from about four weeks in the  Summer) are simply ‘working from home’ with the added luxury of being able to prep and mark in pyjamas; without interruption.

I firmly believe that I should be able to fit all my work into a working day plus a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and that, if I can’t, the workload is too large.  I have spent my October half term catching up with prep and marking.  I’ve prepared a scheme of work, marked two sets of student work and prepared 21 lessons (all on power-point as is a requirement of my school). This will get me through next week’s teaching and I will have the same amount to do for the week after. I still have one set of marking and a scrutiny of GCSE Psychology syllabuses to do this weekend so that I can present my action plan for the setting up of this course next week.

Here goes then! I’m not sure how I will do it but I’m resolute in my determination to try. I don’t normally do anything other than teach in a lesson but, perhaps, I will have to review that idea.  I’m making teaching and marking my priority and I’m going to give a weekly update of what gets done and what does not.  Wish me luck!

WB 24th October (half term)

Done: 21 lessons planned, two sets of marking and one scheme of work.

Pending: one set of marking, one scrutiny of GCSE Psychology syllabuses.

Not done: Class charts for yr 7 and 8 not updated (still need to add student data  to my seating plan). Psychology club introductory activity.