Got it wrong, apologised, need to do better

ListeningNot to be too hard on myself, it has been a busy and unpredictable start to the academic year. That taken into consideration, I still got it horribly wrong this week when I colleague tried to follow up an email and engage in a ‘have you got a moment?’ conversation. Only I didn’t have a moment, worse, I did really handle that situation as I should have.

Even though I was ploughing through what felt like an inexorable todo list, my lack of humility or listening skills, was still bothering me later that evening. I emailed an apology, offered an opportunity to meet at a later point and popped my head in at tutor the next morning. Still – I know I got it wrong, I know that, despite the agreeable acceptance. This weekend, I put aside a little time for some self improvement.

How could I have handled it better?

In this instance, I didn’t have a moment. Though there have been other occasions where I have tried to squeeze in a conversation, I didn’t really have time for either. Here is a summary of what the EI experts suggest.

No time
Greet. Confirm the inquiry is important to you. Remember what you are saying with your body language is probably more important than what you actually say, if you can.

Oh. Hello X.

X: Have you got a moment?

[Relax the tone in your voice. Take a breath. Smile]

I’m interested, only I have a meeting in five minutes / I have a report deadline this afternoon, and I would want to give you my full attention.

[Establish accountability]

Can we meet tomorrow / Thursday?

In these tight exchanges, you have the opportunity to invite the colleague to a longer conversation at a later time.

Limited time

Oh. Hello X.

X: Have you got a moment?

[Relax the tone in your voice. Take a breath. Smile]

I’m interested, only I have a meeting in twenty minutes / I have a report deadline this afternoon.

[Help them get to the point quickly]

Tell me, how can I help.

[Assess the situation. Can you address the situation in half the time you stated above? Yes – proceed. No – establish accountability]

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If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don’t, you will
find an excuse.

istock_whats_your_excuseA simple line of motivation. A useable phrase to ‘test’ the students that wants to give you twenty reasons why their coursework is incompleted, why their work experience form is not yet filled in or that they forgot their tie, again.

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English as a practical subject

The conversation on and around David Didua’s blog helps me develop and reflect on my practice as a non-specialist English teacher. In fairness, the whole experience of teaching a third subject has been both invigorating and challenging; that’s why engaging with subject specific conversation has been so very important for me (and for my students). It is an environment where I have had to listen attentively, contribute less, and accept that I am often one of the least qualified person in the conversation. It is good to get out of your comfort zone, I hope I am a better school leader for it.

Take the debate surrounding David’s ‘The mathematics of writing,‘ post. There was a lot to digest and I bookmark the post to come back to read it again. I followed it up with a few questions to David, (duly answered) and today I did offer my response. My only reservation is that I am aware of my short coming, and yet I am not confident in the holistic approach to teaching English that I am part responsible for delivering. It would appear that it is leaving David’s AS English group and my Y11 group de-skilled?

As a non-specialist English teacher, I am learning and teaching in all phases of my teaching (planning, delivery and assessment). It can be exhuasting and every week I tried and set aside at least an hour of CPD.

The more I teach English, the more I consider English a practical subject or sport, more like music than say Maths. Most lesson are a production, with real purpose, for a real audience (greater than that of my marking) and I believe in showcasing students work. In this regard I see grammar as one of the ‘basic skills,’ of the production. More recently, this term, I have started to teach in the lower school, in much the same way I coached football at our local Academy.

We introduced strict routines, transition tasks, periods of technical repetition to grove ‘technical ability’ before setting up small practices to apply the technique (very rarely more that 4v4). We were relentless in our pursuit of technical mastery and building confidence in our players (Y6 / Y7s). Every session (20 mins of 80 mins), personal practice (homework) and part of every pregame warm up. We most certainly fostered mastery before understanding, though we always knew that understanding we be developed when their thinking skills allowed it. It was a question of readiness. Even once a skill had been mastered, it sometimes took 6-8 weeks before a player tried a new technique in a game situation and we would have to be very patient and supportive.

What I am trying to say (in a rather long winded fashion) is that within our English dept at least, we tend to teach the game of English and not commit to teaching and mastering the techniques. Passing, control, 1 v 1 to beat / defend a player, creating / closing space; reading, writing, spelling, punctuation, grammar. The more I teach English, the more I feel that repeated teaching SPAG will secure not only English skill but student confidence. Just anticipate that even a concentrated and committed effort to technical mastery takes more time to bloom in free form writing then you would think. I also forecast that it would mean that my Y11 students would get more from the self and peer assessment then they currently do, if they had the technical grounding in grammar.

Right now, sadly, I only have my gut feeling that it has been a positive change, of course I will have my markbook and student feedback to support my hypothesis later on in the year.

As for the image, sorry David. Google image search.

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Marking books, assessments and mistakes

I have been marking this morning. Marking students work always teaches me something about my teaching, something about my students, and almost always leaves me mulling over the process and relationships involved learning and teaching. Having started the class with ‘Who I Am*’ a funky worksheet, I have already learnt an awful lot about my students, very quickly. Given that it is a low ability set, low in confidence and low self belief, I learnt even more from the questions they chose not to answer. Four students choose not to answer ‘My most memorable recent event’ and even when encouraged pressed they choose not to answer.

Academically, I have been able to compare their first, albeit short written efforts, against their prior attainment and target grade, all very purposeful. I have a gauge of how the SENs might be met going forward.

Teaching, I try and always have two learning objectives. It immediately offers two opportunities to be successful in class, and a degree differentiation. The learning objectives often presented as learning activity (50+ ideas here) and are part of the instructional design. Sadly, I am either not giving students sufficient time to digest these and transfer them to their books, or I need to be more vigilant and get round the room even more and check.

Finally, assessment. Now we already know that assessment (feedback 1.13) has the greatest impact on student learning, even greater than teaching (instructional design) although I like to preface this with the added adjective ‘effective.’ Now effective feedback is difficult to construct. In my mind it is informative rather than evaluative, and how do you know students have engaged with feedback at all.

Dylan Wiliams does more than talk a good game, when it comes to feedback. If you lead or love learning and teaching, then visit his website. He very generously shares all his presentations there and it is well worth your time. I have no ambition to get on my assessment soap box here, but here are two vital points I remind myself most half terms.

Assessment should be more work for them, then it is for you.

Or as Dan Stucke puts it, ‘more work for recipient the than the donor.’ (And just for the record, the image is of Dan Stucke’s marking.)

Assessment leaves no mark in a book but leads to more learning.

For example ‘There are 4 spelling errors in the paragraph. Can you find them.’

These two points are even more important for ‘highly committed, dedicated teachers’ and ‘newly qualified teachers’ for whom marking can very quickly become a burden.

If it takes me fifteen minutes to mark the book, I set aside twenty minutes of the next lesson to act upon the feedback. It seems only fair.

Lastly, this morning, more be chance than judgement I stumbled upon another way to ensure I know students are reading the feedback. One student (MC) left me very little space at the bottom of a page to set a feedback task, so I turned book sideways and wrote north to south down the margin. I thought little of it, closed the book, placed it on the growing stack, and moved onto the next book. Later, I wanted to check what I had previously written, I had to turn the book to read it. Ahah – if I have to turn the book to read the feedback, they will  have to turn the book to read the feedback, and I will know that they are reading the feedback.

Lastly mistakes. I have found that there is a casual correlation between promotion and the frequency with which you are expected to deal with student mistakes. Here is a strong closing line for one of those conversations.

When you make a mistake there are only three things you should ever do about it; admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it. – Bear Bryant

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*I first used the worksheet when I taught at SIUE. I like the misspelling and ‘graduating’ terms, it encourages questions early on and I am not sure if I will change it.