10 ways I’m changing my teaching

Thanks to a multitude of books, to twitter, and to some amazing people I’ve met I’m trying to make lots of change to my teaching. Here’s some of the things I’m trying:

  1. Rubrics: Thanks to Jennifer Borgioli (@datadiva) I’m trying to pre-prepare rubrics – tables that clearly explain to students the different levels of quality that could be seen in pieces of work. This has already resulted in some fantastic pieces of work and has made my marking much easier as I can explicitly refer back to these to explain how to improve.
  2. Upgrading. Using the aforementioned rubrics I am enforcing a minimum quality standard on certain pieces of work. If students hand in the lowest possible quality or nothing at all I’m asking them to redo it during a lunchtime session. If they hand in a “not-quite-there” quality piece they are asked to redo it at home. I’ve had a couple of students suddenly ‘get it’ when they realise that the quality of what they do is now valued, rather than just ticking a box that it’s done.
  3. Assertive Questionning. This is a method I read in Geoff Petty‘s excellent book Evidence-based teaching (as recommended by Paul Shakesby, @paulshakesby). I pose questions in class and leave students a huge amount more thinking time before asking for ideas – usually working in groups or pairs to brainstorm. I then write up all their responses, correct or incorrect, good or bad, and ask them to comment on each other’s ideas and argue about them. Only after a long discussion (sometimes quite tough) do I finally step in and give my opinion. Some students have told me they find this hard, but that it has really helped them understand previously difficult topics.
  4. Bonus Time. This is an adaptation of Fred Jones‘ idea of “Preferred Activity Time” from his thought-provoking book Tools for Teaching (also recommended by Paul Shakesby). I’ve started reserving my Friday morning tutor time as ‘game time’ where we play various team-building games, sports etc. My students start the week with 10 minutes of this time and can earn extra minutes by having perfect uniform, turning up on time, having their planners signed and filled in properly, going quiet immediately when I ask, and doing good deeds for others. I had a tough start with this (sceptical kids!) but it seems to have started working better now.
  5. Explicit meta-learning. Before and after any extended task in class I’m taking a few minutes to discuss strategies and tactics. I’ve coined the phrase “how to struggle successfully” and I ask students for ideas of how they can avoid being “stranded, helpless, flapping fish”. I try and spend less time with any single student who is encountering difficulties (another Fred Jones idea) and instead jog their memory about which strategy they could use to progress. This hasn’t necessarily made me popular, but I’m already seeing the effect as students develop a few ways to have another go themselves.
  6. Graphic Organisers. Another brilliant Paul Shakesby idea which I also read about inĀ Evidence-based teaching. I’m constantly using Venn diagrams on the board to force students to categorise learning, especially in topics where they are often a bit woolly. For example in Physics I’ll write one circle for “cell” one for “capacitor” and ask them to come up with ideas that are true of either one or both. I’m combining this idea with Assertive Questionning: the graphic organiser helps make the whole thing more concrete.
  7. e-Learning tasks. Setting tasks on our VLE is really rather simple (we use Moodle) and it makes my life easier because I can immediately tell not only who has submitted a task, but who has even looked at the instructions. I sometimes set e-learning tasks while I have taken students’ books in. I’ve tried using this method for research, for answering questions, and for multiple-choice tests. The great part is that as soon as one person creates these tasks, every teacher can use them.
  8. Wikis. I can’t remember who was the first person I saw on Twitter who suggested this, but I have been an avid fan of students creating wikis after every lesson. On our VLE (Moodle) it is childs play to create a blank Wiki in any area, and I’ve been using one with my AS-level Physics classes since February. Some of them absolutely love it, some of them aren’t too bothered, but its a great way of ensuring that all the learning from every lesson is recorded for anyone who was absent. It’s been really useful for revision, and I’ve also spotted a few conceptual issues in the descriptions on there which makes it a good diagnostic tool too.
  9. Reflection. I tend to follow the example of a colleague of mine at school and plan my lessons in an Excel Spreadsheet. In the last few weeks I’ve added an extra column for my thoughts after the lesson. It’s not always been easy to find 5 minutes to do this, but it is always a powerful way of starting my planning for the next lesson. I tend to write notes about learning, behaviour, and the success or failure of new ideas, plus thoughts about what to try next time. This has also been helpful for my colleagues where I share classes with them.
  10. Growth Mindsets. Thanks to Carol Dweck‘s wonderful book Mindset I do tend to talk to students in a different way. Where I would once have said “very clever!” or “you’re very bright”, I now consciously use phrases such as “you worked hard on that” or “you’ve been really trying to improve”. I support this idea by referring to students’ chances graphs to reinforce the idea that resilience, hard work, and a positive attitude to getting stuck and trying again will lead to success.

All of these ideas are making my teaching so much more fun, and I’m beginning to see the difference in the way the students react. Of course, nothing here is a panacea, it is all taking a lot of hard graft to get it to work, and some hard thinking when it doesn’t quite work out. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on the students’ results, their behaviour, and their opinions of me (from surveys) to make sure I’m confronting the hard reality of the situation and not just making myself feel good by applying ‘sticking plaster’ ideas. Talk is cheap, but good teaching lasts forever. Fun stuff!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, reflections and ideas. Write a comment, drop me an email, or send me a tweet (@informed_edu).

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