Learning From Last Year

Teaching, I’m told, is a craft. There’s always more to learn, always ideas you haven’t yet tried, and usually a development or two from educational research suggesting how to adapt our practice for the better.

This being the start of my second year of teaching (I prefer ‘my QT year’), I’m on a steeper learning curve than most. I made a lot of mistakes last year that I’ll be doing my best to avoid, but even many of the ideas that went really well will be a target for further improvement. For me, it’s one of the great attractions of a career in education that the challenge of self-improvement never disappears. Every student deserves a teacher who is willing to learn.

I want to share a short summary of what I want to do differently this year. I’d welcome any comments and suggestions!

  • Explicitly teach good behaviour: For younger (KS3) students, I intend to teach what good behaviour actually looks like in a range of contexts (e.g. class discussion, individual work, group work). During the summer I read a book called ‘Assertive Discipline’ by Lee Canter, and one of the main messages I took from it was that ‘responsible behaviour’ cannot be assumed to be understood by students and must be taught. I’ll do this by modelling it, then having students practice it and eventually master it.
  • Insist on a calm start to every lesson: Last year my tolerance of disorderly starts to many lessons had a remarkable impact on those lessons, so this year I intend to be relentless until the routines are established.
  • More phone calls home: I called students’ parents fairly frequently last year to give both positive and negative feedback, but as far as I can tell the more it’s done the more beneficial the effect on students’ learning. One of the features of KIPP schools in the US that seems to make them so successful (based on another book I read this summer!) is the insistence on a close and positive relationship between teachers and parents, facilitated by frequent phone calls and home visits. I won’t go as far as visiting students’ homes(!) but the benefits of the close relationship seem obvious.
  • Make written feedback relate directly to the student’s next task: This is a way for me to try increasing the effectiveness of the very time-intensive process of comment-only marking. Miserably, I often found that the detailed feedback I was giving last year was going unread! Wherever I can this year I’ll try to plan activities that follow on from the last set of written feedback, thus making it more relevant and likely to be used.
  • Do more demos, do fewer practicals: This idea is specific to Science teaching, and I intend to dedicate a whole post to it in the future because I know it’ll be controversial. In short, I feel that when the primary aim of a practical is ‘discovery’, the best opportunity for learning is through a demo with carefully mediated discussion, to elicit and challenge misconceptions. I’ll use practicals, but mostly when I want to explicitly teach a particular HSW skill like ‘choosing appropriate variables’.

I’m really interested in what other teachers will be doing differently this year than last year. In other words, what are your #newtermresolution s? Please leave a comment below, or better yet tweet me @teachgr or with the #newtermresolution hashtag.

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