Friday, 30 May 2014

The Average Child

Picture courtesy of The Guardian

There are so many quotes, pictures and kittens posted on Twitter that rarely does one have much of an impact. However this one did the rounds a week or so ago and it has remained with me. It was a picture of this poem (uncredited):

The Average Child by Mike Buscemi

I don’t cause teachers trouble;
My grades have been okay.
I listen in my classes.
I’m in school every day.

My teachers think I’m average;
My parents think so too.
I wish I didn’t know that, though;
There’s lots I’d like to do.

I’d like to build a rocket;
I read a book on how.
Or start a stamp collection…
But no use trying now.

’Cause, since I found I’m average,
I’m smart enough you see
To know there’s nothing special
I should expect of me.

I’m part of that majority,
That hump part of the bell,
Who spends his life unnoticed
In an average kind of hell.

There is an incredible tragedy about this, as it is a stark reminder of too many children we teach. I teach 50 minute lessons, often with 32 children in each; that's 90 seconds each per lesson. Obviously, we don't work like this, but if we ask ourselves questions about the time taken up by the disruptive ones, the really bright (and outspoken) ones, the weak ones, the attention seeking ones... how many seconds do I give to 'the average child'? How many seconds do they get in a school day?

We had some literacy training about 18 months ago and it highlighted 'The Invisible Child'... doesn't particularly struggle, nor do they particularly excel at school, conform and don't receive hardly any sanctions... I think this is the very same student. 

Results wise, for me they are somewhere in between those we are pushing for A/A* grades and those C/D borderline focus groups; a good solid B. Maybe I need to spend more time focusing on these students, I'd hate to think of anyone I teach feeling "unnoticed in their average kind of hell".

How do you focus on the average or invisible child in your classroom?

I have found this very useful for communicating and entering into discussion with students about tasks, difficulties, problems outside the classroom. Quiet students have said, "Sir, I really don't get this", "Could we go through this?" which has been very helpful.

Every Child
Setting a task that allows you to speak to each and every child in a lesson. You can't do this too often and it invariably does get interrupted by someone!

Random Name Pickers
Whatever you use... lolly sticks, PPTs, websites - or me? 'My random pen'.

Thanks to Naimish who shared it for me to see <here>

Thursday, 29 May 2014

My Plantar Fibromatosis & Work

I recently did an interview for my Ledderhose and Plantar Fibroma support group and it reminded me of a popular post of Ross' about The #GuiltyTeacher. His post was inspired by Mr Steer on Educating Yorkshire and discussed some of the ways in which teachers neglect themselves, particularly when it comes to their health.

I have to put my hands up that I have been guilty of this on many occasions. My plantar fibromatosis operation was one such time. After seeing the aggressive growths on the bottom of my foot, the doctor wanted to operate as soon as possible. However I delayed the operation, despite his protests, from February to June in 2009. This was as the recovery time was around 2 months and I felt that I couldn't leave until after my exam classes.

Additionally, my school required that I set cover work for each lesson for the 6 weeks. I sought union advice on this and it all became a little difficult as it was made clear that if I didn't set it, my department would have to. As I had 6 months notice, I got on the case and had a folder with a searing plan, class list and instructions for every lesson, for 6 weeks. 5 years down the line in my teaching career, I would now make a far greater fuss and refuse to complete such an outrageous request. 

While I was off, I was getting piles of marking delivered to me. This was a step too far even then, and most of that went in the recycling (sorry students of Y7 to Y9 2009). The idea behind delaying my operation was to avoid the crucial marking time!

Even before the diagnosis, I had been in great pain and was renowned for teaching in my socks, as shoes were too painful. Thankfully, I lived in one room so this was entirely possible; plus it had carpet! 

The operation came and went, the recovery took longer than I had hoped and I was on the sofa for a full 2 months. I felt miserable and could see how people actually never went back to work after even relatively small ops. I had worked it all out so I had no choice but to go back on 1st Sept for the new school year. Actually, I needed a further two weeks off but I forced myself as by this point, it was the doctor saying "Are you ready?". Looking at he Autumn term, most teachers would say NO!

The operation was a partial success, as it is less painful now, but the lumps are back. I am currently looking into new treatment options and hopefully they will not cause as much pain as they did in 2009. However I still take my shoes off a lot at work, despite not teaching in one room! Often it is meetings after school, and colleagues often ask, "No shoes?" to which I reply, "Not today". Maybe it they read this they'll know why!

The whole experience taught me some valuable lessons about long term absence and looking after yourself. Thankfully I did no greater damage to myself by delaying the operation, although the consultant did tell me afterwards there was a very small chance the lumps were cancerous and that was one reason for him wanting to get it done sooner rather than later.

I wish I could say I was not a 'guilty teacher' any more, but alas I sill wait until school holidays to go and see the doctor and at the minute I have a really bad back (manifesting itself in my buttock muscles, painfully!). I have raised it at school and straight away they have got me a better chair. However, it is hard to see how I can avoid hours sitting marking my KS3 exams and writing Y7 to Y10 reports...

I bet you have your guilty teacher moments too.

Read the full interview about my feet and hands: <here>

Monday, 26 May 2014

*APPEAL* Unused Musical Instruments?

Image courtesy of 3 Business Ideas

Do you have a musical instrument gathering dust in a drawer or cupboard, once used by you or your children, but no more? At St Teresa’s, Basildon, children are working with classical musician James Rhodes to form a school orchestra. Could you donate your instrument? Please contact Fr Dominic Howarth on 01268 281732, or email We will pay postage or arrange a pick up, and your instrument will be put to very good use – it could truly transform the life of one of our children, as they discover new talents. Thank you.

See local news story <here>

Fr Dominic is an old friend of mine and someone who works tirelessly to improve the lives of those around him. Rarely do you meet such a hardworking and dedicated individual. If you can help, or know of anyone else who can, please forward this on!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Philosophy Film Club

Teaching through films is always fun, especially when they are films you love yourself! RE particually lends itself to looking at the philosophical and ethical aspects of the movies and I am tasking my Y12 students with just this over the summer.

I've just set up a new blog for this <here> which students will post on. I've got a box full of DVDs that I'll be leaving in the RE cupboard for them to borrow (eBay and Amazon marketplace are your good friends...).

There will be post-it notes on most of them giving some suggestions as to what focus the review for that film should take.

I've added a competition feature so students can take pride in their writing and try to promote via their own social networks. £20 is worth it to get students engaged and thinking about the subject over summer...

Look forward to the blog about how it goes later in the year!

Our initial collection...

Thursday, 22 May 2014

#TeachFest @ KEGS 22/5/14

Tim Worrall doing Kung-Fu

A few weeks ago, I received a flyer (by email) for another interesting looking event at KEGS in Chelmsford. It promised an informal event of CPD lead by staff from the school (see <here>). We hopped in the car from Upminster and arrived in time for a particularly lovely flapjack and a cup of tea.

First up was Alex Steel discussing his literacy and oracy project with Y8. It gave a fascinating insight into the progress of boys developing the skills of reading aloud to their peers during form time. He explained how by simply encouraging students to read twice during the cheer had had dramatic effects on their confidence and identifying ways to further improve. He is now looking at how he can further develop this scheme more widely in the school.

Next up was Tim Worrall (see above) leading us a overview of Willingham's research into learning methodology. Important reminders about how students learn best are always vital... don't spend your time with attention grabbers or making it all 'pop quiz' and focusing on making it too relvent. Instead use stories, Q&A models and worked examples. Tim cited the work of Joe Kirby (<here> and <here>) which are well worth a read if you haven't already done so. He left us with the thought, that maybe there will be a time in the future when we look back at teaching and can't believe we didn't use psychological research when deciding upon our teaching methods... 

Lastly, Lucy Fryer, James Russell and Fred Midroit took us through their use of Edmodo. I'm a massive fan already and use extensively with KS4 and KS5 classes. They focussed on KEGS drive for deep leadership whereby students are no longer solely reliant on their staff and deep learning where students have a personalised learning journey. It was good hearing they had some of the same frustrations as me, but had some excellent new ideas for how I can continue to build on my usage... get ready for Question of the Day!

Many thanks to Jane Breen for organising and KEGS for hosting. Hopefully there will be a #TeachFest 2 at some point...


I did get me thinking about my own school and how we need to build towards what Tom has created at KEGS. I think Ross's recent blog <here> explains some of the issues well. My first challenge is getting some more colleagues to attend TMHavering on 1st July...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Thank You, Twitter (New Appointment to HoY)

Image courtesy of EXSS Impact

I didn't want to make it a big thing, so last Friday night, I sent one short tweet asking if anyone was a Head of Year (<here>). I was fortunate to have a number of responses. 

By the end of the evening, I had an offer to proof-read my application letter plus various questions, tips and other exemplar letters being emailed to me. I was genuinely overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. The variety of people who offered their help was also wide ranging, a pastoral deputy head, a head of KS4 who line manages HoYs, existing HoYs, aspiring HoYs (who had struggled first time round and shared their mistakes). What more could I ask for?

It is important to discuss things with people in your own school, but sometimes for a variety of reasons you can't do that. Perhaps they are involved with the interview process... maybe they are also applying for the job... maybe they have some other interest... sometimes we don't want to be asking around everyone publicly as it becomes 'staff room chat'. Sometimes you just want to hide behind an avatar and a handle to ask for help.

Thankfully, I did also have a few people in school who greatly helped out, but this combination was great as it enabled me to put together a whole variety of information, prepare myself fully and feel confident there was nothing more I could do.

As a result, on Wednesday, I was able to celebrate my new promotion to Head of Year (Y10).

Thank you all SO much if you helped with advice, emails and tweets. Twitter really is the best possible staffroom.

I'm sure I will be blogging soon about the help I will need moving forward... 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Independent Learners, Independence... How? What? Why? HELP!!!

Image from Thank, Q

I have been struggling for over a year now. So many questions fly around my brain about independence. I'll start with what I have in my brain, right now:

  • What does an independent learner look like?
  • Is independence simply a final place that a large number of students get to regardless?
  • How can I make my students more independent, without simply neglecting them and their needs?
  • What does independence look like on a daily basis? Is it possible to observe in a lesson, for example?
  • How can I convince my colleagues this is important or even desirable? (If our results are very good)
  • Where do I go next...? And who can I take with me?

It's been a focus of our ACE (Aspiring for a Culture of Excellence) working party for over a year now. I'm not sure we're even close to cracking it.

Our first step was an 'easy win', placing a 3 B's poster in each room (read <here>) which were initially used quite a lot by staff. It's been nearly a year now; I wonder who was the last person who pointed at it and didn't allow a student to ask a question they could find the answer to?

We also ran a Family Learning Project (read <here> and <here>) which was a huge success and we will be running again this year. Staff have commented on how they have been able to refer back to it in lessons and how impressed they were. However we did this for Y7... and what next?

I have tried to do a few bits and pieces myself in my own classroom. With a Y9 Assessment, I gave the students the task, a selection of resources, my online guidance ( see <here>) and then left them to it. The results were varied, but generally as expected for a mixed ability Y9 class. With Y8, I got them to produce a booklet on the Exodus. They watched the Prince of Egypt (one of my fav films!) and then were left with a set of criteria, the textbook and a lesson in a computer room. Again the results varied greatly.

From these small scale, informal, trial and error pieces of 'research', I realised that the most able really excelled. I had some amazing work, way beyond what would have happened had I been more conventionally teaching them. That raised some important questions of how I deal with the bright students in my mixed ability KS3 classes... do I do enough? However I also realised that the less able can really struggle, especially the panic I heard about in 'Homework Club' with the TAs. I also saw 'middle' children perhaps making a great attempt, while others put in little effort as they did not fully engage without that constant encouragement. Certainly more problems and questions than solutions. 

With the Y8s, I did a knowledge based 'quiz' (read, 'test') and the results varied in an expected pattern, and the feedback varied... some enjoyed, some hated, some didn't really have an opinion.

In Y12, with the first A2 module in the summer, I tried some independent work (read what I did <here> and what I found <here>) which again didn't really have any gains, but no 'losses' either. I tried to extend their learning and writing by getting them to blog, which was a reasonable (but potentially unmeasurable) success. Read their postings <here>. Finally, I have tried to up my 'active learning' at A-Level and recently wrote about it for UKEdMag <here>.

Ultimately, I felt a little frustrated and not sure where and how to move forward.

We've sat down in the last few weeks to try and look again at this and below constitutes a few ideas that are currently 'out there'. I'd LOVE some feedback either via the blog or on by email <here>.

6th Form Induction
Possibility of doing things in a 'new way' with introduction to independence and some group based work in the afternoon. Although that great for a first day but the important thing is 'where next?'.

6th Form CP (Citizenship & PHSE) Lessons, General RE and General Studies
Looking at the syllabi of these are seeing them as a 'way in' to looking at skills and approaches that will encourage independence. For example, students were interested but quite passive in my "Science and Religion" module so I am looking to running it more as a 3 lesson - 'key questions', 'research' then 'debate' next year. We need to avoid 'death by woeful Powerpoint' presentations though.

'Extended Project' 
Not necessarily the EPQ offered by exam boards but something that students can get very actively involved in... may be signing up to one such project? Young Enterprise is incredibly successful at our school and this is  one opportunity. Perhaps an independent student newspaper (see <here>)? Or an essay prize or blogging project? (See <here> and <here>)

Cross Curricular Projects
Encouraging departments to look at ways of working together on different projects. This may work for KS3; we acknowledge there is just not the curriculum time for GCSE classes under the current model.

Lead By Example
Starting a pilot of an independent project and share it with other staff to hopefully inspire them!

A few colleagues and I have started a debating club which he hope to empower a committee to take control of. These will be our senior debaters (new Y13). In hindsight, we started at the wrong time of the school year, but hope to get it off the ground post-AS exams. This could be an 'extended project' that is worked on during former CP time.

Philosophy Club
Reading David Birch's new book (see <here>), I again wonder if I could run a philosophy club that focuses on philosophical enquiry...

(Great) Barriers

Our results are excellent, some of the top in the local area. Why the hell would we want to change the way we teach? When students were questioned a few years ago (according to my sources) they responded that their one criticism is that "teachers didn't talk enough". I can assure you there is a lot of teacher talk, particularly in A-Level lessons. We get lots of students on to very good courses at excellent universities... some go straight into very good jobs... are we really doing anything wrong?

"Just Tell us Miss" (@MissDCox)
This, it's SO this. Especially from the most able students. My incredibly bright Y11, Set 1 students got obsessed with the 'textbook definitions' for the key words despite me over and over saying as long as it was correct, it would get full marks, it didn't need to be word for word from an Edexcel approved textbook! On the other hand, there is a culture of what can only be called laziness, especially from low level disruptive students where it is far easier to just give them the answer to keep them vaguely on task and essentially quite.

Another thing?
This year we've started Open Door Week, formal SLT book monitoring... probably more things that I can't remember. How do we encourage staff to get on board? Change their established SoW? Extra meetings with people from other departments? Replan lessons that work perfectly well? Also some ACE peeps are wary that there could be a feeling of "Them again with their 'new' ideas?".

What's in it for me?
UCAS points? No? Not interested. There has to be motivation. In General RE, we stopped doing the NOCN qualification which had an external verification and, as such, certification, for our own syllabus this year. Thankfully, we have good girls who did the work for an in-house, but pretty (I made it!), certificate. 6th form is a hectic time... unless it will help with UCAS statement or gives UCAS points or a qualification that will actually get them a job, how do you get students to see the point? I think Tom (<headguruteacher>) is on to a winner with substantial cash prizes!

Ultimately we are working very hard as teachers, but are we working hard at the right things?
Could our energy be better spent instead of doing a lot of the hard graft for our students?

Over to you...
Tweet me <here>, email me <here>, comment below and challenge me, console me, fight me, inspire me....

Saturday, 10 May 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Provocations - Philosophy for Secondary School by David Birch

I love philosophy. I love my students to love philosophy too... and one of my greatest achievements was that from my first A-Level cohort, 3 went on to study philosophy at university. 

At the end of term, many staff do quizzes or show videos. However I now usually do some philosophy. I usually use The If Machine or The Philosophy Shop, both from the The Philosophy Foundation. We do an activity based on philosophical enquiry. Some "don't get it", some love it, a few hate it, some want to do it every lesson! It's also been handy for the 'no pens' day that our school has introduced to help improve literacy.

As such, I was excited to hear about Provocations, which is the latest in The Philosophy Foundation series published by Crown House Publishing Limited. A copy landed on my desk and I found it the perfect distraction from my pile of marking.

Any philosophy book for the classroom must be user friendly. It must be practical and workable. You've got to be reading and thinking, "This'll work for .... class". David Birch's excellent book does just that.

He begins with the basics. I usually brush over the 'set up' sections as I am experienced at running this kind of lesson, but it is vital to include for those new to philosophical enquiry or those who are being thrown in at the deep end! It can be very daunting, and well out of the comfort zone.

The book is then split into four sections, "The World, 'It'", "Self, 'I'", "Society, 'We'" and "Others, 'You'". Each takes a group of topics, many of which feature in GCSE and A-Level syllabi. This is vital, as much as I would love to indulge myself with simply doing philosophy, I have a very real responsibility to enable my students to pass their external exams! However, I have considered running a philosophy club and this would also work perfectly with them.

Quite quickly, I decided that this book would change how I do things. Why not start a unit with some philosophical enquiry? A perfect starter for a philosophy lesson surely?!

Let's take "The Problem of Evil". This features on my Edexcel GCSE and AS syllabus. Birch begins with a quote "World is suddener that we fancy it" (Louis MacNeice) before launching into our starter question, "Should there be no suffering in the world?"

This could easily be on the board at the start of the lesson and students could either write a response or discuss it. There are some questions to take students further if needed, plus a short extract from Mark's Gospel of Jesus on the cross. Birch then offers a selection of 'Task Questions' as well as an alternative starter, "How might suffering prove there is no God?" which lends itself well to GCSE/AS syllabi. There are useful hints, reminders and guides to setting up the discussion, for example in this section reminding the facilitator to avoid making students feel like they are being given the answer. He gives input, background information on early Christianity, before posing more questions. There is a clear line of thought with his questioning and more than enough for even a non-specialist to fill a lesson.

Other sections lend themselves well to PHSE or form time. For example, there is a section on "Race". This has a lot more input, which could be photocopied or even read in advance before again starter and task questions are systematically, and thoughtfully, set out.

It's easy to overlook appendices, but I urge you to not with Provocations. It includes some scripts which would make great fun and fully engage a small group, or a well-prepped group to perform to a larger group. They primarily explore logic. It also provides some 'self run' topics for pupils as well as some puzzles (similar to thunks), the real provocations!

Overall, this is an excellent resource for anyone that wants to bring in critical, creative, independent thinking into their classroom. David Birch was put together a fantastic, user-friendly book that will be well used in my classroom as I readjust my teaching, help my students put down their pens and engage the power of their mind, developing both their thinking, listening and speaking skills.

Friday, 9 May 2014

TM Havering 2: Arranging My 2nd TeachMeet

Earlier this year, I managed to arrange a TeachMeet with @aknill just 4 days before my wedding. It was a great success and a lot of fun; read about it <here>. Straight away we got a date for TM Havering 2 in the diary.

There is a LOT to think about to make a successful TeachMeet. Part of it is maintaining relationships with sponsors, colleagues in other schools, potential presenters, with the Twitter network as a whole. Part of it is the on the ground organisation and liaison. Part of it is becoming a marketing expert and social media guru appealing to the masses! Many businesses struggle to launch brands and events, but somehow TeachMeets manage to happen.

As 'just' a teacher, I have learnt many new skills by arranging TeachMeets. Andy and I have successfully maintained a website, Twitter account, Facebook page, and email account for well over 6 months now. It is just one of several 'projects' I am involved in and it is sometimes hard to keep up, especially when you just want to switch off and do nothing.

We had sponsorship from 4Matrix, Uteach, Toshiba, Twinkl and Crown House Publishing and at least three of these will be involved in our second event. We had over 80 teachers in attendance on the night, with a further 70 watching at different points online. One week after the event, we had over 30 signed up for the next event.

This week I've spent a few evenings getting everything ready for the second event. Our website, is fully up to date to encourage sponsors, presenters and potential attendees. I've been emailing sponsors, promoting via Twitter and getting all our accounts in order as best I can. During this week, we have allocated a few more tickets plus our first four presenter slots have been filled.

It's a risk having it so close to the end of term, but there is going to be an emphasis on fun and getting to know a few local colleagues. It is also an ideal time of year for trying out a few ideas! I am determined to make it a success and bring along some more of my colleagues... it is at my school after all!

Maybe see you there?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

#UKEdChat - RE Subject Special

RE Special: Thursday 15th May 2014 
8 - 9pm

UKEdChat takes place all through the week on Twitter but has a big presence over a few slots. I am hosting the RE subject special and hope many of you can be involved!

If you don't know how UKEdChat works, see here:

The only other thing is to consider some questions to be addressed during the hour long slot... please add suggestions to this blog post.

Also posted on the RE Online Cafe:

Questions, as voted by YOU:

Q1) What's your favourite RE lesson?
Q2) How will the forthcoming Government reforms affect the content of both GCSE and ALevel RS syllabi?
Q3) How can we make GCSE or A-Level RE better?
Q4) How do you promote and raise the profile of RE in your school?
Q5) What's the most important question we can ask as RE teachers?
Q6) What is your best online resource?

Read about it <here>