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Pupil A – target setting

As part of some research I’m conducting with the University of Birmingham on target setting with a pupil, I had a meeting this week to discuss some targets for improvement.

I picked the pupil because he is quite able but struggles to focus and maintain high standards of behaviour within lessons. As a result he disrupts his own and others learning.

During the meeting he was very friendly and honest about his own “attitude” and seemed very willing to engage with the target setting process. A timetable of 2 weeks to review the progress has been set and three targets have been agreed through a 2 way discussion. They are

1) To get no more than 1 verbal warning during the course of any lesson, by not talking to other class members and sitting still on his chair.
2) To take book home after every lesson, like the rest of the class to allow him to revise and do homework when set.
3) To work well in lessons by attempting at least five questions from each exercise, unless the whole class has a target of more than that.

Pupil was very friendly and happy to engage in the process and seemed comforted that I had spoken to his mother and given some positive feedback about his willingness to engage in this process.

Watch this space.

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Escape route

There’s a section on the bottom of the model lesson plans that we trainees have been given called ‘escape route’ which I’d had explained to me but never seen in use before, until Friday last week.

The teacher in question was teaching a class for the first time. The rest of the year before hand they had been taught by a succession of cover teachers, and they had been changed to one of the schools permanent staff mid-way through the year to help pick them back up a bit.

He was teaching them how to solve simultaneous equations by equating coefficients and, bless them, they really weren’t getting it. This was nothing wrong with the teaching, he had started them off well with a fun starter activity, and explained the topic in an active, engaging way. It was just one of those things that happens sometimes in teaching – it just isn’t working that day. To be fair as well, the class were actually trying. They weren’t playing up, or failing to engage, they just weren’t grasping the concepts, which probably had something to do with it being the last lesson on a Friday.

Cue: escape route. about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through the lesson, the teacher (having realised it just wasn’t working today) cut his losses and went for the back up option: a logic quiz. It had nothing to do with the topic in hand, and wasn’t intended to. It was intended to be something stimulating and engaging (so as not to waste their lesson time) but a welcome change from the topic that was going down like a lead balloon.

The reception from the class was really positive. They were all keen to engage in the puzzles of the quiz, and really happy not to be struggling through a task again. By the end, some of them who were struggling with the topic asked if they could come back to it next week “maybe on Tuesday, sir?” they asked.

Full credit to the teacher for planning an escape route and having it ready, as well as acknowledging that it wasn’t working and opting to use it. It showed a good awareness of the class and their level of progress during the lesson. It can really pay at times to be adaptable to the circumstances.

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Food and Cooking @ Carshalton Sports College


Just seen this place on Countryfile, where the school went from a 4% pass rate to a 100% pass rate in exams. The headteacher puts this down (at least in part) to the fact that the school turned its playing field into an allotment and encouraged the pupils to get involved in growing vegetables, keeping chickens for eggs etc.

The pupils then eat their own produce in the school canteen, and learn cookery at school to a high standard.

Raises an interesting question about the involvement in extra curricular activities and their effect on academic achievement. Furthermore, the consequences of having a positive reason other than classroom learning to turn up and enjoy school.

I’ve no doubt that a further positive side-effect is the fact that the pupils are having decent meals at lunch time, rather than poor quality junk that is so often served up in school canteen.

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By way of introduction…

Some of you reading this blog may be familiar with the area of mathematics known in the A Level syllabus as ‘mechanics.’ Whether you are or not, it is worth stating that the early parts of mechanics ¬†build upon concepts familiar to those who’ve studied GCSE mathematics before. There’s nothing absolutely groundbreaking in the M1 syllabus, and certainly nothing at the start of the course that isn’t just a logical extension of things already known.

Which is why I was left quite baffled this morning at the way that our class’ first mechanics lesson panned out. First of all we did some basic calculations using distance (d), time (t) and speed (s), then we launched straight into S=(u+v)t/2, v=u+at equations without even the explanation that s now represents displacement rather than speed, or that v and u are starting velocity and end velocity. We then proceeded to be told “the units for acceleration are ms^-2 without being told why those are the units or why we are no longer writing them as m/s^2

We then proceeded to get given some example questions and told how to plug the numbers given into a formula.

As I said on twitter at the time, it was a lesson in how *not* to introduce a class to mechanics.

Anyone studying mechanics will already have become familiar with old favourites such as v=s/t, and the subject very much lends itself to working out, with guidance, the logical next steps for such an equation. Why not introduce a real world example of movement, speed and acceleration and start with the things you know about it, then work out how we might be able to get the information from this with the addition of nothing but logic. Such an approach would give learners a fuller understanding of the subject, why the formulae are what they are, and an ability to work them out again if they forget them.

Instead, we were presented with a handful of equations, expected to commit them to memory by a process of repetitive use and call upon them when needed. Very little context or explanation was given and, as a result, a subject which is very dynamic, applicable to the real world and logical was presented as one of abstract formulas, rote and repetition. Unsurprising, therefore, that the first word uttered on our table when we were given time to work through the questions, was “why are the units for acceleration like that? Is it because its metres per second per second?”

The one last point on the subject is that, having spoken to others in the class about it, there’s a feeling that it was a bit ‘rushed’ because we’re nearing the end of our available course time. However, I’m not convinced that the way to get through a topic quickly is by taking out the bits that will help people understand! Seems somewhat counter-productive to me…

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Just had a thought going back to our topics lessons a few weeks ago. We had to plan a lesson in groups of four, to deliver to the rest of our class.

As a group, we were very open about our topic, never worrie about people finding out what we were teaching, and in fact happily showed people our IT resources before hand and had a run through in front of some of the class.

Conversely, some other groups took a very secretive approach. They used codewords to refer to certain parts of their lesson, and wouldn’t respond to queries.

On the day(s) many groups lessons were met with a level of confusion or misunderstanding, however there was a high level of comprehension for ours. This was undoubtedly due to a number of factors (not least the fact that our group was not at the end of a long day with concentration already lagging). However I have just found myself wondering whether the fact that much of the lesson was familiar (even if just in appearance) meant there was one fewer thing for students to take in, allow more effort to be devoted to the subject content.

A parallel between this and school teaching is when pupils ask about things that are relevant to a point layer in the curriculum. An example being in maths when a pupil asks about the square root of negative one before the class is learning about imaginary numbers. The teacher can point out “we’ll be learning that later”, thus extinguishing the thirst for knowledge demonstrated by the pupil, but avoiding the complicated topic until a later point when the whole class is ready.

Alternatively, a pupil could be encouraged to investigate the topic independently, or even just given a short worksheet on it. It is then in the pupils own hands whether to look this up, but the topic will be more familiar to them when it comes to learning it fully and formally at a later date.

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Finnish pupils don’t get home work

Interesting infographic about Finnish school system:


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Teaching takes time

This week we had 5 90 minute lessons taught to us by our peers. Everybody was put into a group of 4, and we each had to teach one of the lessons as a group, and take part in the other four lessons as learners.

One thing that shone out so clearly from the sessions:

Teaching takes time.

From this, I don’t mean it is a skill you develop over time, as true as that is. But rather it always takes longer to teach something than you think it will. As a group, this was the first time we’ve been asked to teach an entire lesson from start to finish, and it was clear from all the lessons that everything was overrunning. For everyone.

Thankfully, our group dividing our 90 minutes into three half hour blocks, and planned them separately. Each of our 30 minutes contained the core stuff at the start and useful, but less essential stuff at the ends. We were therefore able to be more dynamic with our lesson and cut bits out from the end of one block if it was over-running without leaving the rest of the lesson up the proverbial creek. Although we had allowed for this eventuality, I don’t think any of us expected it to be as necessary.

So the lesson from the lesson: teaching takes time, build flexibility into your plan.


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