To Do: Reinvent the Wheel

It makes sense before the start of the new year to review the previous year, review the lessons learnt and consider what needs changing. And so I have a few ideas about what I would like to prioritise this year.

1. Talking: One area I want to focus on is my talk in the classroom – I do it too much, so I am going to aim to stick to questioning as my main contribution to the lessons and let the students do the talking. I also need to keep my tangents in check – every so often the students would be able to avoid work for a good 15 minutes by getting me to talk about something I was interested in (‘Sir is it true our identity is purely cultural?’ or ‘But doesn’t art only make sense for that religion Sir?’). I need to make sure the students use talk to advance their learning!

2. 6th Form study skills AND knowledge: I really enjoy working with the 6th Form students but I know that I don’t scaffold their learning skills enough. I jump straight in expecting them to be fully proficent in 6th Form study skills. This year (even with my year 13s) I am going to ensure the skills are set out clearly alongside the work. This means setting Philosophy lessons around note taking skills – Plato with Highlighters. This means setting Religious Art lessons alongside revision skills – Bullet Point Dali. This even means setting folder checks of students work. In theory students should be doing this by now in 6th Form but I want to make sure – I would far rather pester them mid way through the course than have them panic at the end. Being great at the subject is (unfortunately) not enough for Exam Classes. They need to have those (soft?) learning skills which will ultimately allow them to use their subject knowledge to access the higher grades in the exam. Not exactly Plato’s understanding of learning but it is the system we have to use.

The Wheel

Does this need reinventing?

3. Reinvent the wheel. I seemingly did quite well at creating my own resources, solving various issues with my classes on my own last year and enjoyed working through schemes independently. So I’ll just do that again…

How much time do we waste doing this?

I work in a large school with around 250 staff. Yet last year I still sat on my own at times trying to battle through to a solution to a problem. The problem might have been a subject based one, it might have been a student pastoral based one, it could have been a behavioural one. If it wasn’t a problem I was trying to solve, I found myself sat on my own creating resources or writing letters for trips or planning student reports. And yet I wasn’t the only one sat in my classroom. Around the site there will have been other staff doing exactly the same. Working quietly and independently – not disturbing others so they could do their work. The same work that I was doing.

Why weren’t we talking?

My aim this year is to talk more. Talk to colleagues in my department, talk to colleagues in my year team, talk to colleagues who teach the same students as I do, talk to colleagues who teach my form, talk to colleagues who are good at behavioural issues, talk to colleagues who are great at admin, talk to colleagues who have already planned trips and have all the paperwork. Between us we must all have the solutions already – we just need to share them!

  • There are staff who have taught at the school for 20 years – they will have written letters for trips.
  • There are staff who have taught these schemes of work before – they will have the framework for a lesson which I can alter/improve/edit/ use as a framework to help me plan
  • There are staff who have already put in place behaviour systems with the livelier students who will be able to help me form better relationships with those students because they can give me the background information.
  • There are staff who will also be willing to try new techniques for teaching. They can try something new at the same time as I do and then we can compare notes/results to see how to improve the ideas again.

As I contemplate the new term I suddenly realise that I don’t have to do everything from scratch. Talking to others in the school will free up some time. This time can be then ploughed back into the job, coming up with new ideas for teaching and learning or for sharing ideas with a wider audience. Alternatively I can use some of that time to strengthen the relationship with the students – making more positive calls home, ringing parents of tutees to ensure they are happy with the progress in school.

Shout it out!


Talking our way to a solution

So I have created a plan of action in order to help me enact this sharing! A standard 3 fold plan!

1. More blogging  & Tweeting. My aim is a post a week and a comment a day in order to be realistic. This aim though means that I will be talking to the biggest staffroom in the world every day. Someone is bound to have some advice for an issue or a problem I have. Or someone might be able to offer an innovative approach to a lesson which might reform the way I teach a lesson/topic.

2. Encourage my colleagues to share. Working in such a large school, the practicalities of dialogue can be difficult. However, tomorrow on training day I am proposing that people write up their solutions to problems or issues in the school. It might be a simple solution for making boys concentrate more after lunch. Or it might be how to motivate girls in bottom sets. Or it might be how to develop a sense of House Pride. These write ups will then be published in a journal – possibly termly, possibly yearly. All of a sudden the school is talking to each other. Maybe not in person, but we are talking to each other through collected reports on classroom practice (research by another name!). Encouraging this research then encourages staff to share both problems and solutions. The journal above all emphasises the need for staff to communicate rather than becoming little islands cut off from each other, working away through lunch time, not seeing anyone.

3. Face to Face. It is so easy to fire off an email to find out some information or to suggest an idea. But something gets lost in that communication. Taking the idea of talking to others rather than emailing from my room, I aim to head out and speak to my form’s teachers face to face if there is a problem rather than just typing our way to a solution. So much more communication happens when not staring at the computer – the little twitch as you mention a students name, the exasperated sigh when you mention David’s homework (he told me it was the first time it had ever happened!) or the grin as your colleague takes you through the fantastic piece of work Sarah did one more time. This sharing of non-verbal information is invaluable when helping you prepare for interaction with students as you share with other staff the day to day routine of teaching. You realise that you are not alone and that Barry doesn’t just play up in your lessons. You realise that Sally has been struggling in more than just your class on a Friday which means you know you need to help her. The brief chat about Stuart’s behaviour leads onto a discussion of the whole Form’s behaviour which means you offer to help by having a word with them the next morning. Not being stuck in my own classroom at lunch means I have the chance to speak to others and have the chance to share more ideas with others!

All of this communication also means that you are out and about in school – you get to see the students out of the classroom and get to see them in a new light and they don’t just see you as someone bound to their desk, afraid to go out at break time! Building this sort of relationship also helps you in the classroom

Are you in stuck in a cave somewhere reinventing the wheel?

Is this you?

How much do you communicate with other members of staff?

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you have to make them all up yourself?

Do you share your ideas with others – whether in your department or in your pastoral team?

Do you discuss your issues and solutions with other staff?

Do you spend time reinventing the wheel or finding another use for the wheel?

Enjoy the new year!

Can’t see the wood for the trees?

Picture the scene: it’s the end of the day and 3 RE teachers (the RE department) are sat in the Head of Department’s room. We are talking through the exam classes, the GCSE preparation we have done and what is coming up next. I pipe up with: ‘Guys I think we need to work on the revision materials. I think they are boring and don’t really engage our students! In fact I think I got bored when working through them.’

Now the statement is correct.

Over the last few weeks I have been focusing on producing a lot of materials for the students. On reflection I have been throwing so much paperwork at the students that in fact I may be solely responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon! However it’s not just me! To add to this paperwork frenzy, any GCSE student can visit our school website and can download 20+ files and print reams of paperwork in the comfort of their own home. There is a massive overload of paperwork here BUT the students are happy to read through it. During the lessons we went through the materials, either tests or A4 pages which summarise the course. Before our RE exam this morning we saw hundreds of students carrying around the single A4 revision guides we’ve made.

But is the critique wrong? Well, yes, we haven’t been using massively interactive resources/powerpoints/Promethean whiteboards.

But let’s look at the context:

  • Department size: 3 full time and 1 part time teacher
  • School size: 4 teachers teaching 1600 students.
  • KS3: 4 teachers focusing on KS3 – writing, resourcing and adapting between them 18 schemes of work. There are 900 students to be taught compulsory KS3
  • KS3: 2 teachers teaching 60 students a Year 9 philosophy unit – built from scratch and combined with psychology. All advertising for this role carried out by 2 members of the department.
  • GCSE – Short Course: 3 teachers teach this to 600 students. Our school has a compulsory Short Course exam for any student in the school. The 3 teachers have then created all the resources that have been needed to teach a range of students. There are 12 sets, set by English ability. However some students are set by their behaviour in English. The badly behaved kids are moved in order to improve their behaviour. The RE department has to just go along with this. The staff have created all the revision materials which can be found on an easy to use website. The students do make good use of these materials and have commented that they are pleased with the amount they can access from home.
  • GCSE – Full Course: 3 teachers teach 60 students another 6 units after school, in their own time. The staff create all the resources and then provide all the revision materials. The results these students attain are 100% A*-C.
  • RE A-levels: 2 teachers teach AS and A2 RE. They prepare 30 students in Philosophy of Religion and Religion and Art.
  • Philosophy A-levels: 3 teachers prepare 30 students in Epistemology, Nature of God, Philosophy of Religion and Moral Philosophy.
  • The 4 staff in the department are currently involved in multiple working parties, managing the differentiation for the 1600+ students we teach at both SEN and AGT level. The department is also leading the way in the school’s use of Google Apps as well as happily incorporating technology such as graphic tablets into the classroom.

As an RE teacher does any of that sound familiar? I started writing that list feeling (a little) bitter. The English department (which teaches the same number of GCSE kids) has about 15+ staff, as does the Maths and Science department. How are 3 people meant to do the same amount of work as 15 creating interactive revision materials?


3 people are currently doing the same amount of work as 15. Students like RE at our school. Students get good results in both Short and Full Course at our school! 3 people are currently producing an entire revision scheme which is used by 300 students. 3 staff are working incredibly hard on the GCSE work (let alone any of the work for the KS3 schemes, each of which is revised annually, the materials for the complex subjects of both AS and A2 RE and Philosophy).

So no we haven’t made interactive revision materials.

I’d lost the wood for the trees. Have I made an error in claiming that we should look at the revision materials we provide? My own conclusion is no. The error is trying to have everything done for yesterday! My own error is an unrealistic enthusiasm to keep developing and improving what we do with the students. As the old adage says ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.
Considering the exam season mayhem that is going on in the department at the moment, having a colleague say that the resources are boring is probably not the most useful thing to ever hear! The intention was well meant but the timing and forgetting everything else we had achieved was not!

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!!

So what next? I’m going to make a Department To Do List (DTDL) for everyone to post on there what we might want to look at next. It could be a massive pipe dream like the introduction of a new GCSE for the higher ability students, it could be a review of the revision materials or simply underlining the title in the next Powerpoint. The DTDL is both a reminder of just how much a tiny department is capable of as well as a reminder of the massive aims the tiny department is going to ultimately achieve.

Sound familiar?

As an RE teacher do you ever lose the wood for the trees? Do you ever forget just how much you achieve as a smaller department? Do you ever stop to praise yourself and shout about what you already do to others? Do you ever take a chance to assess exactly where you are going as a department? Do you ever look at those aims and think that in fact you are doing a fantastic job already?

How was it for you?


How was it for you?

At school recently I was asked to comment on my transition year from trainee to NQT. I was only supposed to write a paragraph but it became so cathartic that I ended up writing a blog post about it! Any comments greatfully recieved. It has done me a world of good! Ready to face the afternoon!

My NQT year

I was a lot angrier in my first year. I used to dread Monday and Wednesday afternoons as I was faced with bottom set year 11s and incredibly disruptive year 9s. Actually the same goes for P6 on a Thursday and P4 on a Tuesday.

The principle problem was that I had gone from teaching about 15 lessons a week to teaching 26 lessons a week including an A-Level course, 2 GCSE Year 11 sets, 3 GCSE Year 10 sets and 8 year 9 groups. In no way was I ready for the shift in work that involved. It is difficult to explain the shift you have to go through of making absolutely everything perfect and trying (and i am nowhere near an expert on this) to make everything effective. Time spent marking is not with every detail having feedback but now with key ideas receiving feedback. You don’t really fully understand that until the end of the NQT or the middle of the RQT. You feel like you are letting the world down when you might do a tick and flick on a set of year 8 notes. You feel that a PowerPoint is a failure if one of the slides looks just a little out of place. This idea of being effective becomes more and more important when the classes build up. In my first year I taught in the region of 600 students. Marking that amount of books was a real struggle for me and is still something i have to work hard to try and keep on top of.  That shift is not really something someone can prepare you for – that simply is something that happens and you deal with as and when you encounter it. Organisation is definitely key!

The real big shift was managing behaviour on my own. There weren’t going to be the supportive mentors looking at every lesson to check on my behaviour management techniques. As the year wore on I got a lot angrier and slightly disillusioned. Would the kids ever shut up when you asked them to? However I didn’t set enough clear boundaries which is now covered by the school behaviour policy! If there is something clear to work with it made it much easier to enforce. The other problem was that all of a sudden you are a complete member of staff – when  you are out on duty you are not shadowing someone you then have to be up to speed on what to do in a situation as well as knowing the policies which tell you want to do in different situations. There is a far higher expectation on you as a teacher to both support the students as well as support other members of staff. It is assumed that you are authoritarian enough to be able to command respect around the school so as to carry out these sorts of duties.

I was lucky and didn’t have a form in my first year of teaching – a useful situation as I then became a support tutor and was able to observe how some people managed forms and managed the different issues that arose in those forms. Some of the things i learnt then i still use now.

 The pressure points i think come in 2 distinct groups. The pressure of work and the pressure of being tired. The pressure of work is the combination of a variety of assessments which need marking, books to be checked before they go to monitoring and evaluation, a set of a-level essays to review, some planning to do, some key stage 3 planning and same A-level reading (usually before tomorrow!). This comes like the tide. Each term there is a surge in work expectation and some of it you will bring on yourself. For example if marking gets left too long and then all needs to be done by next Monday along with those essays then you construct a massive work load for yourself. However at other points, especially as the exam lead up comes, then you start to get more and more work as you start to pile on the practice essays and the practice questions all the way up to the exams. This is then added to by the assessments which are due as well and the homework you set which you try and mark in order to ensure you engage the younger students so that you still have older students to teacher later down the line!

The tired pressure is slightly different! As term goes on you get increasingly tired. The constant people management does naturally drain you and by about the 6th week you want to just sit down for an afternoon rather than do anything else. The more this feeling grows the more difficult everything else can seem. This comes around at the end of term and can either lead to people feeling angrier or to people feeling lackadaisical with regard to planning and/or behaviour management.

Er not really selling the dream here!

That sounds horrendous. I love my job though and that is not me being cheesy. Like every other teacher in the school you get through. In fact you begin very quickly adapting to the environment you are in and start learning the tricks of the trade to help teachers (rather than trainees) become far more effective with their time. There is nothing more valuable than time. Marking and report writing (try writing reports for 240 year 9s and that was my NQT year) are an essential of the job. Spend your time complaining about them and you will end up hating it. Take a more positive attitude and the chore factor goes.

You also get to know the schemes far better. After the 3rd year of teaching the schemes we have, not only am i rewriting stuff i just don’t like but you start to get time to read around the subject and remember why you live teaching your subject so much. The more you teach as well the easier it gets as you know what will work and won’t. The more you move on then the more you go back to the trainee stage of being able to trial; things out and evaluate whether they were effective or not. The shift from trainee to NQT is enormous but the real positive shift is that it is your classroom. I spend hours telling my kids that they aren’t hitting enough RE or they are boring me with simple regurgitation and that they need to really engage with the subject. A mentor might tell me off for that but students have commented about how they remember not to say ‘proof’ unless they bore me!!

 The shift from trainee to NQT is enormous but it is what you make it: a positive or negative shift. Even some of the worst classes present the best challenges if you look at the big picture!

How was it for you?

How was your NQT year? Did you have a similar experience? Better or worse? Have you really sat back and thought jkust how far you have come since those first tentative steps into teaching? Does your school give you a chance to express these ideas and achievements? I would be keen to read your comments!

Does every cloud have a silver lining?

You’ve all heard this one right:

Every cloud has a silver lining!

The quote of optimism? The quote of the deluded? Or the quote of the visionary?

This week sees the staff at my school battle with the concept of Gove’s academies. I’m not even sure what I mean by the concept of

Every cloud?

Every cloud?

battle! I haven’t yet worked out whether I want to go into the consultation meeting all guns blazing or whether I want to support the SMT as they develop a new educational environment! I’ve spent all weekend sitting reading through union literature and school based literature. I’ve reviewed it with my militant hat on. I’ve read things with a set of rose tinted glasses on. I’ve even got the scales out to work out what to do. To be honest I am none the wiser!

The arguments presented are convincing. Well no that’s not true. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We gain some money by not having to buy in the LA services but then this isn’t a guaranteed level of funding. There is that dark cloud on the horizon which is the staff pay and conditions post-management review after becoming an academy. So we don’t become an academy and we remain with the LA. But then if the LA funding is being top sliced and then there is further reduction in LA funding to the extent that it is merely a shell of its former self then why would we stay with the LA.

And there we have it. Our cloud. A cloud of damnation! So try and spot the silver lining if you can! Can you? It took me a while!

Silver Lining 1 – The Big Picture

I can’t remember the last time I really sat back and thought about education. The day to day becomes so pressing that you loose the big picture. Little Johnny’s marks and feedback is vital but so is getting that overview. Stepping back to see the full picture and then to have a chance to form a balanced opinion. Not an opinion formed by looking at 2 sites but a chance to go through a whole range of literature and getting a sense of the inflammatory nature of some of the blogs/union lit. vs the clear concise thinking of some articles. I spent nearly 4 hours reading through lit. What a wonderful afternoon of learning it was simply through having the chance, space and time to think. (For more info on this read: @rbnpapper)

Silver Linking 2 – Ideological Dreaming

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I was ideological for 4 hours. Reading the literature brought back a lot of ideas which used to be present constantly during the teacher training. Teaching does not exist in a vacuum. Teachers are not neutral. Teachers are involved in and contribute to the  the politically charged environment in which the school exists, either at a local, national or global level. All of a sudden I found that books were coming off the shelf not to help me plan lessons but to develop me as a teacher – suddenly ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (Frerie) was off the shelf. I was starting to discuss the aims of education. The link between the teacher and the state. Am I just Gove’s mouth piece in the classroom or am I a student liberator?

I want to dream of being a student liberator but I have a horrible fear that my dreams are of day-to-day admin…

Every cloud?

I will be walking into the staff meeting tomorrow with fresh eyes. My criticism/comments/support will not be based around my concerns of the day to day running of the school alone but in the ideological opportunities that could arise out of this next stage in my school’s history. It is going to be a difficult step for people to take but it will be an interesting one and one which I hope get’s us talking more and more as a staff about the ideological stances we have and the direction we want for our school.

Do you see the cloud or the lining?

What are your views on academies? Do you think there can be a silver lining? How do you approach problems? Do you give yourself time to be ideological? Do you dream of admin or ideologies?

“No! Of course it doesn’t make you go faster!”

As the year 7 said this to me at the beginning of the week, I couldn’t help feel that I had made a massive error. The sort of error that people talk about because it was so basic! The sort of social faux pas that can reduce a room to stunned silence at your ignorance! I was shown to be the charlatan that I was, my interest was in the conversation was exposed as fake because surely anyone who is even half interested would know that!!

‘Ok… so explain it to me then. What does it do?’
If I wanted to continue the conversation I was going to have to confess my ignorance. Come clean and then we could start talking again!

Me: ‘What does this chain you have bought do for the bike then? I thought it made it go faster?!’

Matt: ‘No! It gives more strength to the pedals Sir. It means if I jump on the pedals they won’t snap off.’

I could feel a light dimly coming on in my head as I started to understand a little of what Matt was talking about. He was clearly cross with me for not understanding what he was talking about and why he was so enthusiastic about it! His enthusiasm had taken a knock by meeting this wall of stupidity personified in me!

‘Right… er…’

Matt: ‘You still don’t get it, do you?’

Me: ‘Er no…’

Matt: ‘It means I can kick the pedals harder. If I am going downhill I can push harder on the pedals and go faster. And that’s what it is all about. Getting down the hill fast!’

Now we were getting somewhere!! Now that dim light had become a 100W bulb! The reason Matt was so enthusiastic was because he was talking about something he loved – BMX racing. The new chain he had bought was a small link (sorry no pun intended) in a bigger picture. Getting the chain meant he could achieve more – he could carry on doing what he loved and now had the possibility of being even better at it!

‘Sir, why do we have to do this?’

The experience with Matt lead me to understand something about a year 8 class I teach. I have just started a new unit with them on prophecy, a topic to me which is exceptionally interesting and has 1001 different academic intellectual avenues to explore.

The year 8 class however have not seemingly wanted to engage in any of this. All of the theology I find fascinating! This has led some of them to loudly declare to the classroom ‘Why do we have to do this?’ [It is important here to get the tone right – don’t confuse this for a ‘Why do we have to do this because I am really keen and want to find out where it fits in with my learning journey that I have been planning at home?’ Oh no! You need to capture the tone of ‘Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh GGGGGGGGGGGGGooooooooooooooodddddddddddddddd – this is sooooo boring! This is rubbish. You’re rubbish. I wish we could have our old teacher back!]

However, the reason why these students are saying this is becoming increasingly clear. It is increasingly clear to me that I have made a mistake. I have heard the cry of ‘Sir, why do we have to do this?’ and understood it to mean ‘We don’t want to do this’. I have misread the signs and thought the students wanted to do something else, anything else but this subject/topic. But I have made an error – it is instead the cry of ‘help me understand‘. The students are like me with Matt. As I had no idea why Matt was so excited by a chain, the students have no idea why I am excited by 2000 year old prophecies.

I need Captain Hook

‘Why do we have to do this’ is a cry for a change of approach. It is a cry for finding the hook, that point of engagement with the students. Some of the students cannot see any point of connection with the topic and that is what I need to build for them. It could be something as easy as:

  • A discussion about the future of technology leading to a discussion about why do people predict things and finally leading to why do religious groups/individuals predict things?
  • Or we could start with a discussion about why people are talking about next generation ipods, what does that tells us about people’s views on contemporary society? If it tells us that people think technology will change then what do we learn from that? So prophecies can tell us something about contemporary society as well as the future. So what does this tell us about religious prophets?
  • Or who was Emilie Pankhurst? Using clips and resources talk about who she was and what she stood for? How was she treated by society for what she said? What do we think about what she said vs. what did they think at the time? So can that tell us anything about how prophets are treated? What might this lead us to think about with religious prophets and how they might have been treated by their contemporary society?

Engaging with what the students engage with will hopefully allow me to achieve my new aim: to transform ‘Why do we have to do this’ to ‘Why haven’t you told us about this sooner?‘ The negative experience I had with several students asking very loudly across a classroom first thing on a Thursday ‘Why do we have do this?’ should have become a call to arms!

Vanilla Ice – a true prophet to us all!!

What am I going to do next time? I think it will be time, as a great man once said, to Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

Stop:         Clearly the current task isn’t working. No point forcing the point on if the students don’t engage with it. The effective learning has gone.

Collaborate:     Use the students. What do they engage with? What do they understand? What do they know? How can I use that to help me help them connect with the learning.

Listen:     Hear what the students are actually saying rather than what I think they are saying! Speak to them and ask them why they are asking that question? Do they think the subject/topic is a waste of time? Do they understand the aim of where I am going with my approach? Do they need a recap or a vision of the big picture? Do they need to leave the subject and go to something they understand and then work their way back to the subject?

A brand new invention?

Have you had a similar experience? How do you deal with students who can’t/won’t engage with a lesson? Do you have any strategies for dealing with these situations? Have you had to scrap everything you thought would work and approach a scheme or lesson from an entirely new angle because the students don’t get your approach? I’d be really keen to hear your thoughts!

Working in a 5,379 mile wide staffroom


‘There is just too much to remember’

‘I get confused between the didactic pictures and the institutional pictures’

‘I can never remember which quote goes with which person’

By the time the students started their practice paper in the lesson it was clear that the students needed some sort of revision tool. Something they could use to boost their recall. This dilemma is not new to anyone teaching exam classes! The clash between the volume of content required, the necessary development of subject skills let alone exam technique dogs any teacher of an exam class.

What could possibly be so difficult to remember?

I am currently preparing a year 12 class for their AS exam in Religion, Art and the Media on the AQA Exam Board. They need to remember examples of works of art and how they can be linked to different purposes, natures and expressions of Art. The students are good at remembering the difficult concepts. However, what they struggle with (understandably) is recalling specific examples of religious art to back up their reference to the concepts. Over the course we have studied a broad range of images to give the students a synoptic overview of the module. We have also focused on particular works of art in order to give real in-depth understanding. Remembering all this information can become a daunting task!

The solution came in a flash of inspiration!

It’s nothing particularly new or innovative –I’m going to provide the students with flashcards. One side will have the image on – the other side has the explanation. It was simple – I could contact our reprographics department and ask for some support in preparing laminated flashcards so that the students could carry this revision tool around everywhere with them. Reviewing the revision materials I had already made I worked out I needed something in the region of 25 flashcards.

You blogged about that?!?

The joy of the internet meant that I could go way beyond this. Rather than making my own template for flashcards I assumed there must be a template I could download from the internet to ease the process. Before long I was investigating whether it would be possible to create flashcards students could use on their mobiles or their ipods – specifically using this page by Mr. Coley.

This site offers a fantastic and simple step by step guide to creating your own flash cards which can be viewed on ipods, iphones or other devices. So simple that within an hour I had written 1 set of flashcards, loaded them onto my ipod touch and was busy working on a second set.

I cannot rave about this site enough. It has saved me so much work!! I was facing a weekend of fine tuning print outs, sticking print outs together or laminating them, cutting up print outs, ensuring the ordering was right in each set of flash cards I made, checking I had enough to cover the entire set, preparing a few more sets just in case some of the students lost their sets.

But now it is all done! The students just have to follow the instructions on the website (click here to see –although still a work in progress). Within an hour an entire class set had been completed. I had so much free time I made another 3 sets of flashcards. The issue of ‘Sir I’ve lost my cards’ is merely a few clicks away from resolution.

You can use the information on my school’s website to see the flashcards I have made if you are interested!

Good for you but what about the students, will they use it?

I only teach this group on a Friday so we will have to wait and see. However, I feel confident there will be uptake within the set of these cards.

  1. The students want to learn! Simple as that! They wanted a resource to help them and now they have one!
  2. There are 14 students in the set and nearly all of them have at one time or another looked at their phone in the lesson. They use technology. For example at the end of last term the students were asked to buy a copy of Lion the Witch and Wardrobe for their next module. 5 minutes later one girl piped up and said ‘Got it!’ On further enquiry she had not had, as I initially thought, a eureka moment, but instead had just searched for, ordered and bought a copy of the book which would be delivered the next day! Technology in schools is a wonderful thing when used in this way!
  3. Rather than carrying around a bulky set of cards for each module, they can simply find everything they need for revision on their phone or mp3 player! They can sit on the bus or in the car and revise! They can work at a desk and rather than lug 4 massive folders around they can just access their phone or ipod!

The 5,379 mile wide staffroom

The idea which I have used comes from the guides written by a man working 5,379 miles away in California. The internet suddenly makes this massive world traversable in seconds! His helpful advice and clear guides have meant that I have been able to perform the same task thousands of miles away to benefit my students. It has also meant that I have then passed on his ideas through my PLN through Twitter and blogged about it. It will also be going round my school’s email next week to show other staff how they might approach revision as the exam session looms!! So thank you Mr. Coley – my students will have benefited in their exams because of your sharing of ideas. I hope to emulate your approach as I pass this message on.

So what next?

As I mentioned I am forwarding this information to Twitter, blogging about it and then contacting staff in my school to pass on details.

Personally it has also opened up a world of ideas with regards to revision materials for other classes as well. Surely this is just the tip of the iceberg of technology based revision materials students can use! (Looking to investigate facebook resources though need to chat to school safeguarding team first!)

Thinking further afield, I am taking a trip to Rome and am thinking of asking everyone to download the itinerary to their mobiles before we go. I am going to use the process outlined on Mr. Coley’s page to provide the materials. That way if the students get lost everything is there on their mobiles! Not only can I give them information about the trip schedule, I can also give them information about where we are going and information about the sites we are going to see! Rather than shouting overt 40 people in the middle of Rome, I can give a brief intro and then suggest the students look on their phones for more information!

Reading Mr. Coley’s site made me wonder whether I am being read by someone thousands of miles away. I wonder just how big the staffroom is?

Making 2011 the Year of Positive Action

As the New Term kicks off I began thinking about how I am going to use all the new ideas Twitter keeps throwing at me! What resolution was I going to make in order to improve my teaching or help improve the teaching and learning environment for myself, fellow staff and students?

But you are the teacher, you have to go back to school!

And like school kids, the staff traipsed into their inset day workshops. Most were more concerned about the presents and the New Year’s Eve celebrations or who they were going to sit next to rather than starting the workshop. Slowly but surely they settled and so began the first workshop of the inset day…

‘Recording Behaviour Management on Sims’ – not the most inspirational of titles to welcome in the new year of teaching. However, the aim of the session was to ease the teacher workload. Surely this was to be the light in the dark dreary January morning. Surely no one could complain about this… The senior management were working for us to try and ease an imperfect system…

The complainer’s soliloquy

Alas no. Within 5 minutes complainants were flying in thick and fast with a very repetitive routine:

Teacher (T): “The report should show which teacher set the sanction”

Workshop leader (WL): “No it won’t – that is something the software just won’t let us do”

T: “Well that’s ridiculous. You mean I have to do this myself”

WL: “Yes but that’s why we have created this system to help you get around this problem”

T: “You mean I have to have another system”

WL: “Yes but we control this system and can make it do far more than the key database”

T: “But I need to look at 2 things. That’s just impractical. It’s going to take me more time. The report should show which teacher set the sanction”


And so it continued…

The complainers seemed to have the same thing in common – the desire to complain with no real desire of listening to possible solutions.

(By the way, my favourite comment from the whole soliloquy was ‘But that might mean we aren’t giving out enough sanctions!’)

‘What would they have said on twitter if I had been so negative?’

As I sat listening to the dialogue/monologue/soliloquy I began to wonder/doodle and my mind rested upon the idea of ‘What would they have said on twitter if I had been so negative?’

It struck me that one of the really positive things about Twitter is the inspiration for positive action. You only have to listen to tweets and you hear nothing but positive comments, support and praise for ideas and suggestions. If you don’t believe me, follow these people:

@CreativeEdu @DeputyMitchell @digitalmaverick @TheHeadsOffice @DigitalGodess @chrisleach78 @lisamonthie @MultiMartin @ShellTerrell to name but a few…

Their positive approach to education is infectious, you realise that the only thing that holds you back half the time is attitude.

Get involved!

I am more than happy to give my thoughts and be positive on twitter when I read someone’s ideas. Why should it be any different in the middle of a room full of teachers? So I praised the solutions being presented. Nothing major – I didn’t declare my undying love for the excel spreadsheet being proposed. I didn’t declare that the formulas could rival Stephen Hawking’s explanation for the universe. Simply that I thought it was a really good idea and looked forward to trying it. That simple. I looked forward to trying that.

140 Characters of Goodness

Did it stop the complainer talking? No.

Did someone stop me later that day in the corridor to say it was good to hear something positive said in that meeting? Yes

Twitter only gives 140 characters space and if you read many of the tweets involving education they are positive. If 140 Characters can spread such an infectious amount of enthusiasm (don’t believe me? Read here!) surely we can spread enthusiasm by taking this approach into schools. It is all very well being Mr. Positive online and then keeping quiet in meetings or not speaking out against some overly negative feedback. Twitter, if it is to serve as a CPD tool, has to impact on teaching, learning and my professional development. It has to change and improve who I am as a teacher. And so it has.

Preaching to the converted?

If you are on twitter I may be preaching to the converted. I think I am preaching to myself more than anything. The glow of the online staff room full of positive people can become lost in the day to day aspect of teaching, especially when you encounter other teachers, face to face, which aren’t so positive. But being positive and doing something to search for a solution (or at least try a solution) is something which will have an impact – however small or large!

New Year’s teaching resolution

So there it is – the New Year’s teaching resolution:

  1. Being actively positive in and around school, even in the face of complainers.
  2. Taking the time to say something positive to staff – we do it to students all day, why not staff as well?
  3. Being active/pro-active when faced with a problem. Complaining won’t solve anything! Time to get out there and ask people what their solutions might be.
  4. Introduce more people to twitter! The more people in the staff room the better.

New Year’s personal resolution?

And because I know you are desperate to know my personal New Year’s resolution…

  1. Read a book for pleasure for at least half an hour every day

And that is what I am going to do now…

The death of ‘RE is just opinion’!

Many thanks to @ShellTerrell, Critical Thinking Asylum and Zoe Weil for prompting this post.

‘Why do we have to do RE? It’s just your opinion anyway!’ This is a criticism which can easily be leveled at any RE teacher and one that I have had to consider. The worst possible response in the world is ‘because we have to!’ Increasingly the response has been to look at transferable skills, suggesting that all education, no matter what the subject, is merely preparation for a desk job which will make money for society.

Sorry I may have become cynical there.

6 Critical Questions from Critical Thinking Asylum

However, there is a lot of talk of transferable skills provided through academic subjects. It may be possible to reject this (and perhaps it should be) and instead claim that there are core skills which every child should be encouraged to develop at school. One of the corse skills that students should be developing throughout their school career is the development of critical thinking. This skill is core to the way students should study any subject, whether it be RE, History, Maths or Dance. Having a critical approach to learning allows the student to engage with learning in exactly the same way a university student does, or a teacher or a university professor. The 6 Critical Questions are essential for any student wishing to engage in authentic learning! The joy of these 6 questions is that they can be used at any level of education and they lead to development of learning. Whether it is a 11 year old questioning what religious groups say, or a university student considering the implications of historical events on religious thought or an academic text on the development of Cultural Reforms during the Reformation – they are all using Critical Thought and one of the 6 questions, in some form or other!

I am not calling for the introduction of an extra subject called ‘Critical Thinking’ for all – I am suggesting that subjects should/need be taught in a critical approach. Students should ask where their information comes from and the possible influences on that information. Are we really going to accept that it is right simply because the teacher said it? Should students not be looking beyond the teacher and engaging with the real data/text/information?

Thinking critically all of a sudden brings a new light on the question ‘Why do we have to do RE? It’s all opinion anyway!’ These 6 critical questions expose the opinion to new interrogation and all of a sudden new doors are opened to the student. Why does it matter when the opinion was made? What do you mean I need to look at how they said it? Why can’t I compare my ideas automatically with those of a 14th century Islamic scholar from Mecca? RE moves far beyond the realms of opinion. We need to ensure that students are provided with the correct tools in order to do this! These 6 questions provide a fantastic framework for ensuring that students are truly thinking about RE.

Transforming CPD into iCPD

Anyone else travelled half the country for a CPD course? Anyone else ever sat through a CPD course/seminar/workshop doodling or sat there thinking about something else rather than the actual CPD? Have you sat there wondered how this CPD relates to you or thinking ‘I’m not sure this is relevant to where I am in my teaching’? I certainly have! Having been exposed to so many ideas on Twitter and through educational blogs, I am starting to question whether I should ever have to sit through that situation again!

I have seen so many ideas over the month I have been on Twitter which are relevant to me. I am conscious I am going to have to carefully pick and choose the ideas I implement in order to effectively improve my teaching! This torrent of information has made me question what I need to do in order to improve – in essence, prioritise my own CPD.

The key thing is how I got those ideas – all of the ideas were sent to my Twitter account. Within a morning it is possible to have 50 good ideas, resources to look at and dialogues started with other teaching professionals. This has not involved me leaving my classroom, it has not involved me sitting through a day of irrelevant talks just to hear the 1 relevant speaker, I am not speaking to people who I never hear from again.

This CPD is focused on me and how I want to develop and the ideas I want to explore. A development which is taking place in dialogue with others. Whilst I am sat in my classroom on my own, I am in a global staff room sharing ideas! The range of resources as well is staggering – a CPD morning could be spent reading blogs, sharing ideas in a twitter/email chat, could be spent listening to online lectures, listening to podcasts, using twitter to talk to classes of students about how they learn. Suddenly I am choosing what I want to do and how.

Considering the immanent cuts schools are facing, it is highly unlikely schools will be funding external CPD courses when then there is the opportunity of cheaper in house training. With issues such as rarely cover, why would schools pay extra to have staff sit through some expensive training days, all of which isn’t relevant? Technology here offers a way for schools to not only deal with budget cuts but to improve the CPD offered to staff! SMT can offer their staff the opportunity to develop their own teaching practice and therefore the whole school.

CPD needs to reflect the requirements of the individual. It also has to help the individual in the modern teaching environment and help them to be able to engage the students. Students are progressively using technology to help develop their own learning and progress in their studies. The increased use of ipads, iphones and ipods as means of accessing information need not and should not be the realm of just the students. Teachers should be able to help students and other teachers develop using such technological advantages.

Welcome to the age of iCPD.

The value of 2 websites and advice wanted!

I am very conscious of making sure I take advantage of the fact that each day ideas pour into the twitter feed. It is good to read about things which in fact you have already done.

It was with interest that I read the articles by published by @samrangelSITC and @CreativeEdu ‘Why every teacher should have two websites‘ (original post here) and principally the final lines: ‘Every teacher should have at least two websites. One for the class, and one for the world. Start today. I look forward to answering your questions and shooting down your excuses.”

I have already started writing on some of these sites but it was very much dabbling with ideas at the end of term. Now as the Christmas holiday provides a little more space I have decided to up the work on these so that they are fully functioning sites by next term! They may not be complete but they will at least be functional!

Hopefully these will mean much more blogging from me and far more technology in the classroom.

My personal reflection site –

My work sites for school: (started today!)

I am conscious this also means that there will be a lot more questions! However – that is what twitter, email and the internet are for! Oh face to face conversations with people!!

I would always be keen to hear feedback on these sites (maybe in a few days as one only went live today!) – hopefully speaking to other teachers will mean there will be some really constructive advice. I would be very keen to hear where to improve rather than ‘it looks nice!’

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