“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…

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