May I start by asking you, as an ECT, to reflect on a recent marking episode? You know you had stood at the front and asked everyone to write the date and title, you set out the success criteria, modelled how to complete the tasks and off they went. Then you get the books in and are stunned, not by all but by a larger proportion than is comfortable, by the lack of quality. Whilst there had been clarity, to you, about your expectations, were you left disappointed?
Maybe it was just me, but I know in my early career I would think I had ‘nailed’ a lesson only to find there was a distinct lack of ‘botheredness’, and my enthusiasm had not nearly been matched by my students. There are lots of things to examine why this may be: lack of intrinsic motivation; lack of understanding; cognitive overload; SEND need; lack of clarity to name but a few. But let’s be solution focused and have some strategies to ensure that, when you next gather in a set of books, you are much more pleased.
Strategy 1: Let’s start with the basics. If you have asked your students to write the date and title, tell them to check their shoulder partner’s book and raise their hand if their partner has not done this. Couch this in the language of positivity and how we all want to be proud of our books, but that the expectation is that you have asked them to do it and now shall be held accountable. Furthermore, keep it pacey. If you give students five minutes to write the title, they will take five minutes. If you say they have one minute and count down, they will all do it in this time! So far, so good. Every student has now picked up a pen, or you have been made aware that you need to lend one, and ink is fresh on the paper ready for the lesson.
Strategy 2: Excellent formative assessment: mini-whiteboards. My trainees have been force-fed mini whiteboards from day one, they even have their own ones for when we are in central training. My evangelicalism took longer with some to rub off: they were too worried about behaviour management. However, every single trainee now uses mini-whiteboards, from DT, to PE, to English, to, probably the easiest of all, Maths. Why? Because mini-whiteboards tell you what everyone is thinking, not just the few students you might cold call, and allow you to adaptively teach. You know they are ready to move on, ready for independent practice, or those that might need extra challenge or support. Every student holds up a board: if they really do not know, a question mark is acceptable. Opt-out is not.
In a short blog such as this, it is hard for me to advocate how much I really think mini-whiteboards should be used by every teacher – please try them though, you won’t look back. Some of my trainees were in schools where there were no mini-whiteboards and got creative laminating A4 paper in reprographics. Ask your course directors if they will buy you pens, or ask around other teachers, someone will get you a set!
Strategy 3: So your assessment for learning has meant you are ready to let your students loose on their independent practice. On your seating plan, map out who you are going to visit first to ensure they have started and to offer support. Understandably, this path is likely to start with you visiting your SEND and pupil premium students to check they have understood and are ready to go. A great opportunity for some personal positivity and reminders about expectations. There may be other students who do not fall in these categories, but you know need that bit of extra input. So, map your path, and walk this. After you have checked in with these students, visit others, but keep an eye on the former and circle back periodically.
If you use ‘shoulder-partners’ for accountability (I also use this if I have asked students to stick something in their books and other jobs), great AFL to know what your students know, and a well-worn path to check-in and keep that accountability high, you can be sure that the next time you check in on the quality of your students’ work, you will be much happier, all without extra time planning or you working harder than them!
Dr Kelly Richens is Director of Basingstoke Alliance SCITT. Her book in the Essential Guides for Early Career Teachers series, Using Cognitive Science in the Classroom, edited by NASBTT Executive Director Emma Hollis and published by Critical Publishing, is available to purchase here.