Aim 4: Challenge Zone tracking via a stamp

When work is complete my pupils take themselves off to the challenge zone. Last year I would see them working away ‘in the zone’ and smile, but I didn’t track it. This year, I intend to do so by providing a stamp in the zone. They will stamp their book and say which activities they did. Why bother doing this? Because it will help me track those quick completers who may need more in depth work or less support/structure in their everyday assignments.

I use a custom made loyalty stamp which is very small. It will hang by a short chain from a cupboard handle in the challenge zone. The pupils will be trained to stamp their book when they enter ‘the zone’.

Aim 1: Tracking What is Achieved in Individual Lessons

In my new teaching year resolutions I spoke of my aim to better track what is achieved in each lesson. I need to do this because I teach the same lesson to 3 classes; often back to back. This is fantastic for planning but not so great when one class has a 70 minute lesson and another a 50 minute lesson. I often struggle to recall what an individual class has achieved from lesson to lesson.

Now, instead of constantly asking 'have we done this?', I'm going to start tracking myself. Of course, I could grab a planner and scribble on it, but that isn't how I plan. Therefore, my attendance, homework monitoring, behaviour monitoring, class achievements and completed tasks are going to be in a simple class book. That's right. I'm going to have a class book exactly like the pupils in my class (except with a few more details).

As I often end up demoing what I want the class notes to look like and often write in correct answers on worksheets when we peer mark – what is the harm in actually making my own book for each class?

I hope this will eliminate the sadly common occurrence of:

lesson 1: ask pupil to write date and title, get started on practical but write nothing down.

lesson 2: pupil leaves prior page (lesson 1) completely blank and writes date and title again, on a fresh page, when asked to write their experiment up.

What a waste of paper! Hopefully if they can see me modelling how their book should look I can save some more trees!

Love, cuddles & death stares,

2016-17 Reviewing Last Years Resolutions

A year ago I started this blog with an aim to improve my reflective teaching practice. I set myself some aims, explained how I was going to complete them and shared them with the world to give myself some accountability.

Here’s the question: Did I manage do upkeep all of my new teaching year resolutions?

Continue reading “2016-17 Reviewing Last Years Resolutions”

Aim 2: Alter My Planning Methods

I have used the iDoceo app for about 5 years now. It was an incredible tool in my previous school where I was doing something completely novel with each class that crossed my path.

However, times have changed. I now find myself in the envious position of repeating 6 lessons 3 times in a week. Yes, that’s right, I only have to plan a grand total of 6 lessons each week and simply tweak them to meet my learners needs or time constraints.

I actually have time to plan a beautiful lesson! With complete resources! Which will be used time and time again! My days of using iDoceo to scribble down ideas which didn’t need custom resources are over. Hooray! (Did I cram enough exclamation points in there?)

So what have I done instead? I’ve gone back to the Stone Age of course! I have an A3 paper calendar with my classes on. I scribble on the lesson name and note any calendar clashes (for example sports day, swimming galas etc). My actual lesson plans are part of my Keynote/Powerpoint presentation, stored in the presenter notes section. My lessons, for some time now, have been ordered 1a, 1b, 2a, 3a, 3b, 4a etc. Each lesson has it’s own number. Then all the resources linked to it are given a letter with the main keynote/Powerpoint having the ‘a’ designation. This makes it so easy to find resources and without the need for endless amounts of folders within folders.

I have trialled this calendar for a month. There are certainly some issues – the need for tippex is the main one! I also don’t have quite enough space to write some details on. I think that is because I’m tempted to write more on the calendar than I need to. I must remember the details of the starters, plenaries etc are on my MacBook.

Maybe I could look into using a digital calendar? Perhaps a thought for next year!

Love, cuddles and death stares,

TSTN signature

A year in review…

After not logging onto my site, let alone posting anything, for months now, I wonder if setting up this blog has been worth it.

TSTN

The answer is, yes. Those initial blogs, written in the summer when I had loads of energy and enthusiasm, did indeed set the tone for the year. I put in place some practices which I am proud of and will use again next year. Other things were less successful… but surely that is the point of CPD? Constantly pushing yourself and being unafraid to experiment with something new?

I have, however, failed to update this blog regularly. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, it became onerous. These weren’t my private notes. They were articles, each written and edited with the appropriate pictures, pinterest worthy pins and links. Just remembering to take photographs was too much effort, let alone editing them! For any full time teacher this is far too much work on top of our usual workload.

Secondly, I was afraid to be judged by my colleagues and found lacking. In my head, the expectation was that every teacher knows how to write a snappy article with an easy to follow ‘voice’. My writing is, quite simply, not like that.

I also feared backlash should this blog be linked to the real me, in my real job. What would my head say if she knew I ‘accidentally’ misplaced some homework sheets when my mountain of marking became too much? It was too much risk.

So I’m going to allow this blog to become itself. To truly become a teaching diary of successes and failures. And failures there will be a plenty! Should my Head Teacher get wind of it – well, I won’t be mentioning my school by name so I’m hoping by not pulling the school into disrepute I’ll get away with it. Let’s see how that pans out shall we?

Love, cuddles & death stares,

TSTN

Marking can be Manageable

This is my chant. I say it to myself most nights when I crawl into bed at 11:30pm after doing SOME of my allocated marking.

I hate marking. Despise it. If I ever give up teaching it will be because of my total and utter loathing for (you guessed it)… marking.

For years I have tried to get more ‘on top’ of my marking game. It’s a slow, up-hill battle but I think I’m gaining ground.

One of my (many) poor habits which contributed to a heavy marking workload was not marking books in class when the opportunity arose. That’s right. I simply walked around class, discussing things with pupils, pointing out ways to improve their work and NEVER touched a pen to their books. Shocking I know.

Why?

  1. I find it difficult to multitask.
  2. I never have a pen to hand.
  3. I feel like the kids will judge me or be disappointed if I don’t manage to mark their book.

Absolute and utter rubbish excuses all three. So I aimed to improve. Being that point 1 and 3 are nonsense, to ensure point 2 never occurs I have discovered a neat trick: attaching a pen to your person means you always have a pen to hand. (I know! Who would have thought it?!)

Now let me tell you my usual school attire – I wear dresses without pockets or belts. My hair style is not conducive to tucking a pen into. I don’t wear a lanyard because it would end up knocking over equipment and is a safety hazard. So where on Earth could I store a pen?

The answer came to me when Mini-Pirate came home from Summer Camp with a blast-from-the-past adorning her wrist. She was wearing a slap band (also known as a slap bracelet, snap band or snap bracelet). This bit of cloth covered plastic was cheap, rigid and tight to the skin without rubbing. It was wide enough to slide a pen clip over and hold the pen in-line with my arm. It was, like many genius ideas, a revolutionary fluke-finding. I put it up there with Viagra and Febreeze. (Wow that makes it sound like those products have revolutionised my life – please know they didn’t! Pirate is fine on his own and our house smells nice all by itself FYI.) I digress…

So, here I am. Wearing a 4 year olds hand-decorated slap band on my non-dominant hand. Tucked into it, aligned with my inner arm, is my trusty red pen. I use Frixion pens because if I am distracted (see my inability to multitask) I sometimes write words or phrases which are part of an unrelated thought process in a child’s book as part of their feedback. Frixion is ‘erasable’ and has saved me looking like a fool more than once.


So there we have it. My first of many posts on how I battle my biggest teaching nemesis: marking.

Love, cuddles & death stares,

Homework: Organising the Chaos

Moving to my latest school was a small shock when it came to homework.

At my previous school, homework hand-in rates were exceptionally low and the entire process was a constant time-consuming battle. Eventually our department adopted a ‘project based’ homework approach where only 3 pieces of homework would be handed in each year. Despite this, I still had to literally find and chase children to collect in their projects (and I mostly ended up with lame excuses rather than the actual work!).

This was all in sharp contrast to my new school where the children are frequently prompting me to set their weekly homework. I have even experienced children interrupting my coffee break to hand in homework early!

Being that I never had to handle vast quantities of homework before I quickly became swamped with the task of organising homework setting and retrieval. Matters were complicated when each year group had a set night for Science homework but I did not teach all of the year group on that day. Nor did I teach all of the year group on the designated hand-in date and therefore couldn’t collect the work ‘next lesson’. This resulted in a year of always feeling on the ‘back foot’ when it came to homework.

My latest strategy is working very well however.


Here is how I stay on top of the homework paperwork mountain:

Homework Setting & Design:

  1. Homework is meaningful, linked to our lesson and extends their learning while reinforcing facts/skills learned in the lesson.
  2. All my homework is set on worksheets or can be completed on paper. The paper is pre-trimmed so it can be glued flat into the pupils book once returned.
  3. Spare sheets are available in a designated place.
  4. Books do not go home. This prevents the inevitable lost/forgotten books impacting learning through missing work and time spent searching for books in desks or looking for paper to write on. I don’t set ‘complete classwork’ homework. That can be done during lunch or in reflection time. The worksheets contain any key ideas which may be in their books and are needed for homework.
  5. I aim to decide upon, copy & trim the homework at least 3 days in advance.
  6. Every sheet has a clear area where the pupil can write their name and class. This simple measure dramatically reduces the number of sheets without names at the Hanson point.
  7. Each sheet also has a space where I can scribble feedback as required. Nothing is written on the back of the sheets so they can be glued flat in class books.
  8. As I teach the same lessons each year/term I found it is a good idea to create a separate document which lists all the homework I set as reference for the next year.
  9. During a lesson previous to the homework night, check each child has written homework task in their diary (on the appropriate day) with the correct due date. If you are super organised you can print the homework task on a sticker for each child to stick into their diary. I check by asking the pupils to copy the homework at the start of a lesson and leave their homework diary open on their desk. I will shut the diary when I have checked it.
Having a large photo frame which doubles as an extra whiteboard allows me to display homework all week.

Homework Retreival

  1. Have a designated person in each class collect in the homework. They are also responsible for checking everyone has put their name and class on the paper. The monitor marks who has handed in their work on a tracking sheet and brings all the work to my classroom on a set day. This avoids 60+ kids coming to my room to hand in their work individually.
  2. Each class has a designated homework folder which is clearly labelled and has my tracking sheet attached to the outside. The monitor collects this from me on hand-in day. There work is stored in the folder for marking and until it is returned to the students.
  3. For pupils who have a note from home to excuse their homework I request they accompany the monitor when the homework pile is handed to me. I can review their note in person before the lesson. I then make the appropriate recordings on the tracking chart.
  4. Any work handed in late is recorded in my chart.
My homework tracking sheets – colour coded to match the class book bins of course!

Marking & Returning Homework

  1. I only record effort grades for homework. I have found that parents have too much input when it comes to homework and the work often isn’t a true indication of a pupil’s ability.
  2. Missing work is not chased. It is noted in my chart and this information is passed onto parents through notes in the child’s homework diary. I also give a copy of my homework tracking sheet to form tutors once a month so they can detect patterns. My lessons do not depend upon completed homework.
  3. The same monitor who collected in the homework hands it back post marking at the start of the next lesson. Comments can be acted upon during reflection time and the sheets are glued flat into books as soon as they are received.
How I annotate my Homework tracking sheet.

This plan has worked well for me. It’s not foolproof and is certainly not the best use of homework for learning but this gives me something workable with room for tinkering & improvement. What more can I ask for?
Love, cuddles & death stares,

My Ultra Teaching Ninja Skill During Test Season

My top secret Ninja teaching weapon during test season is… wait for it… touch typing. That’s right. Touch typing.

touch typing

\ˈtəch\ \ˈtʌɪpɪŋ\

(adjective)

  1. The act of typing words on a keyboard without looking at the keys using all 8 fingers.

Try it. You’ll be amazed how often you want to glance at the keyboard just to check the lettering. Keep that head held high, eyes forward and allow your muscle memory to guide you.

So how does a keyboarding skill become a Ninja Skill? When you use it like this:

When pupils sit formative tests, end of year exams or really any written activity which needs to be carried out independently and in silence, you simply sit in front of your keyboard and type.

TOUCH TYPING: catch cheats during tests with your Ninja skills!

Look down at the keyboard while you type for the first 30 seconds. Those key taps will be sounding around the room giving the pupils an auditory signal that your attention is otherwise occupied. Go on – lull them into a false sense of security. After those short 30 seconds have passed, raise you head, whilst still typing, and look around. It is the most amazing feeling when you make eye contact with that kid who was looking to have a quick peek at their neighbours test and thought you were otherwise occupied. Gotcha!* As I said; Ninja Skill.

So... you think you can move your eyes away from your paper? Not in my lesson!

*I like to pull out the Robert DiNiro move from Meet the Parents when I catch the kids with wandering eyes. Oh! My internal glee when their face drops.

Love, cuddles & death staresTSTN

 

 

 

Keyboard Shortcuts Every Teacher Should Know & Use

You’ve seen them in the staff room: Those teachers who navigate their way around at computer like they were born in front of it. Well, they probably were. But anyone can look slick and impressive whilst saving a lot of time and effort by using keyword shortcuts.

One of the most useful ‘gifts’ in my teacher training was a list of keyboard shortcuts. This crudely edited, crookedly photocopied list remained pinned on my notice board for years until it became instinct to use keyboard shortcuts rather than reaching for the mouse.

You may be familiar with the simple keyboard commands for copy, paste, print and undo… but some of you will not. You may not know that these commands are virtually universal between MacOS and Windows… but some of you will not. Knowing them, you can sit in front of virtually any machine and appear ‘at home’ at the keyboard.

By using these core 6 shortcuts I have saved time and looked incredibly high-tech and computer-savvy to any on-looker (or so I would like to think). My lessons also feels slicker when I can start a slideshow with just one key (or 3 for Mac) rather than faffing with the mouse.

Once these core 6 are mastered, you can build upon your shortcut repertoire. Many of the shortcuts ‘make sense’ (I know – shock right?). Control + N for New document?! How about Control + O for Open document?! Control + B to make the text bold? Crazy. How computer programmers expect us to remember these is beyond me.* The great thing is, if you forget what the shortcut is, it is listed in the menu! I now use nearly 15 shortcuts virtually every day but my core 6 remain the same.

  • Dripping in sarcasm here folks.

Keyboard shortcuts:

Learn them. Use them. Become a Ninja.

Love, cuddles & death staresTSTN

 

 

Blogging for Continuing Professional Development

Stuff the official CPD – I’m doing it my way.
Come along, join me, as I sail and/or slog my way through my day to day job as a Specialist Science Teacher for 7 to 11 year olds.

“Continuing professional development is important because it ensures you continue to be competent in your profession…”

Blah, blah, blah.

In my experience, it is hard for the Senior Leadership Team (Administrators to you in the US) to drive through an idea like ‘Mindfulness’ or ‘Closing the Gap’ without the support of the classroom teachers. Therefore, Senior Leaders will set common CPD goals to fit their vision of the school. They then leave one target as a ‘personal target’ set by the individual. This year, my personal target has also been suggested by members of the management team. Actually, I have received no less than 4 ‘suggested’ personal targets. These range from setting up a self-running Science Club to hosting a Professional Development Conference for other Science Subject Co-ordinators. It’s sad that my CPD has actually become my annual ‘to do’ list. CPD should be a reflection of your daily teaching practice or a new skill and be something a teacher wants to do. So here’s my secret. This blog is my CPD.
 I’ve been at this teaching game for over a decade now. I think that means there is no escape now. As a ‘lifer’ I know you never stop learning in this job. Yet those (sometimes tough) lessons don’t always stick in your head unless you actively reflect upon them. So that is what this blog is.

Come along, join me, as I sail and/or slog my way through my day to day job as a Specialist Science Teacher for 7 to 11 year olds.

Love, cuddles & death stares,

TSTN