A note on keeping a book for yourself

A short blog on a strategy that I have used for the last couple of years with all of my classes. It came from encountering an issue with attendance, several students repeatedly out of my lessons, or not coming into school at all. As a result, I needed a way to be able to methodically track what we had covered and when, particularly for literature texts, so that I could carry out effective, pinpointed intervention when they returned to school. I was repeatedly modelling for classes but not necessarily keeping it all in one place, or retaining the structural outline of my teaching beyond in my brain- I would essentially walk into a lesson with a copy of the text and a post it note of the key teaching points I wanted to cover, check, reteach, check, alongside particular vocabulary. Post it notes are not a great filing system to reflect upon your practice. For this reason, I now have a book of my own for each class that I teach. This blog outlines a walkthrough, and why it has come in handy.

Big Questions

Each page opens with the Big Question for the episode of teaching- for example, Year 11 and I explored the presentation of love within Romeo and Juliet in Act 3, and so examined over a period of lessons: love through the question of loyalty between Romeo and Mercutio, the patience of paternal love through Friar Lawrence and the Nurse, as Act 3 scene 2 and 3 demonstrate a ‘mirroring’ of ideas, as Romeo interacts with the Friar is a manner that we already recognise from our study of Juliet in the previous scene; the inner conflict of love, as Juliet is torn between her loyalty to Tybalt, and her loyalty to her husband; love used as emotional weaponry and commodity, as we see Capulet making deals and bargains of his daughter’s hand in marriage with Paris. A different example:

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Why?

This means as opposed to each lesson representation by it’s own date and title, the Big Question extends over a series of lessons. This enables students to see the recurrent themes that run through texts like threads; we come back to the same ideas, or the same language to explain them. I wrote a little bit here about big questions that may help.

Review

Whilst set retrieval and review has its place- there is such ‘non-negotiable’ knowledge required for texts, and all my classes are provided with knowledge organisers at the start of studying a text, I find that bespoke regular review will always be most effective when it is in response to identifying gaps for that particular class.

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Why?

It also enables me to look back after teaching a text and see where the gaps kept occurring; this makes it easier to adjust resources or teaching points for next time; we can only anticipate so much with misconceptions ahead of time, and so this provides a methodical way of quality assuring my own teaching of a text. Finally, by modelling the responses when we go through answers, students can see what I expect them to be writing as other students feed back ideas. My mantra during retrieval is, ‘there is always more than one idea,’ and this provides the opportunity for stealing the ideas of others to challenge their own.

Key teaching points

This is a reminder to myself more than anything, but I outline the key teaching points to be covered- just three of four key points, perhaps with specific vocabulary that I want to ensure is worked through with students- in a simply, bullet point list.

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Why?

Not just for me, this list ensures that if I do have attendance issues, when I teach a small group during feedback lessons, they are given exactly the same content as if they had been in the lesson. Yes, not to the same depth, but as close as I can manage in a 15-20 minute window whilst the other students complete feedback work. Again, it is also a perfect way to identify aspects of the content that I may wish to spend longer on next time I teach the unit. It also allows me the essential preparation time to consider my key questions, which have over time become the very core of my teaching and a fundamental tool to help me to find the gaps in the room. Again, this is anticipation of error.

Modelling at all stages: note-taking, annotating, planning, writing

Having my own book on display for the entirety of the lesson means I can set expectations of book work very quickly, and hold students to account, or support them within a short period of time by demonstrating what they can look to achieve during an hour of work. I use Cornell note-taking (I’ve included examples about this here and tweeted here) . Equally, my annotations and planning have a uniform approach (blog pending) and I write all modelled responses into my book as well.

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Why?

This is really beneficial in terms of reducing workload for yourself, and if you are going to focus on one aspect of your teaching, the process of modelling live for classes will pay back in kind in so many ways. I delivered a workshop at ResearchEd Northampton around the complexities of modelling here (play the PowerPoint as a presentation and you can hear my wonderful voice!) which talks you through the various mistakes I made as I got to grips with modelling live. I could go on and on but the bottom line is: we cannot learn if we do not see it first. Not a line or two, not a prepared example, but all of the processes that students need to undertake to master your subject need to be explicitly on display in real time for them to grasp, and form a dialogue around as a result. Live modelling is undeniably tricky, but to begin with, I would keep a note to one side as I wrote, to ensure I included particular ideas or vocabulary that I wanted to discuss with students. You will also notice how incredibly messy my work is! That’s because live modelling is a process, as we deliberate over words together and refine and edit towards a better standard of writing. This work is cushioned with a bit of humility with students: ‘yours will be far neater; plan your word choices so you don’t end up with reworked areas like mine,’ which I think helps to unpack the process further for students. It also means by the end of a text, you have a series of examples to look back on and again, evaluate your own approach-consider labelling aspects of models or where to ask students for more input, or rely more on your own instruction. Our need for reflection works beyond the hour-to-hour lesson time and this is a brilliant way of empowering ourselves with the equipment to do that.

Feedback records

Lastly, I include all whole class feedback sheets, of which students also get a copy to put into their books and I then go through my own copy under the visualiser. The whole class feedback sheet outlines both class and specific feedback for individuals, outlining those that require intervention for a series of reasons and indicates to me where my support needs to be for that time. It also provides me with the opportunity to share fantastic examples of presentation from students, so that I am not the only one modelling standards.

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Why?

The inclusion of whole class feedback in my own book allows me to track back chronologically to see which students have received specific praise, and where there are also repeated concerns, but more importantly, what those concerns are. It also, to come back to identifying the gaps, helps me to consider those ‘forgotten middle’ students, that either need the recognition, or need to receive specific guidance as to why they have yet to receive that praise. Again, it is also useful to see the feedback provided to a class as a whole and the relevant feedback tasks set, as this helps to refine teaching the text next time around. Starting to see a pattern?!

I hope this blog is useful and might encourage you to trial this with a class, as a way of recording what you do with them over the coming term. Best of luck if you do!

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