In true (absolutely never) earlybird fashion, I came in at 53 as at last week, so I’m quitting whilst I’m ahead. The majority of this year’s list has been borrowed or recommended via Twitter and as consequently, I am finding it more and more difficult to start a book without it receiving endorsement from someone else. I used to pick a book based upon what I  now view as the most frivolous of reasons: cover design (this was the basis of my decision for quite easily a decade- too much charity shop shopping led me to just lose patience and buy the pretty book), the same author over and over, learning to recognise their style and then becoming furious at myself for knowing it so well that I would guess the ending, or simply because it looked like the type of book that would hold my somewhat sketchy attention span. As I reach my fifth year of 50+ books, or at least formally tracking them, my tastes have changed to a degree, but I think the remnants of my twenty something self still remain; a pretty cover, desperately lacking in a reading of non-fiction or classic literature, manoeuvring towards the apocalyptic over a laugh-out-loud. However, in my defence, I read to teach (Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths was a head scratcher), I have learned to persevere with the more difficult reads because sometimes, it’s worth it (Dear Amy was not but hey, I finished it didn’t I?) and I’m learning to stretch out beyond YA fiction from time to time.

The complete list:

  The Kites Are Flying Morpurgo, Michael
The Power Alderman, Naomi *
Alex As Well Brugman, Alyssa
The Girls Cline, Emma
Before I Fall Oliver, Lauren *
One Crossan, Sarah *
The Muse Burton, Jessie
This is Not Your Final Form O’Brien, Richard
Anna and the Swallow Man Savit, Gavriel
Dear Amy Callaghan, Helen*
Dreaming the Bear Thebo, Mimi *
Hot Milk Levy, Deborah
The Iron Man Hughes, Ted
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite Kim, Suki *
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Out of the Hitler Time, #1) Kerr, Judith
Brother in the Land Swindells, Robert
Bone Room Cassidy, Anne
The Girl of Ink and Stars Hargrave, Kiran Millwood *
All the Little Animals Hamilton, Walker
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Konigsburg, E.L.
My Brother’s Ghost Ahlberg, Allan
I Let You Go Mackintosh, Clare *
The Dead Fathers Club Haig, Matt *
The Buried Giant Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Giver (The Giver, #1) Lowry, Lois *
How Texts Teach What Readers Learn Meek, Margaret
The Light Between Oceans Stedman, M.L. *
My Name Is Lucy Barton Strout, Elizabeth
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry, #1) Joyce, Rachel
The Nest Oppel, Kenneth*
Salt to the Sea Sepetys, Ruta *
Boy In The Tower Ho-Yen, Polly
Bed Whitehouse, David
Lie With Me Durrant, Sabine
Once (Once, #1) Gleitzman, Morris
Everything, Everything Yoon, Nicola *
The Bone Sparrow Fraillon, Zana
Red Sky in the Morning Laird, Elizabeth
Shtum Lester, Jem *
Paperweight Haston, Meg *
Wolf Hollow Wolk, Lauren
American Gods Gaiman, Neil *
The Tobacconist Seethaler, Robert
The Graveyard Book Gaiman, Neil *
Drop Everson, Katie *
Delirium (Delirium, #1) Oliver, Lauren *
Seven Myths about Education Christodoulou, Daisy
How to Stop Time Haig, Matt *
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way Birbalsingh, Katharine
How Not To Be a Boy Webb, Robert
Never Let Me Go Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Radleys Haig, Matt *
Turtles All the Way Down Green, John *



The Highlights:

Robert Webb, How Not to Be a Boy: I know that some will disagree, but I found this not only to be incredibly entertaining in an endearing yet sardonic fashion, I also found Webb to be well researched in his opinions as to what hinders boys throughout childhood to what can certainly be a well-founded contributor to our male suicide rate within the UK. If nothing else, one to ponder over.

Matt Haig, How to Stop Time: Haig is writing slower than I am reading. After discovering the author rather late in the day, I believe that I am all out but this (along with Reasons to Stay Alive) is a firm favourite. A delicious concept for a novel and Tom is such a likeable yet tormented individual to fall in love with.

Walker Hamilton, All the Little Animals: I came across a pile of these for 50 pence each in a second hand shop and wish I had scooped up the lot. Bobby is Lennie, and the novella tosses around the ideals of good and evil in this quick read.

Jem Lester, Shtum: I wept, a lot. Knowing a family that have been caught in the ridiculous, illogical cycle of meeting criteria to enable their child to be educated in a way that meets THEIR needs, not the needs of a piece of paper, this was a tremendous way of opening up that world to any reader.

Kazuo Ishaguro, Never Let Me Go: Because I resisted it for so long after my disappointing experience of Buried Giant, and now wish I had the opportunity to teach it. I loved the ambiguity that the characters journey through, not relentlessly but without option because after all, that’s kind of what life offers up.

I like to attempt optimism, but I think this may be my last smash at 52 books in a year for a while. The incredibly small person currently strapped to my body is the only reason that I can write this blog to you, but there are also other priorities for this year and I don’t do well with a target that seems unreachable. With this in mind, I’m aiming for 12 books for 2018 (piece of cake), but with specific criteria:

  1. One MUST be a classic. There really is no excuse.
  2. One MUST be a book that I own but have not yet read. This may or may not be as a result of bagging up five bags for life with books and still possessing an entire shelf of ‘I’ll get round to that’ books.
  3. One MUST be explicitly to aid with professional development. I want to really link this to subject knowledge as I do feel that my historical context could do with a Spring clean.
  4. One MUST be poetry. And it MUST be annotated as a result. Strict, but I read so much poetry and then instantly forget it, which means that I don’t make use of it or even remember it in a sense of personal value.
  5. One MUST be to help with grammar. I really want to take a more traditional approach to teaching grammar when I return from maternity leave and as with all things requiring memory, knowledge fades when it is not used.
  6. One MUST be a funny book. I read far too many books that end in death or despair and that’s all very well but Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van was one of the best things I had read in years and it reminded me of how therapeutic it is to laugh out loud at a book.
  7. One MUST be finished in a day. A pretty contradictory approach to the restrained twelve books over fifty, but this will force me to sit still for at least one day of the next 365 and relish the act of reading.
  8. One MUST be written by an author of a book that I teach. This one is off the back of reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant; there is so much value in exploring the rest of a writer’s brain when teaching their work.
  9. One MUST be a recommendation of my son’s choosing. I get passed so many books by him and often (this is awful, I know) say I will get around to reading it and don’t. This is admittedly because I’ve read the back and the plot line makes me want to weep- I do not want to spend my precious time finding out about the highs and lows of Captain Underpants, apologies- but I think I can stretch to one book.
  10. One MUST be more than ten years old. Weaning myself off all the amazing new YA fiction that comes out every year.
  11. One MUST be from the Carnegie List- because just writing the last stipulation brought me out in a cold sweat.
  12. One MUST be written by an author I have met or at least spoken to on Twitter. Because one of them had to be bloody near-on impossible (or alternatively, opens up a whole heap of brand new conversations.

Big thank you to @thatboycanteach, @afardon, @fkritson, @mrlockyer, @ralston_h, @happysadcross and anyone else who has endured my Twitter book chat over the last year, but also to @RemusLupin for disagreeing with every book choice I ever make, but always reading double my figure to spur me on. For anyone interested in setting themselves a #52books2018 challenge, @fkritson runs a group via Goodreads that helped tremendously with recommendations, alongside the hashtag on Twitter.

Please feel free to get in touch to chat books, make recommendations or dispute my choice for this year’s highlights; I recently tweeted here regarding the eleven books that I dug out in my book-purge and could not bring myself to get rid of.


The #Litdrive Way of Life

After receiving a vast amount of interest about my ambiguous spouting on about #litdrive on Twitter over the weekend, then sharing the original post (here if you are interested https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-little-acorn-litdrive/ ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated. One, we shifted from googledrive to dropbox (mainly because my ICT skills leave a lot to be desired and my lack of organisational skills could do with an entire post of their own). We have also grown from the original concept that I posted about; what started in my mind as a resource for literacy has inevitably grown wings, sprouted heads and transitioned to a heaving bank of resources for all sorts.

Change is good! We are now sitting at 350 contributors (primary and secondary) and with lots of shared drives floating about, I hope that the variety of resources will add value to any teacher, anywhere. A plethora of ‘stuff,’ #litdrive offers schemes of work, exemplar work, marking ideas, reading lists and initiatives, written literacy support, literacy across the curriculum and a whole heap in between. I usually have a monthly re-arrange/clear up/back up to ensure that resources shared are safe and easy to find.

What next? I thought it may be beneficial to outlinethe purpose of the drive but also put a few guidelines/pleas in place to make it great for everyone. Excuse the bullet points (some people may not have wanted to read the rambly words above and just get to the good stuff):


  • DM your email address with the #litdrive hashtag for me to send over an invite for you. Alternatively, send to my email (Katherine.howard@hotmail.co.uk) and #litdrive world is your oyster.
  • Once you have access, please do share how you have used someone else’s wonderful resource, using the #litdrive hashtag! It may be that you have tweaked a resource or used it in a new way which would be invaluable to any teacher. You may just make someone’s day after an hour of pulling glue sticks out of a child’s hair. Make someone smile.
  • Please, please, please do add your own resources- the top folder entitled wittingly, ‘I have something to add!’ is the place to pop it. I get heaps of messages from people saying, ‘I don’t really have anything great,’ or, ‘what type of thing would you want?’ Nonsense to the first- you’re an ace teacher, joining an online community to collaborate and share resources. You’re resources must be awesome. To the second- if you’re sharing a resource, I will find a folder to put it in.
  • Final gigantic plea- please do not delete or modify files. By all means, download it- stick it on your usb but other shared drives are really suffering as a result of this. It’s never deliberate of course, but if your Dropbox is heaving and you want out, just let me know and I will remove you from the drive.

Thank you so much for getting involved with #litdrive- I have had teachers from all over the world say thank you and would like to pass on that thanks to the people that deserve it. Enjoy!

Seasick and Froth: Independence and Progress

Where did we get to?

I’ve been mulling over the concept of spoon feeding within education, taking away the safety net whilst providing enough of the net for any of us to avoid feeling that swooping towards the cliff edge feeling and how we plan on going about all of that in the midst of what is stormy waters for the educational sector (all the shipwrecked metaphors. What can I say? I love a metaphor).

Previous action research included studying the process of peer and self assessment using a structured framework, guiding students towards making meaningful progress through using one another as an additional resource within the classroom; this then moved onto how to personalise learning through characteristic strengths and growth mindset. At Ashby Teachmeet recently, I spoke about the explicit link between developing the climate that makes things seem challenging and yet possible for all learners; this is only achievable, in my opinion, if we provide learners with the opportunity to reflect upon their own progress. Here is where we got to.

I have trialled the process of reflection, improvement and self-audit with my GCSE groups; one is a ‘top’ set, all working to target grades of B or above. The other, a mixed ability group with the range of target grades E-C. All students have a skills audit sheet that not only identifies the skills that they will develop over the GCSE course, but also outlines the particular assessment objective that the skill will relate to. Additionally, at the start of each unit, we have spent time selecting the skills that we will endeavour to develop during that unit. As a result of this, I am now currently working on a skills audit that will be tailored for each unit and perhaps act as an overlay to the giant skills sheet for the entire course (blue sky and all that). Both groups went through this process: visit audit sheet to identify skills before commencing a topic, using skills audit sheet to peer and self assess class work, planning and assessments and using the skills audit alongside post assessment work to celebrate successes in confidence but also identify areas that should be their key priority for the next unit or when we revisit the following year.

Successes? Both groups got it. The student feedback at a midpoint over the 3 month period and then again at the point of completion showed a clear, strong understanding their progress and the next steps required from the students’ point of view rather than the teacher; male students that always demonstrated a requirement for ‘beating targets’ found some sense of satisfaction in measuring their increasing confidence within a subject that may sometimes feel as though you are reaching a plateau- English content I find is reliant upon transferring skills in addition to developing them as such. One student noted that it ‘was more useful than comparing my work to other people as I don’t write in the same way’ which I found comforting. This was a process that was taking a rather qualitative subject and providing a linear way to demonstrate progress – nuts and bolts are hard to apply within English. The danger then becomes in who got the best and self-auditing means that students move away from test-topping which is always a good thing, surely. One student stated, ‘it helps me realise that I can now approach tasks better,’ and ‘it boosts my confidence to answer a question.’ Personally, this is the value of the progress over progress itself; if the effort is there and I have helped to strengthen that, then I believe the outcome will still ultimately be the same.

The key successes I took from this were that the skills audit acts as a triple whammy for teaching resourcing; one to one discussions post unit were far more focussed and specific to the student, the onus took a shift so that whilst I provided any material to help to make an improvement by way of intervention, the student was the one to signpost to me where they needed to make that improvement. It also made discussions at parents’ evening based entirely around progress and independent learning; conversations were centred around effort and action plans to aid this process. Intervention has been far easier to tailor as a result; students have been in a position to use assessment marking and the skills audit to know exactly what they want to develop or work on as the GCSE course has got underway.

Advice for approaching? Play the long game. This, like any practice or adaptation to teaching will take a routine and modelling to perfect. The more frequently used, the greater value the students placed upon the process of considering their work with a much more obejctive approach than they were perhaps previously used to. Provide as many examples of work using the skills audit to measure skills applied wherever possible; use the skills to drive lessons or form the lesson’s big question.

Two things stood out to me above all else: one, that it is questionable to suggest that the act of self audit has to be accurate or correct. Two, that the link between assessment criteria and the skills acquired needed to be much more clear to even the most able of students; they found it incredibly difficult to understand that they were using the same skills but just with differing content. The ideal? To create an online process for students to visit each time they worked yhrough a topic, measuring their confidence and skills developed as they progressed through the content and completed assessments to test their knowledge. Smaller, regular assessments that were clearly targeting skills outlined within the tool that students could then identify their own capabilities and perhaps even better, have a variety of links to resources that could help them to ‘close their own gap.’ Students understood the value and could identify holes in their learning, but sometimes struggled to know what to do with that information without guidance from me, although I do still need something to do with all this independent work, so I’m not complaining.

Back to the ship, big waves, etc, etc. What next? Develop a clear pathway for students to identify with not only what they excel at, but the targets for themselves as well. Essentially, a lighthouse in all this murky, gloomy weather that we are having. I just need to get around to making it…

Learning the Hard Way: Preparing to Fail

I was raised within both a home and education where right and wrong existed. There was very little room in either setting for a grey area; what was, simply was and what wasn’t- well, you follow. My secondary school was terrifying; my option choices were honestly made on the basis of avoiding certain circles (hence my complete inability to sew) and I lacked confidence to take on an additional GCSE, selecting supported studies because ‘you get a free hour for homework). The curriculum was not an invitation for exploration, but rather an A+B+C formula to the grades that were on my target report. I remember rather vividly, my English teacher correcting me on an interpretation of Browning’s Sonnet and being shot down in an instant (this is the same woman who laughed in my face at the outrageous notion that I could study Literature A level, so without digressing too much, her putdown may not be representative here).

Did I require the extra hour? To step outside my prior self for a moment and look upon 90’s kid Katherine from a teaching perspective, no. I walked out of school with an A* (English, smugly), two As, five Bs and 2 Cs (graphics- textiles would have definitely been my bag. I’ll give you a moment for that one). This was accomplished as a result of zero revision and my speedy completion of Tomb Raider – that four week break in school timetabling to sit at home really paid off. To put it in a nutshell, it could have been better.

It is only now, nearly twenty years on that I can peruse over the situation as a professional and consider the possiblities here. My academic potential? As much of a muchness to any other student at such a fine establishment. So what kept me from success? To toss aside the black/white approach, there was a lot going on outside the classroom, behaviour in the classroom of some subjects was verging on the ridiculous but above all else, I did not develop the confidence to believe that I would cope or could experience success at GCSE. Why? Because failure was not an option.

I’ve spent the last week or so mulling over the concept of failure after discovering the counterargument to Dweck’s growth mindset via Dr Tim O’Brien thanks to Paul Dix. The realisation that growth mindset was flawed shook up my thinking a little until a colleague put it rather eloquently that, ‘anything that takes an approach that is as binary as “you are or you are not” is subject to being flawed.’ I believe in the act of learning as opposed to an end point but yet this is not necessarily the train of thought here; by adopting an adherence to growth mindset within schools, are we then rejecting all those who dare to voice that there IS black and white and there IS a sense of failure as rejection and not simply put, a circumstance that requires us to dust ourselves off and ‘have a think on it’?

Flash forward to my classroom now and the jury is currently out. I very much reward effort over achievement; progress, in my opinion is a result of hard work and the ability to recover from what psychologically the individual may view as a setback. This is not only essential to an academic setting but to the world beyond the walls; coping mechanisms are built through small, repeated actions and experiences of such an emotion as failure- the small shortcomings are received in the same way as the larger and are just in valuable in developing resilience. And so with all of this in mind, how do I accommodate for students that need specific skills to pass a linear examination with a binary grading but that I would ideally like to approach the curriculum with them in a holistic way that defies all of the above? Big breath. Dr Tim O’Brien put it nicely in his article:’Yet in this new mindset environment, a teacher trying to establish which mindset learners possess will naturally place them as learners on the fixed pole or the growth pole. Instead of the teacher having multiple lenses through which to understand individuality and commonality, they now have only two.’ One size, as we all know, is not possible. Looking for the quick win is not what will save the educational format as we have or now know it and whilst my mind boggles at the thought (all multi-faceted sides of it), it is slightly refreshing to observe with children that they can possess a sense of peace by knowing that there isn’t a formula to crack. It is, as they say, all gravy.

#FiftyBookChallenge- 2015

For the first year EVER, I ended with time to spare. Granted, it was only a day but progress is progress! As ever, my exhaustive list followed by the highlights:

  1. Robert Graves- Goodbye to All That
  2. Patrick Ness- More Than This
  3. Jonathan Coe- The House of Sleep
  4. Pierre LaMaitre- Alex
  5. Very British Problems
  6. Michael Grant- Light
  7. Anonymous- Go Ask Alice
  8. Charlie Higson- The Enemy
  9. Ray Bradbury- Fahrenheit 451
  10. Lara Williamson- A Boy Called Hope
  11. Sabine Durrant- Remember Me This Way
  12. Brothers Grimm- the Robber Bridegroom
  13. John Williams- Stoner
  14. Carol Dweck- Mindset
  15. David Almond- Savage
  16. Tom Baker- The Boy Who Kicked Pigs
  17. Tim Bowler- Night Runner
  18. Tess Sharpe- Far From You
  19. Ann Kelley- Runners
  20. Anne Holm- I am David
  21. Gillian Flynn- Sharp Objects
  22. Sophie McKenzie- Girl, Missing
  23. Siri Hustvedt- The Sorrows of an American
  24. Banjamin Zephaniah- Teacher’s Dead
  25. Matt Haig- The Humans
  26. Sarah Crossan- The Weight of the Water
  27. Jessica Kane- The Report
  28. Mary Kingsley- A Hippo Banquet
  29. Marcus Sedgewick- Cowards
  30. Albert Camus- L’etranger
  31. JP Cavafy- Remember Body…
  32. Glen Duncan- The Last Werewolf
  33. Piers Torday- The Last Wild
  34. Dr Seuss- There’s a Wocket in my Pocket
  35. George Taylor- 1 4 Sorrow
  36. Paula Hawkins- Girl on the Train
  37. Paint me Like I am- Poetry for Young Adults
  38. E.Lockhart- We Were Liars
  39. Keith C Blackmore- Mountain Man
  40. Jay Asher- Thirteen Reasons Why
  41. James Thurber- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  42. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting
  43. Diana Hendry- The Seeing
  44. Jennifer Niven- All the Bright Places
  45. Gillian Flynn- the Grown Up
  46. Jasmine Warga- My Heart and Other Black Holes
  47. Andy Weir- The Martian
  48. Michael Acton Smith- Calm
  49. Neil Gaiman- How the Marquis Got his Coat Back
  50. Matt Haig- A Boy Called Christmas

It seems the overarching themes for 2015 were war, YA fiction, dystopia, poetry and a couple of wildcards in between! I will pick out some highlights for those that want to take something useful from this list. I would like to start by saying I did persevere with a couple of books even after my initial enjoyment waned, but I won’t dwell on these. In the same way that I would not introduce someone by saying, ‘he’s not my type,’ it would be rude of me to sway your opinion of a book. It is simply not fair.

YOU MUST READ The Martian by Andy Weir and Humans by Matt Haig. I have been standing on my soap box to anyone who will listen about both and they show a completely alternative insight to our existence as humans. They question the importance that we place on what we perceive to be extraordinary and open our eyes to the wonder of the ordinary.

ONES FOR THE BOYS if you teach are 1 4 Sorrow, Teacher’s Dead and The Enemy. Charlie Higson’s sequel has been on my shelf for a month now and is on the list for 2016. Michael Grant’s Gone series is another fantastic set that will keep anyone hooked for a considerable distance.

NOT FOR CHILDREN’S EYES but definitely worth picking up (on the basis that you are not easily offended or squeamish) are Sharp Objects and the Last Werewolf. Brutal, brash and unapologetic, Glen Duncan tells a convincing tale of the supernatural.

GOOD FOR WAR IN THE CLASSROOM are I am David and Sedgewick’s Cowards. Holm tells a story equal in poignancy to Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and places emphasis upon the impact that adults have upon children. The Report also shows the conditions that people faced in the aftermath of the war, based on an original news report of a tragedy that took place in Bethnal Green in 1943.

IF YOU ONLY WANT ONE, read Pierre LaMaitre’s Alex. It warped my brain cells in the same way that Under the Skin bent them inside and back out again.

Interested in a reading challenge for 2016? Join me (and my school!) in #fiftybookchallenge. No rules, no list- most of my reads are YA fiction as the library is free in school and kids often recommend books to me. Anything goes- as Dr Seuss demonstrates- non fiction, fiction, self help, educational… you name it. Our students started this September and one is leading on 36 books so far! For the fifty book pledge resources, please email me for access to #litdrive. Happy New Year!

#Nuture1516 Time

It is that time of year again: I have two days to tap out my fifty book challenge review and look back on the last year. It took me a little while to identify with the ten plans I have laid out for myself at the end of 2014 because they were so work orientated. In my quest to reach a more balanced and nourished sense of wellbeing this year, I am not sure how on the mark I have been to these ten things in the meantime. However, I simply see this as a good thing and a clear and wise indication that things change. Change is good. It has taken me an incredibly long time to realise that contentment does not always need to be at the end of a to do list or a sense of accomplishment in something that you set out to do; contentment can simply be a moment of existence. Don’t let me waffle- I do that a lot.

1. Running a teachmeet without it falling apart at the seams like a poor man’s super sweet sixteen. Cake everywhere.

I did it! It was easily the most stressful point of my career so far- I don’t fare well when I set a huge amount of expectation upon myself and I was so very keen to make this a success that I fell into an all too familiar trap of looking at the negative outcomes of TMLeics rather than the amazing benefits that running a teachmeet offered to others. The drop out rate was high, tech was not on our side and we ran very late- needless to say, I am still not sure I can look at it as a success, even nearly a year on. I don’t feel ready to run another one single-handedly next year and am focusing on attending teachmeets rather than tackling that challenge again just yet. However, my growth mindset pocket of the brain kicked in and I have learned a lot from the process- maybe maybe room for a TMLeics17? We shall see.
2. Identifying possibilities and not waiting for opportunities.

I applied for a Head of Department role, managing to secure an interview and being one of the two final people in the running for the position. It didn’t work out. What filled my perfectionist head with some comfort was that my feedback was, ‘it was who was there on the day,’ and the school offered me an alternative role, stating that I had ‘intrigued them.’ In all my eccentricity, I really enjoy the interview process and relished the challenge that the day brought(I blogged about it here) . I ultimately decided to stay at my existing school within a new role but the day encouraged me to assess where I wanted to be within my career at a particular point. My biggest mistake at some point is thinking that I have nailed reflective thinking and that I manage to avoid the negativity that comes with thinking of failure as an obstacle rather than an opportunity to change direction, realign and learn from the experience. I believe that the fact that I applied in the first place raised a few eyebrows, with mutters of the small matter of my only teaching for two years. I ignore eyebrow raising in most instances now unless the eyebrows come with valid, constructive advice or debate. Any other eyebrows do not help me to achieve.
3. Running and coordinating a teaching and learning programme within my own school.

This is always going to be on the to-do I think. Running literacy on a whole school level has made me realise that my way of working- big, fast and at times, all guns blazing- is not always the best way. Teaching and Learning has gone from strength to strength in my current school, with a small group of staff signing up for an ‘open door week.’ Staff shared their observations to all staff over email and another week will run next term. There were no expectations, no judgement and the whole experience was invaluable to me- discussions since have included the possibility of running staff twilight sessions to develop their practice as an enrichment to the existing initiative.
4. Not yet knowing where I want to be- that’s exciting! I have constantly toyed with my next steps within my career and where I want to be- I am hoping that this becomes more apparent as new opportunities present themselves to me.

It is not that I care less about my direction, but that I have realised that there is more than one direction and that I do not need to worry too much about this. I say yes to the things that get me excited about teaching and avoid the things that excite me less (or make them exciting). It tends to work.
5. Becoming more informed in my practice- I need to fit more stuff into my brain to understand and implement certain ideas.

I have been reading so many blogs! I wanted to use this part to list all the wonderful things that I have read this year that had aided my practice but I truly would not know where to start. @Teachertoolkit and @mfordhamhistory speak a lot of sense with well-evidenced approaches.
6. Making plans- both in and outside of school.

What a year! I visited Iceland, Barcelona, Palma, Hong Kong and have so much in the pipeline for next year ( we will get to that). I have a wall planner at home. Its a real party piece.
7. Wanting to collaborate and share beyond my own Teachmeet.

Beyond blogging, this has taken a back seat with my new role. I attended Ashmount’s teachmeet where I discussed Literacy, an developed the idea of #Litdrive, a collaborative effort of literacy based resources for use within primary and secondary schools. I think that I could definitely market #litdrive better and whilst we have over 50 contributors now (and I hope to some extent sparked the lovely @JulesDaulby to start up her collaborative blog, Literacy Liaisons, I feel that this is something that needs a little TLC in the new year.
8. Organise myself but at my own pace, and within my own capabilities.

#teacher5aday keeps me well and truly in check. Ted Talks Life Hacks are a bit of a new obsession. I meditate when I can, I eat properly (I put my first Autumn term virus free down to the sheer amount of vegetables that I have consumed), and I know when to stop because I now listen to my body. Not being exhausted is my priority over all other jobs- what kind of illogical world would we live in if our physical health took second best to our workload? Anyone that knows me knows that I am a chaotic mess of post it notes and to do lists, half done tasks and deadlines but it works for me. I get stuff done.
9. Complete action research, looking at what I believe to be the detriment of interdependence and how to react to that within secondary education.

To do! I spoke at #ReadTLT over the summer about the link between playing upon personality strengths within students and success and I only wish that I had the time to dedicate to researching this in more detail. If anyone can recommend individuals that have already published work that examines the detriment of interdependence within education, I would be really interested.
10. Providing a real-life context to my teaching, so that students can recognise the importance of holding and justifying their opinions and views.

This is now a regular go-to for me. In their shoes, what would you do, would you rather and holding personal response and opinion at the centre of learning are now key features of my teaching. I have recently developed a new scheme of work for both non fiction and poetry that lead with personal response and opinion over formulaic approaches. It is all too easy to want to teach to an exam, to tick the boxes and ignore the fact that students already have an opinion as a starting point.

Right then Katherine, shall we get cracking on next year?

  1. Get outside. My one gift request for Christmas was National Trust membership and I am determined to also get back to running club now that the busiest term is behind us. Fresh air makes me happy.
  2. Spend regular, quality time with my small person. He had an incredibly rocky year and felt the full force of that in no way that a six year old should. The side effect of working full time is always feeling that you could be there  more and I have certainly felt this way at times. We have set up a regular spot each week to chat over our week- number one should help!
  3. Make fifty book challenge for the fourth year on the trot! I do blog about this every year ( it is next on the the to-do; last year’s can be found here) and the majority of my books are recommendations.
  4. Quit sugar! Don’t laugh. Ok, you can laugh a bit. But this was a plan of mine before the new year guilt kicked in and I feel that it is an achievable one. I don’t think I will be completely at zero sugar- eating out is a minefield- but after buying Madeleine Shaw’s book at the start of the year, my approach to eating has changed from eating thin to eating to nourish. For me, this will be the next step in that change.
  5. Work on my fear of talking in front of adults. For those that have read my blog over the years, my imposter syndrome is in full swing when speaking to a group of adults. I have continued to deliberately put myself in positions that force me to share ideas (Teachmeets are fab for this, as everyone is so encouraging), but I always walk away mumbling at myself for how I repeated myself, ran over, and generally resembled a bag of damp nerves. I have booked myself to speak at Ashby Teachmeet, am performing a follow up poem at TMBehaviour and have offered myself up to running CPD at a local primary in addition to a parent workshop to support with reluctant readers. Can’t blame a girl for trying.
  6. Don’t worry too much about the direction.I have always been incredibly work orientated, before and during joining the teaching profession. I get anxious about sitting still and as a result, often put myself into a position of perpetually over committed to ensure that I don’t get bored. As you can imagine, this was not the best advocate for #teacher5aday! The discovery of wellbeing along with meeting someone who is now incredibly important to me has allowed to me lose a bit of the crazy outlook I have towards my career. I’m 33, not 53 and love the current role that I am working in. You never know what may happen and that’s a good thing rather than a hindrance to ‘the plan.’
  7. Write a book.Expect to see this one for a few years. I haven’t even decided on the type of book- last year, I drafted a plan for a non fiction and fiction book. Then a children’s book. But don’t forget number 6! I was inspired by @behaviourteach’s own Nuture post and it reminded me that I had this idea about a decade ago!
  8. Ditch the waste. The friends that I now surround myself with both in and out of work are like family to me. The more I read about mindset and the habits that we fall into, the more keen I am to choose to spend my time with those that don’t fall back on negativity as a reflex action. I watched Julian Treasure ‘s Life Hack where he outlines the ten deadly sins of noise- one being negativity. As people, our measurement of worth is as a result of finding someone who, in our opinion, is in a lesser position than ourselves. I’m babbling so let me put a little context to this. A friend of mine came to teaching and started her NQT year this year. After seven weeks, she felt that she had no option but to quit the entire profession with no plans to return- this was after a few years working in schools, her training which she thoroughly enjoyed and some fantastic observation feedback. She took four days off to consider her options and came back fresh and ready to continue in a career that she loved. Why? Because she had simply listened and surrounded herself with individuals that bred negativity and cynicism. In the words of Paul Dix, radiators rather than drains. I will listen to the people that love and encourage me over the ones that may have other motivations.
  9. Continue to blog, regularly, about more than simply musings. I do tend to carry out a lot of student voice, student reaction and student led learning within my teaching, document with pictures and data and then forget to blog about it. This is another thing that has taken a bit of a back seat this year and I would like to aim for once a month or at the very least, once every half term.
  10. See other teaching in action. Whether this is at teachmeets, visiting other schools, lending out my services locally in exchange for observing classes (I have organised a series of literacy masterclasses for a Y6 group, alongside a Y5 active literacy day for all of our feeder schools), signed up for an RQT course- anything that means I can see other teachers do their thing! It is the best thing for CPD and I always come away with so many ideas for my own practice.

I struggled a little this year to come up with my ten things. I don’t think it is because there are less things, but simply because my direction keeps changing and I want to see where I end up.

Look This Way and Quiet and 1: Behaviour Do’s for Term Two

To counter act my empty musing of this evening’s blogging, here are some things that are working now that the Term one Honeymoon of Impeccable Behaviour is over and you are now in the phase two of How Far Can I Go:

Be consistent.

Changing goalposts is confusing at the best of times, for adults and children alike. I like the same thing to happen, at the same time, on the same day. I like a cake on a Friday to reward myself for pretending not to eat cake the rest of the week. I like a coffee before I speak to another human in the morning. These tiny things are what keep my busy, chaotic life ticking over with a hunt of normality.

Imagine being 14 and the normality is taken away, ten times a week. Woah! Last week you wanted me to line up, then you gave me a warning for chewing, now I’m in a detention for talking once during silent reading and I have NO idea what is going on.Give me the same rules please- let I know what you want from me.

Keep It Impersonal

The system wants children to behave. The system is there because then teachers are left with no option but to follow the system so that children are safe and are able to learn. The system allows for consistency (see above) and we all know where we stand. Using language can help to reinforce this: ‘Billy, it is an expectation that you are on time to the lesson’ or ‘Jim-Bob, you need to complete the task to be in a position to share in the discussion, choose the question you want to answer.’ Notice the lack of I. I don’t want anything. Your learning wants stuff so it can let the magic happen and do its thing.

Box Of Tricks

Create worksheets that are exciting and make people want to keep them. Create boxes to be completed and small, fast -paced ways for students to show their learning. Encourage competition when it suits, but with your more challenging groups, cater for the time of day above all else. Just before lunch lesson? Miracles happen with a box of sausage rolls. Afternoon lesson? Get students to compete for passes to the Queue For The Door, featuring the all-important ONE MINUTE EARLY VIP. Lively lesson? Use it to your advantage and have them do the work with structured group work or flipped learning. Specify roles and tell them why you have chosen them in particular for that job- because they will be awesome at it.

Keep it Positive and Private

Negative behaviour gets you a very quiet warning and very little attention. Continuing to show me negative behaviour will, where possible, get you a quiet consequence. Loudly challenging that consequence will get you a moment outside whilst I ensure that the rest of the class is able to progress before I give you a consequence. On the positive, I will send out emails once a week. I will let you all know when you have had a fantastic lesson. I will highlight and hold up and let you all know when someone has done something great so that you know how you are capable of doing exactly the same. I will ask you for nominations for fantastic attitudes. I will above all, make it clear that effort equals progress; it is as simple as that.

Cheerleaders for You

Still unconvinced? In that case, call in the Rooting for You squad. Mum, Dad, Nana, Tutor, Key Worker- these guys cannot WAIT for you to do Great Things and they already have a bank of proof that you are able to do just that. They LOVE an email home on a Friday and are practically pleading with you to do the Great Things so that they can exchange it with the possibility of cold, hard cash and a trip to Pizza Hut.

Remember- they want you to like them. They really do.

Sustain Over Show: Literacy is NOT a dirty word

I’ve spent the last year developing rather a fanatical obsession with what leaves students standing at the literacy block and how I can develop strategies that are not box-ticking or with quick-win value, but that will demonstrate that improving students’ literacy over time with long-term habits is the key to raising standards within school.

As a PGCE student, literacy was presented to me as a bolt on, an extra box to tick on the lesson plan that I needed to include key words or a task that explicitly demonstrated my consideration of literacy. I hastily fell back on my Boggle and Scrabble starters, compiled literacy based word play and highlighted key words as my ‘literacy focus.’ The explicit was easy but I have since become more concerned with the disintegration of the English language within my classroom and questioned the effectiveness of these ‘quick wins.’ How was this going to stay with my students? Admittedly, they were engaged and the concept of a contest to beat the teacher or their peers was particularly motivating for the boys but what happened once they left the classroom?

I love scrabble. I’m pretty educated (for the sake of argument) and my vocabulary is pretty extensive. And yet a game of Scrabble will often see me revert to the words that I know in an attempt to beat my opponent. I will very rarely try to integrate the possibility of a new word into the mix for fear of missing out on a perfectly good word already in my head slamming into a triple word spot and taking me to an easy win. Certain friends (and previous boyfriends) have since refused to play me on account of the deadly combination of fail-safe words and an unhealthy level of competition. I once ruined Christmas eve on account of my ‘one more game’ approach until I had won the best of. I refuse to be beaten.

This is just a microcosm of the classroom- roll out the scrabble Ppt; the same students rise to the challenge, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to use a word already in their head to secure the top spot, whilst the less confident or engaged simply switch off and focus on packing up their pencil case. How is this TRULY developing students’ literacy, other than the power of peer sharing? Is this meaningful collaboration when it is simply one student knowing a word that the other does not?

To get a little geeky for a moment, the National Literacy Trust have drawn up a post Curriculum Review (Sep 2014) to make it explicitly clear as to the literacy-based expectations of teachers. To draw from what I found to be the most beneficial points, teachers need to, ‘provide rich and regular opportunities for talk to develop….. make sure pupils engage in reading, for pleasure and information, with a wide range of increasingly complex fiction and non-fiction texts…ensure their knowledge of literature and poetry enables them to use high quality texts that engage pupils’ interest and develop a love of reading.’ I draw your attention to these over other points outlined because I feel that these are our largest challenges within secondary. Why? Because they focus on the sustained aspect of literacy- development of verbal literacy, moulding and shaping a particular attitude towards reading and enabling confidence to manage more complex texts are not quick wins. 

To quote the horrendous O, I am in solemn agreement with this statement, taken from the 2013 Improving Literacy Standards Report- ‘This survey of best practice found there is no ‘quick-fix’ for raising standards in literacy. The best schools made literacy an integral element of the whole school curriculum. In these secondary schools, there was no attempt to address literacy through one-off training days for staff. Literacy in the best schools was an integral part of longer term school improvement plans and informed the content of action plans for each subject.’

However, I would like to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Whilst I appreciate (and endorse) whole-school presence of literacy, I would like to once again question- what impact does it make? Word of the week displays, literacy books, ERIC sessions- what does this add? Do these act as a driving factor to ultimately motivate children to standards that are required of the workplace?

I’d like to offer my own views. These are very much my own observations and not research based (in progress) but surely the one word to take from the good intentions of big O-dog is ‘integral.’ THE ONLY WAY TO ENSURE STUDENTS CONNECT WITH LITERACY IS TO MAKE THEM A PART OF THE LITERACY PROCESS. I’d like to push some thoughts on to you and see how other schools take a similar approach. This is essentially a spoiler alert of that research that I will get around to.

1. I’ve seen amazing success with Reading Programmes and Incentives in school. However, I am not sure beyond a specific age that it successfully motivates or encourages what I would argue is the ‘correct’ way of reading- understanding a text, engaging with it through either plot or characterisation, evaluating the situations that the character find themselves in and provoking discussion. Why are such programmes not driven by the students that have had the grace and good luck to already harness such skills? I’d like to hand over comprehension and evaluations of books to those students please. If we are to demonstrate engagement in reading and introduce students to access a range of texts, who better to do it than the students who are already convinced.

2. ERIC needs talking time. The child that sits in ERIC with his book open, staring out the window? This is what boredom feels like to him. Even if the book he had picked up were the most exciting thing on the planet, you’re not letting him tell anyone about it. The discussions centred around reading are as important as the act of reading itself; using stem questions as a base, the direction that students’ conversation can have following a book that they have selected themselves are incredible. This can then be recorded in a short summary and displayed, almost as a ‘reader reaction’ moment. Again- peer power. If I have read a fantastic book, I want to tell everyone about it and that enthusiasm is often infectious.

3. We need to provide our students with a variation of texts that they want to read, in an environment that they want to read it. I often say to parents to direct their children to news websites (under supervision) to read before sharing a discussion about their reaction to the article. Several school libraries focus on poetry as a key area of focus so that students’ only experience of poetry is within the classroom; imagine if your only experience of such an artistic demonstration of words was dissecting it and removing the magic at times? The students that want to share what they have read often bring in material from home or that they have sourced elsewhere, which prompts me to think that perhaps I have not provided the outlet for them  to access the type of text that they wanted to read.

4. Talk into writing. Talk after writing. Talk about writing. TALK to these kids about how they’re going to demonstrate ambition. Stress the detriment to recycling words. When we worked towards an assessment that studied the character of Richard III, we ‘collected’ words along the way that depicted this monstrous, manipulative, hypocritical, poisonous, calculating, cruel, vindictive, ruthless (see what I did there?) man. Consequently, we didn’t find ourselves repeating ideas or stumbling over the motivations of the character because we simply didn’t have the words to describe it. Yes, I have my English head on but the processes of science and the concept of History does not possess a monosyballic quality either. Encourage ‘beating’ words: question-driven discussions where students will outdo one another in terms of vocabulary to develop ideas and lead to evaluation.

5. A Whole School Literacy policy that is in consistent, demonstrative, formative use across the school. I was never a fan- mainly due to my lack of memory- and it needs to be simplistic for both staff and students. The power of double marking (mark for success criteria, read aloud for literacy marking) has demonstrated fantastic improvements within my own teaching and again, it is a case of developing the habits for students to be able to objectively assess and evaluate their own work. The value of self assessment a week after writing is especially evident; I have argued with, and will again with colleagues who refuse to believe that all students can self assess work to improve. If we’re talking ‘learning over time,’ then it is essential to understand the power of setting time aside to open a lesson with literacy-based reflection and encouraging students to identify their own literacy requirements.

6. Provide outlets for students to explore literacy in its natural state. David Attenborough style, we need to highlight the presence of literacy outside the curriculum for students. Provide extra curricular opportunities that demonstrate how literacy is an integral (see, there’s that word again) part of society and already existent within their every day life. Poetry Club, Film Club, Graphic Novel Club, Creative Writing Club, Song Writing Club, Magazine Club, Review Club- a range of opportunities for students that would be mortified if they were aware that the very process was developing their literacy skills, because of the association with the word itself. Encourage a literacy focus within other areas of enrichment- written responses to trips, journals, scrapbooks or blogs that record their experiences or reactions. Additionally, one of my current homework options is to send me an email outlining how the student is finding the topic so far with highlights and suggestions of the direction we could take next. Embed the sharing process of literacy to enable students to grasp the words that they may not currently have.

7. My dream? A whole school literacy festival. A place where a school-based community come together to explore the multi-model presence of literacy and celebrate our ability to develop excitement around the spoken and written word rather than the connotation that literacy often brings with students. Creative writing, Meet my Book, Song Writing, Performance Poetry, Open Mic, The Art of Storytelling, camp fire, bunting. You get the idea.I want a whole-school celebration of how literacy opens up so many doors to us as individuals, rather than the existence of it on a wall in a classroom or scheme of work somewhere. I’m working on this one.

I asked a selection of students today to explain what the word literacy meant to them. The responses?

‘Books and stuff.’

‘Words to use to make our writing better.’

‘Booklets with gaps to full in.’

Isn’t that sad?

Thank You To The Teachers!

I thought it would be nice to say a little thank you to the good ones. I’ve had some absolutely shocking teachers in my time (my secondary English teacher laughed in my face when I signed up for A level lit) but some absolute gems. I will share the good, the bad and the ridiculous. I think the collection sums up the quirks, spirals and highlights of education!

Mrs Muchall

From Guyana so an instant hit with my educationally suspicious West Indian father, this woman was amazing. I had a reading age of 10 at 5 and she would take me out of class reading to let me read the Hobbit out loud to her. She was the kindest lady on the planet and I don’t remember her with anything but a smile on her face.

Mr Baker

Now, if you want to be the most cool of all the Headteachers, you have to top this guy. He would rock up to assembly, turn off the projector and whip out his guitar to share his own handwritten musical delights. He organised a local Beatle-athon with the other local primary schools, as we went head to head with one another, singing a heady mix of the Liverpool’s finest. He had the hairiest knuckles I have ever seen in my life.

Mr Cassidy

Mainly a brilliant man for tolerating me in his maths classroom for three years. I hated maths; I didn’t see the point and as a result would find ways to entertain myself through the 70 minutes of hell on a Thursday afternoon. My favourite would be ‘pack up,’ where you shook your tin pencil case 30 minutes before the end of the lesson and then sat back to view your own handiwork as the sheep-like fellow classmates responded robotically to the sound by packing away. I know- I was an absolute delight. He was 23 and had a beard-which I still don’t understand- and looked a little like a garden gnome in a bad mood. I’d be in a bad mood if I had to teach maths all day. Why do we call it maths instead of math like the Americans? Oh, who cares. It makes my eyes bleed (sorry maths!)

Miss Bursnell

Yes yes, we called her bird-smell. She wore socks with sandals and had clearly been to ‘stereotypical dress and behaviour for the Spinster Teacher today.’ She was my first English teacher and she threatened to destroy the English language, one monotonous lesson at a time. For an entire term, we came into the room, sat down and opened our play books, and read Romeo and Juliet out loud. No book work. I saw her in Sainsbury ‘swhen I went home before Christmas and she was wearing sandals. With socks.

Mrs Cooley

We called her big bird. She was SIX FOOT SIX without heels, had specs like Deidre Rashid (RIP) and wore lilac eyeshadow. The boys once smashed the window next to her desk at break, in November, and she didn’t notice until last lesson. She didn’t know what planet we, her or anyone else was and her french lessons were bedlam.

Mrs Ball

One in a long line of teachers who had the patience with me to notice a glimmer of a nice child underneath all of the indifference and hostility. She did the whole cigarette in a glass with cotton wool thing and blew me away. She listened when I asked very quietly to be moved from my tutor group because a girl had punched me in the face. I liked Mrs Ball.

Mr Marshall

Mr Marshall was a gently spoken man, with giant hands. He taught Art, and I produced the one piece of artwork that I have ever been proud to bring home. He never raised his voice in the classroom and one day, a girl wet herself on her stool rather than miss part of his class (I know- we were thirteen. No excuse). One day, a rumour started floating about that he had pushed a boy in my year up the wall by his throat. Dragged along by the hysteria that always comes with a Chinese whisper, we all sat down in the car park to protest. I don’t remember much about protesting, other than sharing my Iced Gems with the girl next to me. After being shouted at by Big Bird at the end of lunch, I tentatively went to my Art lesson. Mr Marshall had been replaced by a supply teacher and didn’t come in for two days after that.

Mr Rigelsford

This guy looked like the man from Red Dwarf. Rimmer. He is quite possibly the most angry man that I have ever met in my life. Looking back with my teacher head on, he couldn’t manage the behaviour and so all I remember about Humanities is watching the film about the Amish people and Hitler. To an extent, I hold him somewhat responsible for the amount of work I had to put in to bring myself up to standard when delivering historical context. Bar the Holocaust, I had absolutely no idea what had happened in any place at any time. It didn’t help that the same boys that broke Mrs Cooley’s window would regularly turn all of the furniture upside down and proceed as normal as though everything was as it should be. And affectionately called him Wriggles. All the time. The only thing I remember about that classroom was that we always had the television!

Mr Kershaw

Chuck was his name, outbursts were his game. He now works as a volunteer, taking old folk (namely my Nanna) to their day group of choice. Previously, he was best known for teaching stuff about chemicals, his grey ponytail leftover from the sixties, and throwing a pot of pens at me once because I got up to open the window whilst he was talking. He left the room for ten minutes, came back in with a brew and carried on where he had left off.

Miss Andrews

Mr Kershaw’s cooler, more collected other half. A psychology teacher, she unsuccessfully (my fault, not hers) kept me at the Sixth form when it was quite apparent that I could no longer fathom out any direction for myself. She would call my Mum at exactly 8.46am when my backside had not made it to my lesson and then sat through several meetings with my then divorcing parents to try to get me to buy back in to my education. When I received my place at University, I sent her an email saying thank you and telling her that I had finally figured it out. Her son was my boyfriend for two whole days when we were eleven, and I got to go to a teacher’s house- the entire house was laden with books. That is my goal- to live in a house as laden as Miss Andrews’ house.

Andy Mousley

Fast forward to University, and this guy knows EVERYTHING. His class was where I discovered autobiographies including my favourite book of all time, The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. We studied the concept of self, having a sense of self and building an identity. Andy conducts the Theory of Literature module which really opened my eyes to the motives of literature.


I feel bad for not remembering Keith’s name. He lectured and held the seminars for an American Literature module which is possibly the most practically useless but most enjoyable part of my degree, alongside film adaptation. He introduced me to Emily Dickinson by describing her as ‘someone who attempted to reach out on to the other side for us so that we may know what death would be like. Death in reality is actually pretty f***ing boring.’ He was Irish and would digress on such a regular basis that I lost track of what was or was not on the syllabus. They’re the best kind.

Victoria Elliott

Victoria was my least favourite of the two PGCE coordinators. She talked about grammar and sensible stuff, whilst Rachel the drama side of things simply hugged everyone and talked candidly about how tough it was out there. I didn’t want to think about the fact that I had been (and still on occasion take part in) comma splicing my entire life and had absolutely no idea what a prepositional preconjective personal imperative pronoun was. Why isn’t it enough that I really like books? But Victoria is a wonderful teacher because of her neverending knowledge. I have such admiration for an academic and once we realised that she was actually really rather lovely and it was simply that Rachel just liked to hug everyone that we had overlooked her and should probably not veer away from all the non hugging academia that we would really rely on to get us through and give us confidence. It is Victoria that I have to thank for keeping me going through what was a very difficult year and Victoria who has opened up opportunities to me since my completion of the course. Thankfully, she was substituted with the lovely Andrew Evans when I decided to spend four hours arguing in floods of tears that yes yes, I really did want to quit the course a month before the end and no, no, no, I definitely DO NOT want to be a teacher. I will always be grateful for a place on my course at Warwick- In didn’t think I stood a chance in hell next to everyone else there.

Ann Rayns

This lovely lady was my professional mentor during my PGCE year. She was the epitome of cool, immaculately dressed and used to glide around the corridors, smiling and speaking with everyone. I’m not sure I ever really worked out how Ann felt about me, but that was simply because of how wonderfully professional she always was, and how she found humour in everything to lighten the day. The first time she watched me teach, she pulled it to shreds and I was heartbroken. I had set out to impress her; that was the issue, she opened her feedback with- I had not put the children at the centre of it all. She taught me more in a very short space of time than I have ever learned from another teacher and I still implement a lot of the ideas I took from that in my day-to-day teaching.

Lorna Roden

This woman is an utter legend. Her brain works in exactly the same way as mine, only hers is much bigger and more impressive. We would collaboratively teach a lot during my training year and she worked in a very kinesthetic way with the children- Key Stage 3 were mesmerised when she taught. She never shouts, she teaches (as I often find myself) in a flurry of chaos and colour and we used to have long chats about autonomy of teachers and the concept that whilst the end point is still the same for everyone, that we must keep hold of our own approach to make the journey quite personal for the students and us.

I’d like to add to this from time to time- I think it is a nice process to reflect on where you have taken your teacherisms from. Teaching is a bit like parenting- we know how we want to be perceived and also how we do not want to deliver lessons. Hope you found it mildly entertaining for a lazy Easter afternoon!

Ten Steps to Standing Alone: Developing Independence in your classroom

After attending a GCSE English course today with the key focus being how to ensure achievement for all at Key Stage four as we enter linear assessment, my thoughts returned to my semi-ranty post about interdependence and how we can develop this invaluable skill within even the less confident of students. There must be a happy balance between guiding students towards success and allowing them to consider their own independent, analytical enquiry in response to a text, or their own work with regards to written pieces. I have segmented this into ten ways in which we are classroom practitioners can make adaptations to teaching that can help students complete their education with a more independent mindset; whilst Key Stage four will provide a measurable process for this in the shape of their final linear exams, I feel that Key Stage three needs to be of equal focus so that students recognise the value of their own responses and opinions.

1. Stop Providing the Answers

It is such an easy trap to fall into to give what we believe the be the ‘right answers’ or ‘the way to do it.’ But this can often be at the detriment of leading students to believe that we are the omniscient presence in the classroom. By acting as a facilitator, passing over the onus onto the students may feel risky but the act of presenting questions and encouraging the questions of the students, particularly at the start of a unit can avoid this corner of learning that leads to a tick or cross situation. This could be displaying questions from students that can then be used to respond to at a later point, or providing students with the capacity to lead a Q&A forum within lessons where you simply chip in to encourage elaboration from particular learners. There will always be an element of the non-negotiable within a subject, but that knowledge will ‘stick’ if it is they that provided such criteria.

2. Provide the Opportunity for Leadership and Ownership

Develop your own confidence to sit back and led the students lead particular parts of their learning, In the same way that you would use the strengths of teachers within a department, utilise and share the talents of your students. Student led learning is key to enabling them to have a mental rehearsal for an exam situation. How should we tackle this question? Who could provide a toolkit within your classroom for particular aspects of a response? I like to carry out a ‘Genius Bar’ lesson prior to assessments, where students act as a help tool for others in order to move towards the same goal. This develops the concept of challenge and allows those students that can quite easily become complacent when set a series of tasks to explore beyond the confines of a lesson structure.

3. Use Student Voice as a Springboard for Learning

I regularly use student voice to gauge the success of my teaching and their honesty is priceless for informing next steps as a teacher. End of unit student surveys- Survey Monkey, exit slips, short email homeworks to you directly, discussion boards- provide you with concrete, qualitative data that can then adapt both future teaching of that unit but also that of the particular class. The process also allows students to develop the confidence to own their learning journey by being provided with a voice that has an explicit and active impact within your classroom.

4. Open with Learning Questions

Linking to number 1, and something that I repeatedly harp on about is providing a question as a Learning Objective/Intention. This allows a framework for less confident students and a starting point for further challenge. By handing over the process to reach a developed answer to that questions, the student then feels a sense of accomplishment- they have achieved the response independently and to the extent that they feel comfortable. The higher attaining of the group can adapt the question to push their response further; by deciding on that adaptation at the start of the lesson, they can then stand back and recognise the progress that THEY have made, unaided and self-created.

5. Ask for Fears!

It is an old-age saying but one that students do not buy into often- failure is the first step to success. Failure is vital to learning and by addressing fears as a first step to a task or skill, it helps to then allow students to reassure one another, plays once again on the strengths within the room and builds a sense of compassion within the group. Fears identified can then inform future lessons or be addressed at a later point to demonstrate to students their achievements and capabilities. I am unconvinced from experience that students’ fears of their own areas of development and the reality match up- often, their own lacking confidence obstructs their sucess. By vocalising these, as a teacher you address the elephant in the room and they then provide the coping mechanisms and resolutions for said elephant!

6. Incorporate Collaboration Within Your Planning

Peer assessment, Group Writing, Peer created success criteria, tasks and challenges created by students not only creates a healthy, can-do mindset within the classroom, but also provides the stepping stone to interdependence. It is well documented that peer assessment is the middle ground to reaching a point of being able to become self-reliant in terms of self-assessment. The more the students can unpack success criteria for themselves, identify, prrof read and contribute to one another’s work, the more likely it is that in an exam situation, they will be able to evaluate their own work. By doing so initially with a structured framework and then over time, handing this strategy over to them, it will ensure that in a timed, pressured situation, they can recall these skills. Again, mental rehearsal.

7. Move Away from the Gimmicks

During my training year, I developed a format of processes to develop skills, with very little impact. Whilst a visual accompaniment to a term or point in assessment can be handy, the student will often (in my experience) recall the gimmick but not the skill itself. Engagement is possible without reliance on a process formula and can lead to confusion on the students’ part. I refer to a blender to ‘blend ideas’ or a pea for ‘PEA chains.’ The student recalls that there are three steps to analysis but is still none the wiser as to what to include or how to do it effectively. If students are to excel in terms of a skill, then they must recognise the requirements rather than us provide it for them. One size does certainly not fit all.

8. Create a Context

This acts as an alternative to 7. Develop tasks within the lesson that provide a real life setting to a process- those lessons will be memorable for the student because it linked to a situation that they can relate to in some way. The memorable lessons for skills focuses will ensure stickablility- Dragon’s Den for persuasion, using local information or a news story as a base for lessons. I like to carry out music quizzes to link to themes of a text prior to assessment (my recent lesson for Scrooge’s development in A Christmas Carol featured ‘I Don’t Care’ by Icona Pop and ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson!). The more than students can relate to a character or concept, the more likely they are to discuss it convincingly on paper.

9. Remove the Mist

Similar to 6, students seem most afraid of the Unknown. This has been a point of contention with teachers that I have worked with, but I start a unit by emailing out assessment criteria and the assessment that we will work towards. Could you teach without knowing what you were working towards? The more informed the students are, the sooner they can identify possible gaps in their own learning- this can even stretch to setting out one key target that they aim to fulfil before the final assessment, to understand or demonstrate a particular skill required in the assessment criteria.

10. Have fun!

You remember the teacher that took a risk over the teacher that taught by a specific strategy or focus. Move outside your own comfort zone and experiment. Handing over the controls to students can be terrifying and with the time constraints and pressures of teaching as they currently stand, it seems that the idea of moving away from a plan is simply not an option, but it will be the very thing that makes you more effective! We are facing a one size fits all end point, but there are many different ways to reach the end point. Do not be afraid to go off the beaten path for a bit!