Praise Where It’s Due

At my school we have a behaviour system built around merits and demerits. I’ve never been keen on these systems. In lots of schools horrible kids tend to get bucket loads of merits just for sitting in a chair and being slightly less abusive than usual. Lots of nice kids tend to get ignored. The basics of good manners seem to be praised to a ridiculous extent when really they should just be part of the fabric of normal human interactions.

Some teachers hand out merits like dolly mixtures. Some just can’t be bothered. Then of course there are those schools that tell you for every negative comment you must give four positives. How on earth anyone is supposed to track that stuff I’ll never know. Also logging merits on the computer is a pain. And of course, give it a few month into Year 7 and the appeal of merits soon starts to wane. So no, I’ve never been a fan of merits.

As for demerits – what actually happens to these kids who are a real pain in your lessons?

‘Demerit!’, ‘That’s your second warning!’

‘Big deal! Tell someone who gives a monkey’s!’

The same kids keep getting demerits. Nothing really happens to the kids. Teachers get sick of logging stuff only to find nothing’s ever done and so demerits crumble away too. And of course there are the schools where the teacher who gives the most demerits or detentions or uses ‘on call’ most is under the microscope. There are always those schools where the awkward, lazy, mouthy kid encounters the determined, focused, perhaps a bit naive, teacher who actually thinks the behaviour system is meant to be applied to the letter.

This teacher gives merits when deserved and demerits when warranted. This teacher uses ‘on call’ liberally because the kid’s behaviour is bang out of order. This teacher complains to the HOY and SLT because the system isn’t being applied. This teacher soon becomes known as awkward, out of step, unrealistic, too demanding. He can’t cope. That’s why he uses ‘on call’ so much. Or else he’s just too old school. If he did a bit more group work, you know a bit more ‘kinaesthetic’, like on your pgce, he’d be ok. The kids wouldn’t kick off. And, of course, in lots of schools there’s that insidious climate of, ‘Don’t use ‘on call’ too much! They keep a log. They’ll use it against you when looking at performance management.’

So, yeah, on balance, I’ve never been a fan of merits and demerits and prizes and…

For goodness sake! Is it too much to ask that a kid brings a pen, shuts up for five minutes and then makes a decent stab at some work that I can actually read?

It is very early days at Michaela, we only have 120 Year 7s, 7 teachers and 4 TA’s – so we’re a tiny school. But merits & demerits actually do seem to be working very, very well. And, to be honest, it blows out of the water everything  I’ve seen visiting hundreds of school and training thousands of teachers during a career of around eighteen years.

With us, much to my surprise, kids value merits, kids come up to you at break and spell 48 word medical conditions they’ve found on the net, using the French alphabet. They do that, partially, for a merit. Kids do extra homework without being asked – for a merit. They’ll reply to the most banal question like, ‘Comment dit-on, the weekend last?’ , with ‘Mais c’est évident M. Forgeron, ça crève les yeux en fait, c’est: le week-end dernier’, they’ll do all that for a merit.

It’s not purely for the merit of course, though they are competitive and they do remind you if they find you haven’t logged a merit when you should have. They like showing off, feeling clever, stretching themselves, standing out from the crowd.

We can give merits for kids who SLANT beautifully – sit up straight, arms folded, no fiddling, listening attentively, asking and answering questions, kids who ‘track’ the teacher and don’t let their eyes wander.

We can give merits to kids who use STEPS beautifully – sir, thank you, excuse me, please and smile!

We can give merits for kids who go to town on HEAPS – hands away from your mouth when you speak, good eye contact, don’t mumble – articulate! And of course, project! Everyone needs to hear your answer. And yes! Of course you’ll repy in extended full sentences.

There are loads and loads of rules. And because there are loads of rules there are loads of reminders about what ‘Being Michaela’ really means. There are loads of opportunities to receive praise, to receive positive recognition.

The kids like the league tables for IXL completion, they like the 100% badges for perfect attendance and punctuality across the half term. They like  the bronze, silver, gold badges denoting the number of merits gained and your ranking in the year. They like the reward event where, at the end of half term, if your attendance, punctuality and merit/demerit balance are good, you get to watch a film with the rest of your form – you have popcorn too. Our last couple of films have been Invictus and Long Walk to Freedom – they all know the poem by heart and they’ve all read the book in class.They like the subject prizes given twice year. This year maths gave out 4 Rubic cubes and humanities gave out rulers covered in hieroglyphs. Every kid in the school can spell ‘hieroglyph’. The vast majority can spell it using the French alphabet.

We shake hands a lot. We give them responsibilities a lot. We give them opportunities to demonstrate, as I always tell them, that they’re ‘top of the pyramid’ people. There are squillions of people at the bottom of the pyramid, taking the easy choices, developing bad habits, searching for lame excuses.  There are millions that resolve to change but never really commit. There are thousands and thousands who do have a go, who do try to make the right choices but fall by the way side pretty soon. There are only a handful of people who know what they really believe in, who constantly keep their commitments, who always get back up and refocus when things go wrong. They’re the top of the pyramid people. Elitist? No. You get to the top of the pyramid and you stay at the top of the pyramid, because of  the millions of choices you make every day.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, merits are really working for us. It’s early days. There’ll be ups and downs. Merits are  just part of the jigsaw.

Are the kids ‘intrinsically motivated’? There’ll always be the early adopters and the laggards but, yes, I think, very largely, our kids ‘get it’.

Merits aren’t the whole story, doing stuff you can be proud of when no one is looking, doing stuff you can be proud of even though nobody else but you may ever know – that’s getting through.

Next time I’ll maybe talk about the demerits.

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Yeah, but what about the visual learners?

Spelling tests in MFL – I think they went out of fashion didn’t they? Most of you reading this probably can’t recall a time when they were ever in fashion. To be fair, it was a bit draconian expecting kids to get the spelling right and take pride in their work. You know, actually checking what they’d written. Yeah, spelling tests, they’re boring, they are.

You’ll laugh, but there was actually a time when people used to believe…

we need to memorise stuff for instant perfect recall. Because, if you remember stuff you can, speak and write stuff too. You can break language down & build it up again. You can, with a bit of thought, recycle language you learnt earlier and adapt it, kind of make it your own.

spelling precision really matters. If you don’t take care with spelling people will think you’re thick, lazy and slapdash.

accents actually help your pronunciation on words like: allé, joué, écouté, regardé, évidemment, canoë, première and  so on. So accents really, really matter. Accents are your friends!

high frequency letter combinations teach you there’s no such thing as a totally ‘new’ word so you are able to write and say ‘new’ words by linking them with your knowledge of the old stuff: fille, famille, feuille, feuilleton, fauteuil, intéressant, intelligent, informatique, dessin, lapin – they’re just the same letters being used again & again. So if you learn to spell properly, you learn to speak properly. It’s easy!

understanding the patterns means you didn’t just guess at ‘new’ words and you can always have a decent stab at pronouncing them. So: ont, sont, font, vont, habitent, jouent, écoutent, regardent – they are, in fact, all easy to say & spell. If you can spell properly, you can communicate easily and you’ll avoid typical mistakes. Typical mistakes will never embed.

looking out for the double letters means ‘je m’appelle’ and honnêtement and intéressant and ennuyeux and paresseux and loads of other words are really easy to spell. In fact, because you paid attention first time, you’ll never really make mistakes on these words ever. That saves you loads of time.

apostrophes teach you that j’ai, j’habite, j’aime, je n’aime pas are really separate words squished together to make it much, much easier to speak French. Once you click: j’habite and j’ai are really je habite and je ai – it’s suddenly so much easier to understand precisely what you’re saying & writing. Apostrophes are your friends!

cognates, you should look out for them. If you link with English words rather than pictures, it’s so much easier learning another language. Also it’s a great way to develop your English vocabulary. In fact, look at the etymology of words, look at their prefixes and suffixes, look at the roots of the word. You’ll remember better and it’s actually really fascinating.

faux amis, these show you how languages change over the centuries. You know what happened in 1066 right? Load of French came over. We’ve never been the same since!

links between English and the target language, they shouldn’t be avoided! No! We should be actively going out and making as many silly, memorable links as we can. Be daft not to exploit the links between languages when they are so close to one another. And translations – they’re great because you think about every single word.

breaking words down into syllables and counting the letters means you look at every single letter and you really pinpoint exactly where you tend to mess up. Also breaking words down means you’ve got no excuses to give up before you’ve really got started: mal.heu.reu.se.ment – 15 letters – where’s the problem?

mnemonics, whether it’s the pronouns with Justin Timberlake isn’t energetic, not very intelligent either or school subjects with madragfish – maths, anglais, dessin etc. Mnemonics really work – if you use them properly.

copying out repeatedly, yep, looking at every single letter, actively searching for high frequency letter patterns, especially the vowels, recalling the silly stories we used in class, writing your accents a bit too big, deliberately, underlining every double vowel, copying from the resources every single time, not copying, making a mistake, then copying your own mistake. Really thinking as you write out each letter.

count the number of letters in the word and focus on the precise letters causing the problem. Sœur, cœur, beurre, fleur, j’aime, je n’aime pas – focus in! Where, precisely, do you mess up? When you count the letters you see long words arent really hard at all ! In fact, you’ve seen all these patterns before.

underline vowel combinations like ai, au, eu, oeu, ou, oui, ui. Beaucoup? Oiseau? Château? What’s ‘hard’? Why? How can we make it easier?

place a little dot under silent letters until kids master pronunciation, that really really helps build confidence & good habits. Stop thinking like an Englishman!

make links between words explicit even though they aren’t  in the same unit of the scheme of work . So not just: mère, père, frère but première and  dernière. The text book is your servant not your master!

Yeah, you’re right! Silly ideas! That’s just boring! No pictures, no barking at power points, no hours and hours of teacher prep, no silly voices, no hand gestures. That’s crazy. Memorizing stuff so you have it for a life time, so the more you learn the easier it gets, so you feel you really can speak French. That’s just boring. And anyway – what about the visual learners?

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And if I told you I don’t believe in lesson plans?

Lesson plans – they’re a bit of a nonsense. Don’t you think? In fact, I’ll go further. Lesson plans hold kids back and encourage teachers to focus on all the wrong things.

So does that mean I just roll up and freewheel my way through lessons? Not really. But it does mean I work according to a set of principles that allow me to teach, largely, on autopilot. Teach on autopilot? That sounds strangely complacent! Not really. I keep to my key principles. My lessons are uncluttered. I have the flexibility to tweak lessons on the hoof.

I’m largely on autopilot because I don’t have a lot to think about. Teaching really does not have to be complicated. When something goes ‘wrong’ I can react quickly. Though things rarely go ‘wrong’ because I preempt problems mostly. I know what kids get wrong in the main and I teach to preemt.

Kids come in. I’m immediately firing questions or we’re all chanting the alphabet in French. They’re not idly chatting. There’s no room for that. The questions I fire out are usually grammar based. I focus on the stuff I want them to retain and reuse across topics.

Comment dit-on…

I’ve done? Having done? Whilst doing? After having done? I am going to do? I would like to do?

I am? I am not? I went? I didn’t go? It was? It wasn’t? I played? I didnt play? I would like to play?

Structures. I just fire simple mark winning structures at the kids as they get their stuff out and they stand behind their chairs. They know these structures. I’m just keeping them fresh. At the front of the mind. I want these structures to be instant. I might give clues:

It was; C apostrophe. Il y a in accent.

I would like: JV. Deux lettres espace huit lettres.

They are is ‘ils sont’ . Comment dit-on ‘They went’ Trois mots. le troisième mot contient cinq lettres.

Comment dit-on:

I must go? I F Q J apostrophe.

I most do? I F Q J F

Although I am? Ce n’est pas ‘ je sUIs’. Il faut le subjonctif!

These questions can last as long, or as short, a time as I want. I can ping what I what at whom I want. None of this is written down. No random name generator. No lolly sticks. The kids are just getting their stuff out.

Si vous voulez vous pouvez enlever…

vos chaussures?  Non!

vos chaussettes? Non!

vos chemises? Non!

vos cravates? Non!

vos vestes? Oui!!!

Asseyez-vous!

This is all super quick and all on autopilot. Them and me. We’re all on auto-pilot. It’s a bit of a laugh. They’ve joined in. We’ve recycled stuff they know. They’re already feeling accomplished. Nothing’s written down.

No silly learning objectives. No wasteful patronising starters. We just get on with ‘it’, But what’s the ‘it’? My lesson planning, my core questions, are these. They’re always the same. They’re never typed on a pro forma.

What are kids likely to find hard in this topic?

Why?

How can I prempt the high frequency errors that typically eat into lesson time?

How can I incorporate PROFS – past reasons opinions future subjunctive – into this topic?

How can I ensure they will retain this stuff?

How could a lazy kid hide or sabotage this lesson?

I don’t use a text book. Be great if I could. But until I write one I stick with the resources I create and I recycle. I do teach ‘topics’ – but kind of loosely. There’ll never be a PowerPoint with pictures and one word at a time. There’ll be lengthy passages that include phrases such as:

Il est rare que je fasse mes devoirs dans ma chambre

parce que je préfère faire mes devoirs dans le salon

en regardant la télé ou en écoutant de la musique

mais malheureusement

ma mère veut que je fasse mes devoirs dans la salle à manger

Hier, ayant fait mes devoirs dans la chambre de mon frère

mais avant d’écouter de la musique dans la cuisine

j’ai regardé la télé dans la salle de bains.

I’m teaching ‘rooms in the house’. No PowerPoint. No pictures. Kids are reading a text stuffed with grammar. We’re recycling language they know. I want them to recycle so they really NOT nearly know it. The text in front of them is flat. The sentences are short. Or rather, I present long sentences in short chunks. Every line is numbered. Kids follow the text with a ruler. We read aloud.  We link the written word to the spoken word. I never let sloppy pronunciation go unchallenged. The kids are developing very nice accents as a consequence. They listen very carefully as their peers read out loud. They readily correct one another’s pronunciation. But in a very supportive way.

The next step is often: find the French equivalent for these 40 English phrases from the passage:

i want,

in fact,

it’s the least that one can say,

in general,

frankly,

the room of bathing,

having watched.

Why 40 questions? The number isn’t set in stone. The point is, I want kids to work through the passage line by line in silence for 10 to 15 minutes. The most willing kids need to be occupied for that time. I go for volume of questions combined with richness of language. There’s good range and it’s recyclable language. The less willing kids have no hiding place. They are forced to accomplish lots as they work through the passage. And of course, because they do succeed, they genuinely feel accomplished and clever and next lesson they come in feeling able. The willing kids, in fact all of the kids, are getting quicker and quicker at this kind of exercise. Their pronunciation, their retention, their range – it’s really coming on.

There’s loads more I do. I can’t fit it all in one blog. Suffice to say. No formalised written lesson plan, no attempt to be whizzy and ‘engaging’, no powerpoints. I build from my key questions. The language is rich. I ignore nonsense nc levels. I ensure lazy kids can’t hide. Everyone works hard and feels accomplished. And we have  a laugh!

In languages, grammar is the glue that holds everything together, so I’m constantly recycling the mark winning grammar. But beyond MFL, just the bread and butter job of teaching, I’d always say, if you can, have a laugh with the kids. And then…make them work their socks off!

Anyway, that’s some of the stuff I do. My kids are doing really well. This stuff works. It’s simple, uncluttered, invariably didactic and very often a good giggle.

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Loud & Proud – Why Reading Out Loud in MFL Works Amazingly Well.

Got to be honest. I’m not a fan of choral repetition with pictures. You know, the silly voices, one word at a time. I find it all a bit patronising. The efficacy of the choral repetition approach soon wears off too, I find, as kids get older and they tire of barking at pretty pictures on the screen. So no, choral repetition, in the main, it’s not for me.

But I do love to get kids reading aloud. I love to get kids analysing the written word and linking it to the spoken word. I do a lot of dual text work, that is, side by side English and French texts where every single word is translated. the English translations are often a bit ‘dodgy’ to reflect French syntax. So, for example: j’ai joué au foot, is translated as, I’ve played at foot. J’ai les yeux bleus becomes I’ve the eyes blue. My Y7 readily say, ‘Franchment mon prof de français me tape sur les nerfs et c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire’ which translates as ‘ My teacher of French me taps on the nerves, it’s the least that one can say.’ The English and French syntax are completely transparent. There’s no guess work. Kids know the English is ‘dodgy’. I equate it to Google translate. You kind of get it but it sounds a bit weird.

What’s lovely is, is that kids ask loads of real linguist questions. So Sir, if I took off X and added Y would that mean Z? They understand every word so they can deconstruct & reconstruct the language.

Also, since they’re reading the written word lots, their pronunciation is really, really good. I’m very explicit about pronunciation. I’m very explicit about the repetitive nature of language, about the very limited number of letter combinations that are recycled again & again. I’ve very tight when it comes to silent letters and liaisons.

The kids now roll a pretty mean ‘r’, silent letters at the end of words don’t phase them, their liaisons are pretty impressive too, pretty natural in fact. They are very good with silent ‘ll’ and the silent ‘h’. “C’est évident ” they tell me with confidence and excellent prononciation.  They also tell me,  ” les lettres ‘nt’ à la fin sont muettes”. They’re great at that, using French to comment upon the language itself.

They’re good at all this, in part, because we read extended texts lots, I read out loud lots, they read out loud lots, we use dual texts lots. There are lots of reasons they’re doing so well. But lots of access to the written word and transparent silly, memorable literal syntax is central.

You may disagree but, as my Y7 say, in beautifully pronounced French, “My teacher of French me takes the head. Frankly he himself takes for the belly button of the world. It’s the least that one can say.”

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Fancy a job in a place like this?

People come to interview at my school and I think they’re a bit taken aback. The corridors are silent at lesson changeovers; kids line up, eyes front, to enter the building; kids sit with their arms folded in lessons; they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ a lot; if a kid’s collar is a bit skew-whiff one of his peers will silently sort it out for him; if a kid drops something, his peers instantly help him; at lunch kids each have a role, they serve each other, they chat enthusiastically, politely, taking turns. All that stuff, courtesy, mutual respect, it’s a bit weird at first. Well, for some anyway.

But actually, the people that come into my French classroom, rarely mention the impeccable manners, the superb behaviour, the wrapt attention. What really blows visitors away is the enthusiasm, the sea of hands, the excellent pronunciation, the extended responses habitually featuring past, reasons, opinions, future and subjunctive. And the atmosphere is playful! I laugh, the kids laugh. We have a giggle whilst at the same time these kids really know how to analyse language, how to memorise, to recycle across context, to really deconstruct and reconstruct.

It’s a joy to spend time with these kids, to listen to them correct the French on the board, ” Mais c’est evident Monsieur. Il faut ajouter un e à la fin parce que le mot ‘chambre’ est féminin.’ It’s a delight to be with these kids at break time as they crowd around you to share what they’ve learnt that morning or they ask to be challenged to spell, in French, the incredibly long words they’ve learnt in science.

Why do I love my job so much? And let’s not forget that it’s just a job. It’s just a part of my life. I hate all that ‘teacher as martyr’ stuff.

I love my job because I teach. Very simply, I teach. I laugh. The kids laugh. They call me: vieux, chauve and zinzin. I reply: dingue, cinglé and n’importe quoi! It’s fun. Not in the, games, distractions, fads and gimmicks, sense of the word. But in the, I’m going to teach you all the intricacies of this subject, I’m going to pitch high, I’m going to make the content memorable, I’m going to preempt the stumbling blocks and you’re going to leave this lesson feeling energised, accomplished and confident, sense of the word.

I work in a school where every child, every lesson, expects to be taught. To be talked at, to receive precise explanations, to be didactically, authoritatively, memorably, passionately taught by a real subject expert. So the kids go from lesson to lesson, in silence, keeping to the left, knowing that the next lesson, like the lesson before, will be 100% focused on effective learning. Lessons aren’t planned to placate the lazy, or entertain the indolent, lessons aren’t structured to fit a despotic pro forma in the hope of appeasing a fad-chasing SLT. Lessons are simply structured. What do kids find hard? Why? How can I teach this better so the content is memorable, transparent and challenging?

Anyway, if you fancy working in a school where the kids are diamonds, silence is golden and charismatic delivery, combined with subject passion, is welcomed with open arms, get in touch!

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The Straitjacket of “Good Practice” UPDATE

Right, time for another rant into the ether! Well, not really a rant, more a few observations on what works and doesn’t.

You know why my ranting isn’t as ranty as it once was? I’m just not so angry anymore. And I used to be. I used to make my living from doing inset and I met so many frustrated teachers, teachers given ticklists towards excellence, minute by minute diktats on what it is to be ‘outstanding’. Lots of those teachers were really desperate to please observers. I say ‘observers’ because the fear I encountered was often created by the leadership in schools. Some teachers I met were told to do crazy things in the pursuit of SLT approval. So, yeah. I used to be angry.

Now? I’m actually pretty chilled. I teach in a lovely school. I teach lovely kids. I am free to teach the language I love in the most effective manner I know. But ‘I’m alright Jack!’ isn’t really good enough so I thought I’d share some mfl strategies that work incredibly well yet they fly in the face of everything you’ve been told is ‘good practice’.

Show the written word always! Just do it! Don’t show pictures. Ever!

I know, MFL heresy. But that orthodoxy has been around for long enough for us to know that the laborious, slow, one picture at a time process of kids and teacher barking at an image simply doesn’t work.

I’ve been in so many language lessons where teachers follow the mfl protocol of pretty pictures, choral repetition, the kind of powerpoints TES resources are full of. God it’s slow and the pronunciation is just horrible guesswork.

So instead just show the written word so kids can immediately see the link between words, so kids learn that there really is no such thing as a new word. Bassin, chagrin, dessin, jardin, malin, lapin, intéressant, intelligent, informatique. They’re all linked. These words are easy to say…if you use the written word from the outset.

No you don’t need the picture. Just give simple to produce and easy to follow numbered lists, English on the left, French on the right. No confusion. I’ve: j’ai, a sister: une soeur, and: et, a brother: un frère.

Underline or bold the high frequency vowels: ai, au, eu, ou, ui – teach these and every word is easy! I’m teaching kids to read, I’m not barking at a PowerPoint. Kids love this, they feel clever, they throw themselves into the language, they no longer wildly guess at pronunciation or spelling. They learn like linguists. I teach like a linguist.

The written word is a fantastic tool to ensure beautiful mfl pronunciation. All the silent letters? Put a dotted line under the silent letters. Pronunciation confidence explodes! It’s phenomenal!

Do pictures if you like. But honestly ask yourself, why? Because there are visual learners? For the dyslexics? For the EAL kids? If a kid can’t read, showing him pictures won’t help. It’s madness!

Show lots of words, break them down, build them up, look at the common letter patterns, make links with English, make lots of links with other French words – they don’t have to fit into the topic you’re covering – teach the kids to analyse.

All of this works incredibly well. Kids feel very, very accomplished instantly. Resources are super fast to create, are easy to recycle again and again and it’s so much more challenging for kids.

Would you you dare to do this in an observed lesson, even if you were 100% convinced that this were the best possible methodolgy on the planet by a million miles?

Sadly, very few would. When observed, too many just desperately strive to deliver what they hope the observer will like. And so the straitjacket of ‘good practice’ is tightened by a few more notches. Maybe I was right to be angry after all.

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Lesson Objectives, Good Practice and What Really Matters – An Update

My blogs prior to September 2014 were written when I earned my living giving inset. I suspect I am part of a very small band of people who once earned their living from giving inset but who then have returned to full time teaching. I may be wrong.

These older blogs were written at a time when I used to regularly meet teachers who were often angry, sad and confused. They often felt confined, forced to teach in a way that was, in fact, an anathema to them. They would shake their heads at the fads that would come and go. They would beat their chests at the gimmicks that would wax and wane. They would bend over backwards to please the powers that be.

I met happy teachers too! Of course! The teachers who were told by their SLT that they were “outstanding”, they were happy. They felt a lot of pressure to find the next “game changer du jour” but they were happy-ish.

Of course there were lots of teachers who were told they were “good” and they came to me looking for a new game or an acronym or magic formula that would win over their SLT in their next observation so they too could be – “Outstanding”!!!

Anyway, here’s a blog, maybe a bit anachronistic now, have a read, see what you think. As ever, it could be just some bloke ranting into the ether or, maybe, just maybe, there might be some food for thought buried in my not so elegant prose.

Cheers Barry

Someone suggested I write a blog on “objectives” and I thought, “Hey, why not?” So here, goes…

This blog is, on some levels, meant as a bit of advice to new teachers. On other levels it’s a commentary on the nod-a-long conformity that is so often encouraged in teaching. It’s an attempt to question “good practice”. Cos, you know, very often, “good practice” really isn’t that good.

So much in education, that is, so many of the fads and fashions that come and go, they never arrive empty-handed. They arrive, not only with the fanfare that says, “This is the panacea you’ve all been waiting for!”, but they arrive with the expectation that we adopt the latest “magic formula” without ever actually questioning its value, its roots or its learning impact.

So many of the “must-do” miracles of modern pedagogic orthodoxy don’t leave a lot of room for discussion or independent thought – it seems to me.

“Shut up and do as you’re told!” prevails in many schools, I’d suggest. That’s not teachers talking to kids. No! Perish the thought that adults should tell kids what to do.

“Do as you’re told, fit in, never stand out if you want to be outstanding.” That’s more the mantra that teachers are encouraged to adopt to ensure conformity.

Of course, if you “do as your told”, if you “tow the line”, if you never “rock the boot”, if you dutifully recycle the nod-a-long “thinking-lite” soundbites that permeate education orthodoxy, you’ll soon be recognised as “outstanding”.

In an avalanche of green, amber and red, in a tsunami of lolly sticks, in a blizzard of independent brain-based multi-sensorial interactive 21st C personalised deep learning – you’ll be praised to the hilt.

Which is a shame. Because praise is addictive. And, even if you’re being praised for teaching by star sign, delivery through mime or, better still, facilitating through stealth – praise brings with it a buzz and we like that buzz of acceptance.

It’s very easy to get sucked into the concept of “if others like it, it must be good stuff”. See, you’re probably working on the premise that those observing you have given this stuff some serious thought. And maybe they have! In some schools you’ll be observed by some great teachers who are critical, challenging, supportive, sharp and insightful. They’ll tell you some stuff that’ll maybe smart a little and they’ll tell you some stuff that’ll make you really question every hackneyed essential “good practice” Pavlovian learned response embedded via not good enough ITT and CPD.

That’s brill! If you’re working with teachers that think – you’re in a great place. Teachers should never be afraid to question “good practice”. Teachers should be constantly analysing and dissecting “good practice” based upon the evidence they see before them daily. Teachers should be constantly asking…

What do my kids find hard? Why?

How can I teach differently so the hard bits become accessible?

How can I do that without dumbing down?

How can kids hide in my lessons?

How can I pre-empt the most common errors through precise and concise teaching?

How can I convince them that success in this subject is just a set of habits that need lots of practice?

How can I make those success habits explicit and ensure they weave through every lesson?

They’re the sort of questions teachers should be asking themselves – I’d suggest. But instead a lot of teachers are encouraged to focus upon…

How can I demonstrate “engagement”?

How can I get some group work in here?

How could I include mini-whiteboards?

How can I incorporate technology?

How do I make the lesson objectives fit the SLT prescribed format?

None of those questions really get to the heart of teaching, I’d suggest. None of those questions help teachers better understand themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, areas for development. None of those questions focus the teacher on the kids in front of them – not really.

Those questions are about embodying, demonstrating, replicating, parroting “good practice”. Those questions don’t encourage teachers to reflect on the kids in front of them or on their own potential. I think that’s a shame.

If change is going to start anywhere, it’s going to have to be with the adult in the room, the teacher, who gets to understand himself and his vision and the little and big habit changes he needs to make to really impact upon learning.

So learning objectives typed onto a powerpoint, following the prescribed format, maybe with some snazzy font and zingy effects – that might be “good practice” but it’s not great teaching or learning – I’d suggest.

If you like, or rather, if your SLT like, give your objectives in the “All, Most, Some” format. If SLT like WILF and WALT, if they salivate over EBI,  if they want objectives in the form of questions, if they love SOLO – go on then, feed them the thing that they crave. That’s the game.

But I worry about this imperative to please observers at all costs. There’s a real danger that “the observer is king” mantra encourages crowd-pleasing conformist, mechanistic, lobotomised teaching, robotic unthinking teaching, the kind of teaching by numbers that corresponds perfectly to an SLT designed tick list but doesn’t necessarily let the teacher grow and develop their potential.

I guess my point is: lesson objectives – they don’t need to be written to be at the heart of everything you do. Just because they’re written, copied down and referred to, as per prescribed procedure, at designated lesson intervals, that doesn’t mean the teacher has really asked the important questions about what holds kids back or pushes kids forward.

So, new teachers, nod your head, do as your told, tick the boxes, it’s the game and, besides, nobody likes a smartarse. But when you’re praised for your capacity to follow the party line, to swallow the sound bite, to nod-a-long, just remember that, one day you’ll move to another school and the definitive unequivocal “truth” that seemed set in stone in your first school, well in your next school they’ll laugh at it, as they’ve moved on to “the next big thing”.

Take the panaceas with a pinch of salt, take a moment to think about what you really believe in. What’s your vision of a brilliant lesson? What would you want a fly on the wall to see? Try working towards that – that’s my suggestion.

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