Booklets

I’ve been meaning to post about making booklets instead of separate resources and PowerPoints, but felt that so many others had written so eloquently on this recently I wasn’t sure it was needed. But after a couple of people have got in touch asking for tips, I thought it might be useful to have a guide for how I approach making booklets for lessons here. It goes without saying that this is just my preferred way of working; I’m sure others go about this in different ways and produce marvellous results.

First of all, why booklets? I think it makes sense to simplify the resources needed in a lesson. I covered a lesson a few weeks ago where I had a PowerPoint, textbook, YouTube clip and worksheet. If the teacher had prepared all that for a cover lesson, goodness knows how much effort went into their usual lessons. And of course, it’s great that teachers want to spend time planning their lessons. I just think that time could be better spent decided how to teach a single resource, rather than pouring hours into PowerPoints and photocopying.

Teachers who share PowerPoints: has anyone ever taken a PowerPoint from the central area and thought: ‘that will do,’ and just taught it? In my experience, central resource areas are filled with: ‘PPTLesson2V3MISSHILLSCLASS’ and the like. In my view, we waste time tweaking a PowerPoint to our classes. It’s not the best thing to be focused on.

With a booklet, which is like a textbook that you have created for your own class, every child has it and every adult has the same one. There is total clarity over what the class is learning and how. For Heads of Department, they have total clarity on what is being taught in every lesson. I have seen consistency unlike that found using any other methods through the use of booklets, both at my current and previous schools. You also have clarity for new teachers and new students, because you can give them the exact lessons the class has already done, packaged in one handy format.

I’ll go through how I make booklets, using the example of the one I have most recently made for teaching Jekyll and Hyde. First of all, clarify your aims. This was intended as a first exposure to the text. We wanted the students to grasp the key contextual factors and understand the story. We would do some analysis, but that wasn’t the focus this time around – that can come later when they’re a little older and we revisit it later in their GCSE course.

I started by dividing up the text so there was a double page spread for every lesson, with room at the ‘top’ and ‘tail’ of the lesson for recap activities and writing activities.

I then did a bit of research on the text and asked a few teacher friends their advice, and wrote a couple of pages of key context in language that would be accessible to all abilities, with a little bit of challenge built in for the top end. I then drew out the most important concepts, or the ones I thought they might struggle with, and did another two pages on those, essentially saying the same thing in different words. Finally for the ‘up-front’ stuff, I wrote a simplified plot summary.

At this point, I would usually feel confident that I knew the key context, plot, characters and themes, and put these into a knowledge organiser. On this occasion, my Head of Department had already made one, so we did some minor tweaks together and pasted it to the back cover of the booklet. Using the organiser and the context pages, I then started drafting the early recap questions – five short questions with an extension to help the students use the testing effect to remember knowledge for the long term.

Then I started on the text, emboldening words I thought the students would struggle with (in teaching this, I’ve realised I’ve missed lots!). After each extract, I wrote comprehension questions with some guidance of line numbers for trickier questions, and some deeper ‘analysis’ style questions, and building in some (but not enough) of the tips from the amazing book The Writing Revolution.

After dealing with the text, including starting to add recaps that were lesson-specific, so I could be sure students were understanding the text, I went back and thought about where we could have some specific ‘writing’ lessons, where students could practise close analysis and extended writing using extracts like they will have to in their GCSE exams. Again, I tried to add some shorter questions to scaffold this for the students and teachers. There’s lots more I would add to these if I were editing the booklet, like additional guidance and example paragraphs.

The expectation is that teachers take this booklet and work out the best way to use it to teach the children in front of them. Teachers absolutely need to plan their lessons – but their plan will normally involve annotating the text prior to teaching it, thinking how they will ensure the students understand the key ideas.

This might sound like a big time demand, and I confess, booklets do take ages to make. If you’re pressed for time, I might plan every lesson as a ‘two-pager’ as you go, but then copy and paste them into one document at the end to come back to next year as a ready-made booklet.

Some drawbacks to be aware of:

Heads of Department will need to keep on top of teachers. You want to absolutely discourage complacency – the booklet is a resource, not a lesson – it’s up to the teacher to think carefully about what to say and how to say it to ensure maximum student learning.

That said, don’t let people over-plan. There’s no need to make supplementary worksheets or PowerPoints; instead, they can spend their time editing the questions and throw their changes to me at the end of teaching scrawled in their teacher copy so I can build them into the next iteration.

The major drawback of booklets is your print budget, though any school telling you one double sided page of A4 per child per lesson is excessive may not have spent enough time in a classroom.

Here’s my ‘finished’ booklet. It is full of errors. It is a hastily pulled together first draft, made over about two frantic weeks of evenings and snatched weekend hours. Obviously, feedback is massively welcome!

1. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Part One

2. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde part two

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At what cost?

I know that what I do works.

I know, albeit from just over five short years of experience, that the way I teach children English works. Students enjoy coming to English. They do what I tell them to do. They interact with ideas. They put up their hands, give responses when prompted, discuss when directed, and smile lots. They make good progress, sometimes excellent, progress.

Before, when I was challenged about my practice, I would probably have said something similar to the above.

Now, I am not so sure this is a valid response. Because there is a second, unsaid and often unconsidered half to this sentence.

I know what I do works… But at what cost?

Marking

I mark every student’s book every week, unless they are ill when I take them in. In addition to this, I mark any essays or assessments students have done, whether for a pre-decided mock exam or assessment point, or simply exam practice. When I made the change from fortnightly marking to weekly marking, I saw a dramatic improvement in my students’ progress.

But at what cost?

I have marked, for the last five years, constantly. I have marked in free periods, before and after school, at home, during the weekend and even on flights. Some might say this is the inescapable fate of the English teacher. Yet now I am on a very light timetable, with very small classes, and my marking load appears undiminished. Although what I do works, would I want it to be replicated by every teacher in my team on a full timetable? Absolutely not. If I were to continue in this way, would I remain in the profession? Absolutely not.

If the cost of student progress is teacher burnout, it cannot be worth it.

Intervention

Last year, as Head of English, I checked student data weekly for exam classes. That is because it was constantly changing, what with redrafted coursework, completed Speaking and Listening exams and constant teacher-assessed mock essays and exams. Using this data, I picked out students and created personalised intervention plans. I would confidently estimate that there is practically no year 11 student who was not in some way “intervened” with.

I have given up before school time, after school time, lunchtime, Saturdays, half-terms and Easters over the years. I have altered entire holidays to fit in with a schedule of revision, to the point of cancelling and re-booking flights.

Our students achieved phenomenal results; only King Solomon Academy achieved better in English the year before last for schools in London with comparable amounts of students receiving free school meals.

But at what cost? If I knew I would have to run intervention in this way until retirement, would I stay in this profession? Absolutely not. Do I want to stop running intervention and instead delegate it to my team, asking them to similarly give up weekends and holidays? Absolutely not.

And what of the students? Tired, stressed, but well-prepared; what happens to these students at sixth form? At university? Learning there will always be “extra” put on for them can’t incentivise them to make the most of lesson time.

If the cost of student progress is complacent students and teacher exhaustion, it cannot be worth it.

All the activities

I used to spend hours lesson planning. I would research existing plans and resources, cross-referencing with other teachers’ and TES resources, and trying to make every lesson an individual snowflake, never repeating the same series of activities. I would ensure there was something for everyone, and plenty of opportunities for students to talk together, research independently, collaborate and postulate together. I would review their “learning” and value the “ideas” they came up with, however ill-founded; however misunderstood.

I have had students carouselling, moving, making, standing, dancing, clapping, acting, advocating, laughing, enjoying and even learning while they did this.

And those students did achieve good results.

But at what cost? How many Cs could have been Bs, Bs As, if I had stopped cramming in activities for the sake of engagement and fun, and started simply telling students what they needed to know, and then testing to make sure they had learned it?

Would I have still been addressing classic misconceptions after 3 years of teaching the same class – no, Shakespeare was not a Victorian; no, that’s not where you put a comma…

With my year 10 intervention class last year I tried something different. Shocked by their lack of knowledge and understanding, their lack of retention, I relentlessly talked to them, got them to write independently and then quizzed them. It was a massive uphill struggle, but that struggle was as much against pre-conceived expectations of what their lessons should look like and the expectations I should have of what they were able to access as it was about changing what they remember. And while I struggled on, students knew more, could explain articulately, and could remember and apply challenging concepts. It was far from perfect, but I haven’t seen better progress previous to employing these methods.

If the cost of student engagement is student learning, it cannot be worth it.

 

We have a responsibility to students, and a responsibility to ourselves. We must be open to new ideas, to new approaches. The proof is in the results: certain methods lead to increased student achievement, happier teachers and a more workable system of education. Whether what I do works is irrelevant – it must work, be sustainable, and lead to the best possible student results.

So the next time someone dismisses your ideas by telling you “I know that what I do works”, you can bite your tongue and keep doing what you do, reaping the benefits for yourself and your own students, or you can ask: at what cost?

Planning for mastery

As a follow-on to the initial inset session I have written about previously on memory, I was excited to build on these ideas in delivering a CPD session on planning for mastery with an extraordinary Lead Practitioner, Sophie Smith, who has championed Ark’s English Mastery course of lessons at my school for the past year.

That said, as scary as a day one inset it, you know teachers will be automatically more excited and engaged than at 4pm on a Wednesday, two weeks into term time, when a stack of marking beckons. Showing my draft to a colleague, the feedback was: ‘more pictures.’ I’m not a very visual person, so can’t claim credit for any images on the powerpoint – these are all the work of Sophie.

We began with another paper ‘do now,’ but this time I wanted to collect an insight into people’s thinking about education: what, in their view, was the purpose of education? How good was the current planning in their area? What were the most important aspects of planning? And how much time did they spend on those aspects?

First, I wanted to link mastery planning to the school’s context. We know that our children arrive to us further behind than more advantaged children, who have more social and cultural capital, along with simply knowing more stuff, and having practiced stuff more. I also wanted to pick up on a challenge I’d been given in the feedback from the first session: ‘where is the space for children’s creativity?’ asked one colleague. I asked teachers to think of the most creative child they had encountered: the one who had thought of a new way to solve a problem in maths, or had asked a curious question in science, or had linked different factors together in history. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, those children are also the ones who know the most. This correlation suggests to me that knowledge is the essential bedrock of creativity. You can’t create successfully in a vacuum.

We then posed the question: how do you teach a year 11 class who have an exam in a week’s time? Is it the same or different to your usual teaching?

In retrospect, this question would have worked better later in the session, or perhaps in a later session. There is too much to consider in changing the planning paradigm to successfully cover it all in an hour. What we wanted was for people to note the urgency with which they taught year 11 before an exam, and for us to link this urgency to our way of planning in all years – because time is short, and we have five years to close a significant gap.

I then shared what I found to be a useful distinction from Joe Kirby on planning: changing the paradigm from engaging starter, exciting activities, and reflective plenary to recap, instruction and deliberate practice. (I’ve added ‘deliberate’ to Kirby’s wording for two reasons: firstly, because we need to be completely focused on practising the specific aspects our students most struggle with, and secondly because without it the memorable phrase: ‘Recap, Instruction, Practice’ spells ‘R.I.P,’ which I felt would not connote a happy paradigm for teachers.)

Why is this so important? We know our students come to school massively far behind; research shows that less advantaged children at aged five have heard 30 million fewer words than their more advantaged peers. We also know that, nationally, students on free school meals achieve nearly half the five A*-C including English and maths compared with their more advantaged peers. We can’t do anything about how our students come to us, but we do have five years to close that gap to ensure they aren’t leaving us academically deprived.

Then, instead of citing the Sutton Trust’s research on motivation as I had planned (‘too many words! More pictures!’), Sophie engaged teachers with the cart and horse analogy: we often see self-esteem as the horse, pulling along the achievement, but in fact it is the opposite: achievement drives motivation and builds self-esteem; when children start succeeding at school, they are more likely to buy in.

We shared four key concepts on planning for mastery: select the content, sequence it, teach it, and quiz it. In retrospect, each could be a session by itself. Sophie shared the more rigorous texts brought in with English Mastery, and we asked departments to discuss how much children should read in their subjects, and what they could get them to read. In sequencing, I emphasised considering both the knowledge and practice gap when planning any lesson. For teaching, I didn’t go into nearly enough specific depth, and allowed departments to discuss themselves what they felt the highest leverage teacher actions were, with some interesting results. And finally with quizzing, I cited the knowledge maps and multiple choice tests we were already creating and which could be easily reused.

Subject teams took fifteen minutes then to look over a lesson together alongside these key principles and edit it. We finished with a similar quiz, with room for teachers to write their concerns and needs for support. Most wrote ‘time,’ and a few asked for support in making knowledge maps or finding rigorous content. The next most prevalent concern was meeting the needs of all students, which I will be writing about soon.

In reviewing the feedback sheets, I was interested to gauge the teachers’ response to the do now question: what is the purpose of education? Rank these statements 1-6 where 1 is the most important purpose. The vast majority, 60%, rated ‘forming good, kind and moral individuals’ as the top priority, followed by ‘preparing our students for the world of work’ at 27%. Not a single person chose either of these options as the most important purpose: ‘ensuring our students achieve the highest results in national exams’ or ‘teaching our students rigorous content so they outperform their peers in exams’. For the least important, 37% chose that latter option. The next most popular least important choice at 33% was ‘teaching our students the best of what has been thought and said.’

Mastery CPD

Do now (1)

Just one book: leadership

In this post I’ll be exploring just one book on school leadership. I’ve previously written on curriculum, assessment and teaching, and my next post will be on ethos.

Leadership is a somewhat tricky subject, in that there are so many bad books on it. Many leadership books seem to spend an inordinate amount of time exploring semantics: what is a leader, and what is a manager? Indeed: what even is leadership?

At a school level, it is simply the people who make the decisions which run the school. On that basis, the book I have chosen seems to me to be the best one out there on the mechanics of how to run – or lead – a school.

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This book outlines how a great school should be led, with concrete examples of what works. To begin with, Bambrick-Santoyo states: “Exceptional school leaders succeed because of how they use their time: what they do, and how and when they do it.” Specifically, “instruction and culture are vital, and both must be led simultaneously.”

Data-driven instruction

Noting that: “standards are meaningless until you define how to assess them. Assessments, therefore, are the roadmap to rigour,” the author advises meeting after each assessment and “asking probing questions and deeply considering the results,” while great leaders guide this conversation “from the back pocket” – that is, keeping their “answers” in their pocket, and asking the right questions to guide people’s thinking.

Observations

The greatest lesson I learned from this book was the value of weekly developmental observations, coupled with “bite-sized action steps that allow a teacher to grow.” As the author notes: “you don’t get results by placing your best teachers strategically – you get them by coaching each and every teacher to do excellent work.” Finally, an alternative to pointless graded observations, where we are not judging where teachers are currently, but coaching them to improve student learning all the time.

Planning

Bambrick-Santoyo remarks that too often teachers receive “insufficient guidance” in planning, particularly at the start of their careers. Much more, it is suggested, ought to be centralised, and planned according to “assessment”, which is labelled the “roadmap to rigour.”

Training

Quite simply, with professional development: “increasing student achievement is the ultimate goal… if PD isn’t changing how our students learn, it’s useless.” Bambrick-Santoyo posits that “effective PD must start by answering a basic question: what will teachers be able to do at the end of this session?” The benefits of this are maximised by building in time to make the PD relevant to current practice: “giving teachers time to apply their learning is the difference between an engaging afternoon and sustained improvement in instruction.”

Pupil ethos

It is hard to argue with the assertion that “in schools with strong cultures, students receive a continual message that nothing is as important – or as engaging – as learning.” Bambrick-Santoyo advises that the top leaders “transform their vision into meticulously built systems.”

Staff culture

The culture of the school needs to be embodied by both staff and students, and care must be taken of teachers: “when teachers are out with friends or family, what do you want them to say about your school? How do you want them to feel?” The author advises being careful to pick up non-verbal signs from teachers, as not everything (anything?) is captured in formal surveys. Interestingly, Bambrick-Santoyo notes that: “it’s imperative that a leader confront warning signs as they come. Initially, if a teacher seems disengaged during professional development, a leader may be tempted to let it go; perhaps the teacher’s having a bad day… Yet unless it is addressed immediately, it is likely to weaken your culture.” We must always be vigilant to uphold our school culture; one small chink can undermine the entire organisation. The best way to reinforce culture is to continually reference the school’s mission: “by emphasising a common mission, the leader creates an internal motivation to work harder rather than imposing yet another external incentive to perform.”

Yet this is clearly not a blueprint we can pick up and apply to any school indiscriminately. Only those who are observant and have great listening skills will pick up on how to implement these ideas effectively for the context in which they find themselves.

Not only that, it is clear to me that leadership is about vision, and it is only when you harness the belief and motivation of the whole staff body to buy into that vision do these aspects work most effectively: as Bambrick-Santoyo states, “the core principle of a staff culture turnaround is that teachers need to know the school’s core mission… and must be unified in putting it into practice.” But I am not sure it is a book that will tell you how to have a vision, or how you can inspire others to believe in it: that can only come from your own beliefs, which are often informed by experience. And if you can’t imagine what is possible, you need to see a great school in action. And, of course, if you can’t work out why all kids deserve that then it’s not a book you’re in need of.

So far, this series has explored leadership, curriculum, assessment and teaching. The final post will be on school ethos.

How I plan lessons

This half term, the scheme of work for my ever delightful year 10 class is organised to produce a few pieces of coursework. The general idea is that they are exposed to a number of texts – poems, stories, news articles – and along the way they practice the key skills needed to complete the coursework. They produce so many pieces for no reason apart from variety – it lets them stretch their imagination.

This worked beautifully with year 10 last year, but I’ve noted before that my new year 10 class are in need of more. They need more exposure to the very greatest texts, with more challenge and more support at the very same time. Over Christmas, I decided that the only way I could make them write more eloquently was to make them read more eloquent writing. Poems and articles had to go – we were going to go all in for the short story.

What did they need from this term? The most glaring omission was vocabulary – they needed to know many, many, many more words. The texts I would choose would have to be complex. They needed to describe in more detail, and use more unusual images in their writing – I would tear my hair out if I had to read about one more “clear blue sky” or anything that was “shining like diamonds.”

The result is a lengthy scheme of work, which includes a few lessons excerpted below on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “The Rich Boy.” Last week, I sent the lessons to our resident NQT (who also happens to be one of the most accomplished teachers I’ve yet encountered – I feel like with every observation, she’s giving me CPD) who commented: “these are amazing.” (They’re not; she’s very generous.) “Did they take you ages to make?”

And honestly? They really didn’t. I think once I’d cracked the “planning formula”, every lesson became simple to plan. My wonderful first and second year mentor (who has taught me everything I know – I should definitely rename this blog: “What Carly told me about teaching”) told me the key steps to planning a lesson, and the order you do them in. I share this wisdom now.

1. Plan the learning objective

What do you want students to learn in this lesson? No, what exactly? Think about what they can realistically either learn, practice or revise in the time given.

 2. Plan the key task

And in English, this should, with very few exceptions, be an extended paragraph. The question should invite them to show you what they have learned. For a long time, I pasted my objective onto this slide to remind me of this.

3. Plan the plenary

How will you check immediately, there and then, that they have understood? How will you address misconceptions? How will you extend the top end? How will you invite questions on the learning? How will you make students project their thoughts forward to the next lesson? A plenary should probably address one of these questions, depending on the specific context of your lesson in the scheme of work.

4. Plan the starter

This should be something every single student in the room can do immediately. It needs to be open enough to allow students to extend their ideas (there is no point in being halfway through the register and having seven students thumb-twiddling). Ideally, it should engage students’ thoughts. The harder the class, the more important this latter point becomes.

5. Plan everything else

What is the “stuff” that students will do between the start and end of the lesson to enable them to accomplish their writing task to a high level of competency? In the lessons below, this is reduced to: read. Learn the new words. Discuss the key questions. Review the key skills. More accomplished teachers than I will insert their exciting, bell/whistle moments here. I’ve never been good at this creative ilk of teaching, and almost all of my lessons are identical. (I tell myself this is good for students in a different way; the rhythm of my lesson will always be the same, giving them security and certainty. I acknowledge I should try to mix it up more.)

I’ve shared the series of lessons below. I’m not especially proud of them; they’re not my “best work.” But these are lessons that work, teach students new things, and did not take me any time at all to make. And, for an NQT in particular, that is vital.

The Rich Boy lessons