Saturday, 23 February 2013

Blog Sync 2: Motivating Pupils and Me

Where on earth has February gone? It seems like only yesterday that we were eagerly writing our first ever Blog Sync posts and 'handing in our homework' to Christopher Waugh with eager faces, bright eyes and impossibly bushy tails.   February is a short month and boy can a lot happen in a short space of time in a school.  

Some of you may know that my current school is, after a recent inspection under the new regime, in what we can politically correctly phrase as 'trying circumstances' . Having chatted and scanned Twitter about this very topic, this is clearly not unique to me and my school. It is not a pleasant place to be and as @kevbartle has tweeted to me in his Bartle way, 'it is often darkest before the dawn.'  

Therein lies my quandary.  Being in a core subject when the OFSTED verdict on your department is, well, bad things can get very difficult in deed. 

My friends in my department and I are in what mariners would call 'the doldrums'.  The sea is flat and glassy and we feel stuck, anchored to the spot in fear of what might be if we don't 'do this' or 'do that' as instructed by 'the powers that be'.  We know much of this is to turn our slow tanker around, to push our school onwards to better things and away from category 4. However, I must add before I continue, that our not so new anymore Head Teacher absolutely knows what she is doing and is the best person to not only move us forward, but make sure we are pointing in the right direction. 

Back to the theme of the blog:  How to do as this blog post title suggest, 'motivate pupils' when you have to first deal with your own levels of motivation as you step  into that room so that you can do what you signed up to do in the first place; engage pupils in learning and loving your subject? 

Well, one of the things is to keep in my head a comment made to me by an AST in my NQT year: "Your first duty is to make your pupils love your subject."  As we sit in 'the doldrums' I think of this as I walk into my classroom.

The other big thing that keeps me motivated will be no surprise, it is Twitter.  I have eulogised about it in a post called 'Metamorphosis' which you can read here so I'll not regurgitate it in this post. It is Twitter's collaborative rabble of butterflies that has enabled me, and so my pupils, to make marginal gains in lessons which I think has motivated us in equal turn.  Therefore, the best thing for me to do now is write and reflect upon these marginal gains as fuelled by Twitter.

1. Getting my head around and trying out SOLO in my lessons. 

This was initially triggered by a @Ukedchat many moons ago; followed by reading numerous blog posts by @LearningSpy, @lisajaneashes, @ICTEvangelist and latterly @aknill. I have introduced it most successfully with my Year 13 English Language and Literature class of 5 lovely ladies. 
      I owned up to never having used it before when I introduced it to them; admitted it may all go horribly wrong at any given moment and then we gave it a whirl. The SOLO Taxonomy was grasped easily by them and they liked how visible it made their progress in lessons to them and I. This became most apparent when I recently planned a lesson using SOLO to 'round up' The Crucible. The clear stages of progression in the lesson were easily structured around the taxonomy, and combined with John Sayers Question Grid, enabled them to finally be courageous enough to articulate Extended Abstract thinking. SOLO was implicit in the structure of the lesson I'd planned and referred to intermittently throughout the lesson to show them where they were, where they are and where they were they had arrived. 
  Recent SOLO posts by @deadshelley and @LearningSpy debate how teachers should use SOLO in teaching and learning. David Didau (@LearningSpy) asks whether we need to explicitly teach the taxonomy to students and if that is necessary to use SOLO effectively in your lessons? Whereas Jamie Warner-Lynn (@deadshelley) presents 'A Case for SOLO' an enthusiastic case for the defence extolling how well both he and his students have engaged with it as a teaching and learning tool. 
  Ultimately, we are all prepared to do what ever it takes in order to see our classes succeed. If using SOLO taxonomy works for you and your pupils. in what ever way you choose to apply it, then that is the right decision. 

2. Writing better Learning Objectives

In the past I have fallen into the trap of writing a Learning Objective that is essentially a task in a lesson. Not particularly helpful for my pupils or I.  After reading David Didau's 'The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson' and sharing resources with many fantastic teachers via Dropbox, combined with the verbs associated with the SOLO taxonomy, I have begun to write more clear, focused and purposeful learning objectives.  Consequently the pupils are more readily engaged at the start of the lesson.  Here is an example of what I did for a recent lesson observation that introduced the topic, 'The Growing Pains of Poetry' to Year 8:

TBAT identify the features or  ‘_ngr_d_ _ nts’ of a poem 

TBAT ev_l_ _t_ the featIures decided at the start of the lesson.

The pupils enjoy trying to figure out the missing words in the objective and they may even get a little competitive over it. It then leads us onto clarifying what those verbs mean in the context of what we're doing and off we go! Dare I even mention it as a subtle literacy strategy? Oh I just did...

TBAT = To be able to. Something I saw in the SOLO Taxonomy network Dropbox folders. I can't remember who I magpied this from but thank you!  The verbs 'identify' and 'evaluate' are taken from the SOLO taxonomy.

Gripped by self-doubt and nerves the lesson was over-planned and didn't quite go according to plan. I didn't get the grade I wanted. However, I know my teaching and learning intentions were good even if the execution didn't quite work. 

There are, of course, many more methods to try such as David Didau's idea of showing the objectives in a series of pictures or sorting the objective into a sequence - which are the most important key words?  These are already penciled in to my mental to do list for this half term. 

3. Increasing the level of peer and self-assessment by pupils.

My school has recently re-drafted its Marking and Feedback policy as has oue department's KS3 co-ordinator.  In each case there is a greater emphasis on pupils self and peer assessing their own work, something which I have wanted my pupils to be better at for some time. 

I have started doing this in quite a simple way with a Year 9 class that is a top group, large and not terribly easy to teach.  I mark their books and sometimes I feel disappointed in some pupils lack of care and pride in their work.  Previously I have been awarding pupils effort grades for the work I see and writing this in their books, but it seemed to have little or no impact and certainly did not motivate them. 

One lesson I began with the process of pupils marking their own most recent work for effort (following the school policy 4 = Excellent and 1 = poor) making sure an explanation of why is also given. Very quickly pupils noticed when they had worked well in a lesson or not, one commenting, "I didn't have a great lesson Miss, look there's not much work." Which has at least focused them on how productive and motivated they are in a lesson.  Before the lesson ended another pupil suggested, "Next time we should swap books and mark each others."  I beamed at him proudly and made sure we did this next time. 

I have as yet, not given definitions as to what a grade 4 of Excellent actually means. This is deliberate as I would like to co-construct (thank you @headguruteacher for the term) this with them. Only be evaluating a range of work, their own and others, can they they then decide what they think 'Excellent' means and consequently work out how to achieve that each lesson. 

This was also done with a year 8 class the same week and within a lesson it was easy to see the improvement in the quality of the work from all of the pupils in the class. This is so simple, why have I not done this before?

4. Exit tickets

This also came as a result from a "Help, I have a lesson observation coming!!" chat on Twitter and a range of advice and fabulous ideas came my way from @KDWScience and @LearningSpy as I'd reached a fork in the road of the lesson plan and was stuck at how best to end the lesson. Both Karen (@KDWScience) and David Didau suggested the idea of 'exit tickets'.   This is what I did based on their suggestions for the same observed lesson mentioned above:

Exit Post-card

Write down on your post card:

Your initials in the address side of the card e.g. mine are GN

What you now know and think about the BIG idea:

 Poems always have to use the same ingredients

  • 1 QUESTION you have about the ingredients of poetry
  • Draw what you think your SOLO level is
  • Explain why
  • Give it to me as you leave

They were told their post cards would help me plan the next lesson.  This nugget of information motivated them to consider carefully what they put on their cards and showed a range of different ideas about poetry.  It also gave me a very clear idea of what I needed to do next time. 

This is just a small selection of marginal teaching and learning gains in my classroom.

Another BIG credit should go to @JOHNSAYERS whose generous sharing of his Question Grid and accompanying range of resources has improved how I have phrased questions in lessons AND with my lovable rogue of a year 10 class, motivated them to ASK questions about what we are learning during a lesson. Well, that and that they are now in teams of 'Montagues' and 'Capulets' while we are doing 'Romeo and Juliet' which they LOVE. Points are awarded for answering questions and I added for asking questions about the lesson topic which they are now doing with vim and vigour. I think I can up the ante if a pupil answers a question asked by a pupil in the lesson. Then I'll be more redundant and they'll do most of the work. Just how it should be.

 What keeps me keeping on? Well, it's best summed up by one of my favourite films, 'The Hudsucker Proxy'.

Tim Robbin's hapless character invents the hoola hoop:

He holds up his drawing proudly, with the plan view being a beautifully drawn circle; the elevated view a line.  And he says this:

Thank you for taking the time to read and if you want to read more on a similar topic carry yourself off to @Edu-Tronic's site and find many more blog sync posts:


  1. Super post and inspiring to one who is also struggling with motivation. Thanks Gwen

  2. Hey Liz,
    Thanks for such a lovely comment!

  3. Pupils under your teaching guidance will likely grow up to love studying. Thumb up for you man. ;-)