Reading list

I don’t know if you know but I’ve been on holiday … missed me? Didn’t think so! I’ve been doing some reading, as most people do when they’re away. Looking at my reading list you can see that I really know how to let my hair down – over the next few days I’ll probably go into more detail about my revelations and little moments of eureka, but for now I want to tell you about something that the Tom Bennett book reminded me about:

But first a little caveat: – I’m not dissing the training that was delivered in the following tale. In fact it was well orchestrated and very professional and at the end of the day, the teachers delivering it get great results (I am of course assuming that’s a valid measure of an effective teacher, but that’s a whole different discussion) and they were delivering CPD as part of the drive to improve teaching and learning across the whole school.

Very shortly after I gained my first teaching position I attended a 2 (could have been 3) day in-house CPD course on TEEP. Now, if you don’t know what that acronym stands for, it is “The Teacher Enhancement Programme”. I don’t really remember a great detail about it, just being introduced (I’m sure there’s more to it than this) to a lesson structure involving: a bell activity, agreeing the learning objectives, presentation of new information, student construction of their learning, applying this new information to demonstrate understanding and then a review of what was learned. Like I say I am sure there is so much more to it, and this isn’t a tirade about TEEP and its effectiveness … I’m not going there!

In terms of the activities we had to do all sorts of different types of activities: hexagons, card sorts and even making a poster (!?!). The one thing I remember is the use of a gigantic timer and I got frustrated by being moved onto the next activity before finishing what I was asked to do. I was really confused as to “who was the intended audience” for the training but was initially pragmatic and hoped that I was going to gain a little golden nugget from the course. To some extent I felt that I was being taught to suck eggs and that it was assumed that I didn’t use activities that got the students thinking (The whole generic CPD is another future blog post!).

During the lunch break I came away confused and I spoke to Seager – he must have thought I was a mad woman (oh how little he knew back then!) and he tried to persuade me to just go along with it, and basically keep my head down (Tom Bennett would call this “feeding the beast”) but I wanted to see facts proving that this structure and all the activities (and moving on before I’d finished or in some cases even started!) worked but more specifically that it worked in context of maths. Oh how naïve was I? Of course there was nothing available and trust me I spent the evening searching for evidence.

I’d just spent 9 months of my life being fed the “3 part lesson” and now I was introduced to a whole new lesson structure and yet I never questioned any of my PGCE training. That evening I was so confused to the point that I went home and cried! Yep! It was born out of frustration, as I just “didn’t get it”. Let me get this straight … the training was delivered well and the activities were well structured but there was nothing NEW there that I thought I could use in my lessons … I put it down to my naivety and the fact that maybe this training wasn’t specifically aimed at me.

I genuinely don’t think that maths lessons, well mine aren’t, as simple as presenting one learning point and then the students going off and constructing and applying this information. Like most of these things, (and it’s not specific to maths) I feel that there is no “one-size fits all” lesson structure and I felt that I was being railroaded into some new initiative. I’m going to let you in on a secret, when we had to present our learning to the rest of the group by putting together a complete lesson based on what we’d learned I cheated and used a card sort and other activities that I’d previously made (shhhh!!).

lesson slidesWhilst I get the idea of “feeding the beast” I still get frustrated about doing stuff just to tick a box, so in my own inimitable fashion I adapted the whole lesson structure thing so that I effectively work through the cycle a few times in a lesson and this evolved into a format for SMART board that I use every lesson that incorporates: presenting new information (the maths bit), demonstrating and applying learning and then a review (it’s the maths bit and demonstrating/applying that I may cycle through a few times) with a final review at the end. I will use differing activities for the different elements and these could be as simple as a couple of questions on the board through to a more problem solving activity that incorporates the stuff we’re learning and maybe a multi step question at the end as a review to see how far through it the students can progress and in most lessons I will get the students to #RAG123 their effort and understanding (again I’ll post about that at some point too!).

I’d like to use this blog to say Thank You Tom for making me finally realise I was right to question the validity of this CPD and the whole initiative. At the time I genuinely (I use that word a lot!) came away thinking that I must be autistic … no seriously I did …. As I just “didn’t get it!” We all have an obligation to our students to ask questions, and to not just accept the status quo – I know that many of us have seen initiatives come and go and think that the “next big thing” will also pass us by and that may be the case with the next one, but I don’t want to just accept whatever comes along my way. I want to be involved. I want to shape what I do … after all I spend a massive proportion of my life at work, or thinking about work or even preparing for work so why wouldn’t I want to be involved?

In spite of my personal feelings at the time, I’m not against a universal lesson structure (OK I am really, so that should read “I’m not wholly against some form of standard lesson structure that can be adapted or customised dependent upon the subject and teacher” … granted, it’s not such a snappy sentence but I like it better that way!). We are all individuals and as teachers we need time to find out what works for us and our own subject and now five years in I feel that I know what works for me, and time will tell if it works in my next school (still very excited!!).

I am also pragmatic enough to know that what works for me may not work for someone else and vice versa. There really is no magic bullet, or vaccine that will make me a better teacher – there will be things I can garner from other teachers or CPD sessions that maybe I can use but for that to work there are two things that are required. The first is essential in that I must want to improve and without this you are frankly “pissing in the wind my dear” and the second is that I need time to try out ideas and strategies (by the way strictly speaking they’re tactics not strategies!) … at this point it would link me nicely to my next blog post about “managing people in schools” and the whole observation game…. So until next time pop pickers adios!

PS: – For those of you that have got this far I will reward you with a picture of my view as I wrote this post. This is what I woke up to every day and if anyone wants to sponsor me next summer I could quite happily spend 6 weeks looking at that view and writing some shiz for you every day!! Open to offers!