1. Don't over-resource
Beautiful resources can really help to hook in your little learners and make their work feel special. However, be very careful not to over-resource your lessons. We've all been there - you're planning your next week's lessons, have a great idea for some awesome project and before you know it, you have spent hours making worksheets and guides for every step of the process. DON'T! Firstly, you don't have time. I don't care who you are or how efficient and organised you are, I guarantee that you have better things to do. Secondly, it doesn't always help. So, my absolute number one top tip is to think before you make! Ask yourself: will this improve learning? Will it be useful? Can the children do this without a worksheet? This leads into a little frustration of mine: I can't tell you how many times I've inherited a class of KS2 children that can't set their work out neatly on a page and are terrified by a blank sheet of paper. It does them a world of good to learn these skills and to begin to make their own choices about how to present their work. I'm not saying that you should never make a nice resource - take a look at my other posts and you'll see how much I love to make something special for their lessons - but consider what is worth your time. Spend your time wisely, preferably on things that can be re-used, and don't be afraid to download other people's resources. As long as you check them and adapt them to your class, there is no shame in using another teacher's ideas and activities - that's why we have blogs like these and resource-sharing websites: teachers helping out teachers.
2. Don't over-mark
Your time is precious. I am far from work-shy and completely understand the value of effective, timely feedback, but my time is limited and precious. So, this tip has 2 points:
a) When you plan your lessons for the coming week, think about how much marking you are giving yourself. If you have planned for the children to plan and write an extended piece in English, you know that you will need to be marking each day in order to feedback and help them to improve with each lesson. So, that week in Maths, aim for activities that you won't have to spend much time marking. Look for arithmetic that they can self-mark - this is not lazy, it is actually BETTER TEACHING! The children get instant feedback, can self-assess after seeing how they've done (we so often ask them to self-assess when they don't know if they're doing it right!) and you can address misconceptions immediately. All you have to do then is take a quick scan through to get a feel for what has been learnt. You could also look for more practical and team activities and games. The same applies to all of your subjects - take a good look at your week overall and make sure that you haven't planned lots of lessons that each need lots of marking.
b) You don't have to mark everything in-depth! Targeted feedback, linked to the learning objective and their next steps, is great and can really improve learning, but consider this: if they don't read it, it's not helpful!! If you have spent the time marking, build looking at it into the next lesson. Ask them to tell their partner what they did well and what their next step is. Also, remember that you don't have to 'deeply' mark every piece. Sometimes, it's fine to just focus on one point. For example, with longer writing pieces, I often just look for their next step. For Topic work, sometimes you want to ask them questions to extend their thinking and push the learning on, but you can't do that every time! Sometimes, a check and a tick is all it needs. Always remember: you are marking to feed back to the children and help them to learn more. You are NOT marking for your head teacher, the parents, or inspectors. If your teaching and marking has purpose and are helpful to the children, it will show.
3. Plan your whole week together
This one links to the ones above. Look at your whole week together, not just a subject at a time. The first things that I do when planning a week, is fill in a timetable overview. This is a piece of planning that I'm not 'required' to do, but it is the most useful thing that I do. Here's an example:
This helps me to 'see my week'. With this, I can see:
4. Be Flexible
Allow yourself to be flexible - don't be too tied by your lesson plans. I'm not going to lie, I hardly ever stick to my lesson plans! There are several reasons for this and, in my opinion, they are all worthwhile:
1) I spot something that needs fixing - we've all been there: you make a link to prior learning only to find that they haven't got the foundation knowledge or skills that you hoped they had. In this case, there is no purpose pushing on as if they have, just because it's in your plan. Fill the gap first!
2) They're bored - I plan what I think is exciting and fun, but they don't feel it. Change it! I have even been known to ask them 'how shall we make this more fun? What do you think would be a fun way to learn / practise this?'
3) I'm bored - sometimes I'm going through my planning in the morning with my TA and I'll just say 'well, I'm not in the mood for that - let's do something else!' I don't mean that I don't teach the objective or play party games instead, just that I spice it up a bit. Often, my TA will have an idea, or talking through it with her gives me an idea.
4) Big events - big things happen. Children notice. This could be a world event, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and the children will be distracted by it. Don't tell them not to think about them - they will and should. Show them a children's news report, such as Newsround and ask them how they feel about it, how it will impact them and, if relevant, what we can do in response (fundraising, prayer, supporting each other). Sometimes, there will be a big event in the life of a child. This could be good or bad. Generally, I'd address bad things privately - if they are upset about something, I try to find a time early on in the day to have a chat with them and check that they are okay. If it's a good thing, I guarantee that they will not settle until they have told everyone!! They want to share their excitement, especially with you, and that's fine! Let them tell the class that they have a new puppy or a baby sister or a new rocket-shaped bed. They will tell people anyway and this way, they feel that you are celebrating with them and they won't be disrupting the class by miming it out across the room!
5) They have an idea or interest - the children will often show a keen interest in a particular aspect of a lesson or will ask a question that takes learning in a great but unexpected direction. I know that we have objectives to cover and targets to hit, but children will learn better if they are interested and engaged. Wherever you possibly can, try to follow their interests.
The weekly timetable plan helps with flexibility - you can easily see how a change will impact your week and where you can jiggle things around to fit in. Don't carry on with a lesson that is not working - sticking to a plan is not conducive to good teaching.
5. Let them laugh if it's funny!
This one is short but sweet: let them laugh! We need to teach children to be resilient if they are unintentionally the source of the humour - if you are the 'butt of the joke', 'the clutz', 'the one who made the ill-advised comment', it is far better to learn to laugh it off than to cry and feel picked-on because the others are laughing. Plus, hidden laughing behind hands and sniggering feels mean. If everyone is laughing with the teacher and it's all out loud, it's not some hidden embarrassment. You have to apply the same philosophy to yourself - I have done all sorts of embarassing things in front of my class! Falling down, walking into things, saying the wrong word - it's funny! I maintain that it is not cheeky to laugh as long as they know when to stop.
So, there you have it. My top tips to an enjoyable year. Enjoying your job is SOOO important: for you, for your class, for your colleagues, for your partner - for everyone. With the new school year upon us, if you only make one resolution, make it to do everything you can to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your class, enjoy your lessons and you'll be a wonderful teacher!
So, this week I have been trying something new.
At my school, we use the Maths No Problem scheme. For those of you who haven’t come across it, this is a Singapore Maths scheme that uses equipment, textbooks and workbooks. The lessons start with an ‘In Focus’ task, in which the children discuss approaches to a problem and then share their ideas.
To prepare for this, I have recently started giving the children ten minutes with the textbook at the end of each day. They ‘pre-study’ the lesson. They just take some time to look at it. They think about it. They can discuss it with their partner. Many of them flick back to the previous day’s lesson and begin to make links between their learning. Today, one pair even asked me if they could grab the equipment to start to make tenths and hundredths.
Only a few days in, this is already proving to be a very useful ten minutes. When I start the Maths lesson the next day, many of the children already have ideas or questions about the topic. They have begun to think about the Maths involved.
It is also encouraging independence. The children are learning to be less reliant. They are using study skills and reading skills along with the visuals in the book. I think that as we go on, I will be able to accelerate through some of the lessons, allowing more time for using the Maths Journals, which are used for deepening understanding, explaining different methods and reasoning.
My tips on how to implement this
(...so far! I'm sure that I'll have far more to add to this once I've been doing it for a while!)
Plans to expand!
So, obviously time is an issue here, but I'd like to roll this out across more of the curriculum. My plan is to give them some notes to study before some topics. We have LearnPads, so I'm going to put some presentations, notes and maybe even video clips (we have headphones!) on there about grammar topics, Science units etc. It's very similar to what we did for revision before the exams, but kind of in reverse. I think it might have a bigger impact than revising, but we'll see.
If you've done anything like this, please do comment and let me know any ideas or tips! Thanks!
Don't forget to comment and share if you like this or have anything to add (or if you spot one of my frequent typos!).
This time last year, I’d just been offered my current job here in Malta. A lot of people ask how I found it, what the move was like, what it’s like to teach here and how/if they should try it themselves. Although I’d be very hesitant to offer advice on the latter, what I can do is share my personal experience. So, I thought I’d split it into a few significant parts. Here’s the first!
Firstly, teaching abroad isn’t something I’d thought about. I’m not sure why - it’s a great fit for us! I don’t think I ever realised how easy it could be. I was just flicking through Facebook (as you do) and I happened across a post from an ex-colleague. She’s half Maltese and had moved to Malta a few years earlier. She just posted that there was a potential position at her school if any of her teacher friends fancied teaching in the sunshine! I flippantly typed ‘don’t tempt me’ and, here was the twist of fate, read her post to my husband (then showed him a picture of a turtle wearing a funny hat!). I’d like to clarify that sitting at home reading Facebook posts to my husband is just not something I do! I don’t know why I read this one. He then uttered the two words that changed everything. Why not? Damn good point.
After messaging back and forth with my Maltese friend (okay, being honest, ‘friend’ was a stretch at this point - we’d never so much as been for coffee), I established that English was an official language of Malta and that knowledge of Maltese was not necessary for the job. She then put me in touch with the SLT, who gave me some more information.
It was great having someone I could ask questions of. Unlike the UAE or other places, there are not hundreds of English teachers in Malta and it’s a tiny country. Therefore, there are no Facebook groups etc where I could find information for expat teachers there.
Within a few days, I had a Skype interview lined up. At this stage, I made my husband do a trial Skype call, as I’d never done one before!!
The Skype interview was worryingly short! We chatted about the school and a bit about my experience and then I was told that they’d be in touch. I then didn’t hear for a few of weeks! I have since learnt that this was due to the illness of the staff member in charge of recruitment, but needless to say it was a very looooong few weeks! We didn’t know if we were staying in the country or not!
As soon as I was offered the interview, I told my head teacher. Every school and every head is different, but I loved my school and the staff there and I had been there since the day the school opened, so I wanted to be completely honest from the start. Plus, it’s far easier to have that conversation when you’re considering a move abroad than if you’re just moving schools in England: you’re leaving your whole life in England.
After a few weeks, I got the email with the offer! Yay!
Now, the pay here is very low. It’s almost half what I was on in the UK. I knew this before the offer came through, so while I was waiting to hear, we did some serious budgeting. This is absolutely essential. Moving to another country requires money. (I’ll talk a bit more about this in the next post).
I was in a great position to move abroad: I’m lucky to have a husband who owns his own business and works online and over the phone (recruitment). This means that he can work from anywhere. In theory. In reality, the tax laws and social security contributions in each country make a HUGE difference, especially to his salary. Definitely look into this for your own salary and your parnter’s if travelling with someone.
So, all that remained was to revisit my husband’s initial reaction: why not? He could move with his job, we have no children, we have no major financial commitments and our family are in reasonable health. We were just approaching 31 and have been together since we were 16, so we know how to handle pretty much anything together! Our friends and relatives are having children, which is not something we want so we decided to have our own adventure!
In my next post, I’ll write about preparing to move, clearing out the house, bits of financial info that might be useful if you’re considering a move of your own and basically everything that happened between being offered the job and making the move.
We've all been there: you share the WALT. You do the input where you carefully demonstrate and explain the learning. Of course, you don't just talk at the children anymore: you use mini-whiteboards to check understanding and you've asked them to talk to their partner at least twice. You then explain the activity (or activities, with 3-way differentiation) in enough detail that they don't ask you 48 questions before they start. Then you set them off on their task. Then they ask you 48 questions. By the time they actually start, the lesson is almost over so the activity is really rushed and there's no time for reflection or sharing. The result: they've done a bit of learning, but had no chance to secure their knowledge or explore the concept further. Plus, they're probably bored. All that planning was a waste.
But how can we avoid this?
As you'll guess from my page title, I like to talk. A lot. So I've spent a significant amount of time battling this problem and I've come up with 5 go-to ways to avoid it!
1. Start with an investigation
This one is easy really. Don't 'teach' them anything. Let them learn it.
For example, next week we are learning about speech marks. They're a pain in the bum to teach and there are so many rules! So, I'm just going to begin the lesson with the question How do we use speech marks? Then, I'm going to give the children some books and let them come up with a set of rules (presented however they like - see point 2). Then at the end, we'll come back and discuss.
There are some real benefits to this:
2. Allow choice of presentation - this means NO WORKSHEETS!
Teachers hate this: giving the children free-reign?? How will I mark it? They might be messy!
IT DOESN'T MATTER! Just teach them the concept, then give them a quick overview of the activity and off they go.
Example: sorting regular and irregular verbs.
They don't need a sheet for this, that you have to make, print, trim and they have to glue in. They also don't need you to tell them to draw a table or Venn diagram. Neither do they need you to show them 5 different ways they could present this. Just tell them to organise the words into regular and irregular. I give only 2 criteria: it must be neat and clear. That's it. You want to see if they know the difference between regular and irregular verbs. Some will do a table, others will fold their page in half, some will write regular verbs in blue and irregular verbs in orange. So you can spend the time teaching them what regular and irregular verbs are but not waste time on the activity instructions.
This works for lots of different activities. Most, in fact.
In addition to reducing your input time, this strategy also has 3 other key benefits:
3. Limit differentiation by activity
I VERY rarely set different activities or different sheets (I don't like sheets much) for different children. I don't like capping their learning, I don't like singling children out. I don't like spending my evenings thinking of 3 different ways to do an activity.
It takes forever to explain all the different activities and answer questions about each.
I tend to differentiate by support, expectation, outcome, questioning, peer support. Saves a ton of explanation time and your 'talking time' can be focussed on actually teaching the concept.
4. Just display instructions
Another very simple one. Don't talk at all. Display the instructions for a task and let them go. You can answer questions and troubleshoot as they go, but encourage them to have a go first. This relies on them being secure in the knowledge that they won't 'get in trouble' for doing it wrong - an atmosphere you need to foster over time. This one works best if they either have prior knowledge or if they are doing an investigation (see point 1).
Another option here is to display the task and instructions but don't ask them to start. Ask them to discuss it with their team and decide what to do. Then they could ask a couple of questions before getting going.
So, there you have it: my top tips to being a slightly less talkative teacher! I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!
I've said it so many times: "If only I'd known...!" So, here are the things I wish I'd been told when I started out as a young teacher, who thought enthusiasm meant colour printing and laminating everything that stayed still for 3 minutes, being prepared meant filling my classroom display boards before the children even set foot in the room and knowing what I was doing meant knowing what everyone else was going on about!
#1: Ask what the acronyms mean
You will be bamboozled with them at first: People love to drop them into conversation (sometimes deliberately, I'm sure) and you feel like an idiot for not knowing what they mean. Don't! They change constantly (case-in-point, SEN / SEND / SENDB), you won't have heard of half of them anyway and sometimes they're just completely made up!
#2: TAs will help you way more than judge you
"Don't worry! There'll be a TA with you for your whole first day to help you out." ARGH!! That is sooo much worse! So someone who's experienced, knows the school and has seen lots of teachers will be in there watching me make a mess of everything and silently (I hope) judging my every move?! Seriously, though, they know the kids, they know the routines, they are your biggest source of help. Still scary, though!
#3: Shave your legs
Some of the children will spend a lot of time looking at your ankles. Some of them will stroke them.
#4: You can teach
You've done your training. You've been observed a lot. Trust me, someone would have let you know by now if you were rubbish. That being said...
#5: You'll change
One day, you will look back and cringe at some of the things you did/said/thought as an NQT. But then, they said that about shoulder pads and they still rock.
#6: Tell them your name
Takes the fun out of it a bit, but my first name is not a secret or a dirty word. I just let them know that it's not seen as polite to use it. (Don't get me started on that one...)
#7: Stop making worksheets
Come on, people. From Year 3 upwards, 99% of lessons should be worksheet-free. They need to learn how to start on a blank piece of paper. That way, I'll never have to repeat the experience of asking a 9-year-old to draw a table, only to find them sketching their dining furniture!
#8: They're not too old
My Year 6s still loved their class minion teddy and sock monkeys. They also loved being read to (and no, not just because they could sit there and not doing anything! They didn't even want to go home if we were at a good part!). Let them be kids.
#9: Class decor is not a competition
Usually. Although, if it was, I'd better win. Just saying.
#10: Hide the felt tips!
No matter what you say, how clear you are, how many reasons you give (it'll soak through, they're too thick for the detail...), someone will definitely use felt-tip pens in every lesson! Just give them out when they are appropriate.
#11: Don't take mackerel for lunch
The other staff will hate you. They may even hang your lunch from the top-most rung of the climbing frame. Plus, no-one wants the children to ask them why they smell of fish.
#12: Let the walls display the children's work, not yours
I still struggle with this! Go nuts on your reading area, hook them in with a cool door, but let the bulk of the classroom either help or celebrate them.
#13: Stop laminating!!!
How do you make sure you are prepared? Why, laminate everything you see, of course! No. Just no. Unless it's going to be handled a lot and definitely used again, stop it! Wastes time, money and the reflection can make things hard to see.
You MUST have things you'd have loved to say to your NQT self! Comment them below - I'd love to read them!
I'm sure in every job, there are inconveniences to being off and leaving someone else at the reigns, but comments like "well, you might need your bones and ligaments all down your leg being broken, detached, reattached and screwing into a new place, but at least you get a few weeks off work" make me think that maybe it's not quite the same!
Yes, I have had the joy of sitting on my generous behind all day for the past 5 weeks, but at no point did I think "woohoo! Time off!". Okay...maybe going to sleep without setting my alarm for 6.30am...but other than that, there was a plethora of class-related thoughts swirling around with the morphine, from the educationally significant to my classroom organisation OCD! In no particular order (LIES: this is the order they appeared in my head, therefore my twisted priorities!), some of my top billers:
1. Can my kiddie-winks cope without me?!
Well, there is really no good answer to this!
No = worry: does the supply teacher not understand the specific needs of each and every one of them? Did I forget to tell him/her something important about the emotional wellbeing of any of them? This is the point when you really realise how emotionally invested you are in the children. Are they happy without me? This leads you to...
Yes = what?! They're happy without me? What about that special bond only I could ever possibly have had with them? Surely the supply teacher isn't as funny / fun / creative as me...are they? This is the little devil on your shoulder who secretly kind of hopes that they really miss you and their world will collapse if you're not there.
Of course, what you really want is far closer to yes they are fine but maybe with a little pinch of missing you too!
2. Has my classroom been destroyed??
When I return, what horrors will I face? A half day CPD session can result in terrors such as 3 glue sticks on one table and 5 on another, pencils where only pens should be and don't even get me started on trying to find a green pen! Maybe it's just me, but I'm way tidier in my classroom than in my house! Every single thing in there has a place. One of the first things I work on is respecting their classroom. However, no matter how well I think I've taught them to put things away and look after them, this part of their memory seems to melt away within hours of me leaving the room.
All this considered, what can I expect after 5 WEEKS?! Do I still have a full compliment of paints? Are there pegs with children's names on strewn all over the floor? And don't get me started on their exercise books! Will my topsy-turvy groups-friendly books just be stuffed without love into the nearest magazine rack?! Okay, so composing this has made me realise that these things are not that bad..surely...breathe... Maybe it would be easier to just burn down the classroom and start over...
3. Did they use my plans?
What answer am I even hoping for here?! If they didn't stick to my planning, then all of my hours were wasted! If they did, then did they not respond to the children's interest and the outcomes of the earlier lessons? I guess this has taught me that a good balance is probably planning the first week and then giving an outline of objectives and ideas for subsequent weeks.
4. Do I have 1500 pieces of work to write 'supply' on?
LOOK AT WHAT THEY HAVE DONE!!!! As you may know, I'm a big advocate of useful, succinct marking rather than a perfunctory comment on every piece of work. That being said, at least acknowledge their work! For 'right or wrong' type activities, have the kids mark their own for instant, valuable feedback and just take a peek when you get a minute, but if you've given them a next step or piece of advice, see if they've followed it. Let them know how they're getting on - if it needs more practice, checking, editing, or if it is just plain awesome!
Phew! This is probably one of my most cathartic posts ever. Just writing all of this has made me realise that as long as they are happy and learning, it's all good. I have faith in most supply teachers, particularly the fab one who I know has been covering me this half term. Please don't think for a minute that I think that supply teachers are unskilled or don't care - most have been exceptional. Yet somehow, I still can't stop worrying!! I've decided that it's sometimes far less stressful to be there!
Your pet peeves?
I'd love to hear your own over-dramatised worries about leaving your class (if only to reassure me that I'm not crazy!!!)
Hi! I'm Mrs P: passionate primary school teacher!