Evidence on Behaviour?

And next week, the Commons Select Committe for Catering will be hearing evidence from the latest participants of the TV show “Come Dine With Me.”

A year ago the newly appointed schools minister, Nick Gibb, made clear that he did not consider teaching skills to be important for teachers. Politicians clinging to ideology and bias is hardly a news story, and you only need to ask Professor David Nutt for further examples of government meddling in the sharing of evidence. More recently Gove’s suggestions – from 50 books a year for all students to the opportunities offered to tiny percentages of pupils through the free schools programme – have angered many who have seen them as stemming from a nostalgic view of private schooling.

On Tuesday, and since then, many teachers have been particularly frustrated by the Commons Select Committee for Education. They chose to interview some of those involved with Jamie Oliver’s controversial Dream School project. If you missed it, this idea involved asking university academics, Olympic sports personalities and Shakespearean actors to ‘teach’ disgruntled and disruptive students. To put this in perspective, they worked with the students for on average an hour a week over several months. They appeared to have little advance instruction in teaching techniques, but to rely on inspiring students with their wit, charm and considerable subject knowledge. It would be fair to say that their success was variable.

So naturally these are the people who understand behaviour issues in British schools.

The Select Committee has many alternative sources of information – but they seem to have forgotten that they asked for it only 3 months ago. This wasn’t a chance to get a contrasting viewpoint to reports from OfSted that emphasize the need for a range of agencies, counselling and mental health services and the use of teaching assistants. They didn’t refer to research from the General Teaching Council, or even their own Department for Education review pointing out the dangers of focusing on details of the curriculum at the expense of classroom management, especially for staff new to the profession. Many organisations, including the Teacher Support Network, have pointed out that free schools and academies tend to encourage competition rather than cooperation – making it harder for teachers to share ideas. And this is before I point out just how many world-class researchers in education could explain their evidence-based ideas, if asked. (@DeclanFleming did a great job tweeting his responses to the video, which he has since Storified.) Why are the opinions of a handful of non-teachers being seen as having equal weight to that of education professionals and the research they have undertaken?

The focus in government often seems to be on the small number of extreme cases, rather than on the persistent low-level disruption which makes life so difficult, and learning less successful, in classrooms over the country. Maybe I’m lucky that I don’t worry about students bringing knives to school. I’d just like students to be able to focus on learning, rather than a long series of exams and resits which they see as my problem, not theirs – because they know that grades matter to the school.

Dream School was about experts inspiring young people. The problem is that, to misquote Ben Goldacre, teaching is ‘a little more complicated than that’. Of course teachers – myself included – aim to inspire students. We are enthusiastic about our subjects and hopefully knowledgable. We hope to share our interest, the ideas that captivated us in the past and often still do. It was clear as the series continued that the ‘teachers’ at Jamie’s Dream School were also passionate and expert, and in some cases students were able to recognise this, even respond to it. But it was also painfully obvious how vital the other skills of teaching are to a functioning classroom. They struggled, partly because they failed to understand that teaching is more than inspiration. The kids on the show hadn’t failed in mainstream education just because Rolf Harris had never shown them how to draw a picture, or because they’d never dissected anything supervised by Professor Robert Winston.

To me – and I suspect to many teachers – Dream School was a huge missed opportunity. I would kill for the chance to share some of those resources with my classes, even to team-teach with some of those people. Imagine if instead of trying to reach just 20 students, a completely different programme had been created. Imagine if Tinchy Stryder and Alistair Campbell, Simon Callow and Ellen MacArthur had found out what teaching is really like – not by taking on a full timetable, complete with marking, but by visiting real schools.

Imagine 12 inner city schools being offered a schedule with a dozen visitors. Imagine Rolf Harris and Mary Beard seeing 5 classes in a day, supported by regular classroom staff. Imagine if Starkey, with his resources and knowledge, had been paired with an experienced and enthusiastic, professional. Imagine what we as teachers would have gained from the chance to talk to someone at the top of their field as a peer, to swap ideas and see what they were excited about sharing with the students. Imagine how much those young people could have learned if instead of playing pretend for the camera, it had been real. Imagine if Jamie had realised that teaching, just like history, law or science, is a career and a profession in its own right.


Places To Look

There’s some great resources out there for teaching. Lots of them are free, even.  The problem, usually, is finding them. I’m in the process, as many colleagues will be, of writing/rewriting schemes of work. (Partly this is because the government pushes for a curriculum review every few years, just to keep us teachers out of trouble.) But it’s far too easy to cut and paste sections of the old scheme, just to save time. I’m trying to be a little more systematic and decided to post about my checklist for things to include, with a particular focus on  where to find good resources online. The list will in no way be exhaustive and I’d love to get suggestions via the comments. Obviously most of this post is irrelevant for non-science teachers, although there’s probably an overlap with the rest of the STEM family.

General Stuff to Include

In a dream world your department will have spent an INSET day thrashing out what should be in a dream curriculum, put it in a logical sequence and the exam is an afterthought. Realistically, you’ll have started with the exam specification.And then:

  • content to include, possibly split into foundation and higher tier material
  • reminders of main ideas (especially those that get forgotten) and specify what isn’t needed
  • links to local electronic versions of worksheets and powerpoints – organising these is always fun
  • summaries of useful videos – these days probably files taken from videos or DVDs, or acquired from iPlayer or YouTube
  • more links or references to local resources (we use Birchfield and MyWorks) TK and the school VLE
  • details of practical work, clearly labelled as demonstration/class work/investigative
  • cross curricular links, including anything citizenship-related and especially careers
  • particularly good opportunities for ICT work, or L2L (metacognition) aspects

So that’s an awful lot of stuff, isn’t it? Trawling through what you have stored in your setting – if you’re anything like ours – means fighting your way through a dozen disorganized folders, a third of which are labelled ‘misc’ or ‘to sort out’. Half of the resources don’t match the new specification, so you need to link or reference odd pages, here and there. The person who knows all the admin passwords is off sick. And every time you find something you’re sure you can clear out, someone who’s been teaching forever proclaims they use it all the time and it can’t possibly be deleted.

This is before you start looking for new ideas, resources or suggestions anywhere else online, or just give up and ask on Twitter. (You could always tag your question with #asechat or #pimpmydemo, linking you in to existing communities.)

So let’s make it easy. Where could you look? You normally have a choice between sites with a small amount of selected, reviewed material, or huge collections with little in the way of detail or quality control. This presentation (not one of mine) describes the distinction.

The TES resources site has tonnes of material. It’s organised, and some of it will be rated by popularity. Like the more recent Guardian equivalent, the biggest problem is about curation. There’s little or no editorial oversight of the majority of submissions. This means that once you’ve had a look at the “editor’s picks” there’s no easy way to find what will work best for your needs. Signing in makes it a bit more difficult, and there’s no guarantee that what you get will be more than another teacher’s hurried worksheet.

I presume that there are equivalents to the science-specific sites I use, as the Association for Science Education is unlikely to offer much to a history specialist. The ASE site doesn’t have much itself as there’s a specific resources site, SchoolScience, a lot of which is ‘sponsored’ material e.g. Steelmaking by Corus. Searching for ideas though past journals (SSR and Eis) doesn’t appeal, although they’re an interesting read. The three secondary sites of the Getting Practical initiative, Practical Biology, Chemistry and Physics, are fantastic for all kinds of detailed instructions. (I’m sure the rest is good too but I’ve not used them as much.) The Institute of Physics has a specific page of teacher resources. The site SchoolPhysics, based on the great book The Resourceful Physics Teacher, has some very useful worksheets and animations. Instructables has some interesting ideas for science clubs.

For videos there are several more options. You can still access those from TeachersTV, although many of these are intended for teachers to use as CPD rather than specific classroom resources. Searching through them on this site isn’t great as you can’t filter easily. There are many great videos on YouTube, from Sagan’s “pale blue dot” as a film or an animation, to Mr Chadwick’s Mechanics revision song. There are loads of specific channels you may find useful, but as usual searching is your best bet. More clips are available at the BBC Learning Zone which offers a searchable collection, mostly short sections from documentaries.

There are many other odd pages here and there – this one focuses on post-16 resources, for example – but most don’t have enough to be worth checking every time. And this is the problem – every page you check, every different search bar, takes time. My blog, and many others (Snapshot Science and Fiendishly Clever jump to mind, listed on the right) will have some useful resources. But how many are you going to check before you run out of time?

Let me give one you one site as an example which simultaneously demonstrates the strength and weakness of the web. The National STEM Centre runs what they call an eLibrary and it has great potential. It’s a step in the right direction as it hosts resources produced by other groups (such as the ASE and IoP) and you can search using filters; it also groups resources into collections. There’s loads here, but material is only listed if it is stored locally. For example, searching for ‘waves’ brings up some fantastic material including videos from @alomshaha, clips from Brian Cox’s lectures and simulations from the IoP. It would be even better if a separate tab listed reviewed videos elsewhere, for example YouTube, or specific external websites. Those wider links could potentially make this the site to check, instead of one among others. Too many websites makes life harder rather than easier, if they don’t link to each other. What we need is a gateway to resources everywhere – the whole point of the web is that it’s connected.

If I’ve missed your favourite place to find resources, please add it in the comments. (EDIT: added SchoolScience which I’d missed from the ASE section.)

Reflecting On Behaviour

Sometimes I find myself wanting to talk – or write, or tweet – like a student. Not one of the mature, enthusiastic students, or the ones who ask challenging, interesting questions. I’m not referring to the kids who impress you with their optimism and their insight. I mean the ones who sulk, stick out their bottom lip and mumble under their breath, “but that’s not fair…”

The good news is that I’ve been sitting on this post – apart from a few more-or-less spontaneous tweets – for the last month or so. In that time the proximate causes of the original problem have vanished, coincidentally at the same time as Year 11 went on study leave. (Call of Duty/Farmville leave more like.) The bad news is that I’m still sulking because it feels like the consequences are lingering, and more for me than them.

On the whole my classroom management style works pretty well. I’m particularly pleased with the rapport I share with my KS3 and KS5 classes, extremes in age but often alike in enthusiasm. I try to follow the same guidelines we all aim for:

  • be firm but fair
  • be generous and specific with praise, focussed on effort as well as achievement
  • ignore minor transgressions where possible, warn when needed, then be balanced with consequences
  • start every lesson with a clean slate

So after some issues – and I should emphasize that I’m not denying them and am trying not to be defensive about them – I’ve been doing some serious reflection on how I manage my classroom. No teacher likes to feel that they’re being criticised. This is why I’ve tried to take time to formulate my response; I’ve been doing a quick audit of my behaviour strategies across my classes and asking a few trusted colleagues for their viewpoint. After all, ‘knee-jerk reactions’ can usually be summarised by the middle word of the phrase. Three facts have helped me to put the criticism in context, for myself if not for SMT. That I am happy to type this kind of comment is yet more evidence of the benefits of blogging and tweeting under a pseudonym.

  1. I used standard school channels to flag up the difficulties I had been having with these kids before Christmas
  2. The issues only appear to exist with a small group of Year 11 students who are known as ‘challenging’ across the curriculum
  3. SMT have only spoken to me about it after several of these students objected to being removed from a lesson they had chosen to disrupt

Of course, although this makes me feel slightly less paranoid about my teaching style as a whole, it doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. It just means that I’m getting things wrong with a relatively small group of students. I’d probably feel a lot better about the course I’ve had suggested  to me if I had been offered it a few years ago, rather than now. But that’s not the point, right? Any opportunity for external CPD is not to be missed, and I’ll be the one there choosing what to focus on.

After some reflection, I have several strategies that I’m putting into place. After discussion with a couple of colleagues, it appears that part of the problem is that I’ve not been kicking enough kids out, or that when I have, I’ve not done it soon enough. I guess I was trying too hard to fix the issues myself when it wasn’t really my job. The result is that in some of these cases, the kids feel a lot more entitled to feel resentful of me than they would if the same censure had come from a member of SMT. I’ve also decided that I’m going to stop worrying about school rules that don’t directly impact on learning, with KS4 students. They arrive to my lessons – in some cases from the office of a Head of Year – wearing nail varnish or jewellery, so I’ve had enough of being the one who picks up on it. Some scribbling has given me a new approach, which encourages me to think of sending them out first option rather than as a last resort. Partly this is adapted from some recent training I’ve done on triage techniques (probably best if you don’t ask). It may horrify colleagues who focus on ‘catch them being good‘, which I do, I really do – but with some a different approach is called for.

Behaviour Flowchart: click on the image for a pdf version

Another tactic I’ve tried is to discuss with classes about levels of involvement. I did this using a discussion about averages, of all things. I pointed out that there are relatively few individuals at the extreme positive (make great contributions and help other students by what they say or do) or the extreme negative (disrupt the learning of others) end of the effort spectrum. I pointed out that students who failed to make reasonable progress due to their own laziness, sad as it was, would not be the priority of a teacher who was having to deal with actively disruptive members of a class. They agreed that it would be unfair to stop someone else from learning, so perhaps making that viewpoint more explicit will be helpful.

I’m also going to ask some colleagues to do some observations of me with my Year 10 classes, to hopefully pinpoint any issues before they return in September, already counting the hours until “Leavers’ Day”. I’m happy with my subject knowledge, my teaching and learning side of things is going well (as checked by my recent quick audits), so this seems like the priority. Personally I think this would be more constructive than a course, but hey. One thing I certainly plan to do is to document any and all referrals I do make, although perhaps now it’s gotten to this point SMT will be more helpful anyway. I guess the biggest change will be to try very hard not to see referring kids during a lesson – as opposed to afterwards, for information rather than action – as a failure. I’d tell a student teacher that, after all. Time for me to get back into good habits.

Things could be much worse, right? Perhaps if anyone has suggestions of how they’ve dealt with similar issues – a small group of pupils refusing to cooperate, but also convinced that a teacher is unfairly singling them out – I’d love to hear your ideas. It can’t just be me, surely?


I Don’t Get It.


To me, these are probably four of the most irritating words a student can utter in my classroom. Not because I expect them to understand everything first time, obviously. But because to me that phrase seems a total abdication of responsibility on the part of the speaker. It means, “I don’t care if I get it. It’s not my fault that I get it. Make it all better for me.” Perhaps I’m looking too hard for a subtext that isn’t, consciously at least, intended.

I still don’t want to hear those words. And so I’ve come up with a few strategies that my students know I expect them to use. I say ‘I’, but in fact I mean ‘we’. You’ll recognise some of them, I’m sure – perhaps others will still be useful. Some of them are adapted from suggestions a class made when I asked them to produce a ‘best practice’ guide to asking for help. I’ve tried the ‘traffic lights’ system which can be helpful in gauging confidence, but I’ve found that asking students to be more specific serves a dual purpose:

  • it means I can more quickly give them more appropriate help.
  • by defining the problem more carefully, they can sometimes figure it out themselves.

I encourage students to use the 4Bs – Brain Book Buddy Boss – so that they have tried some things before I get involved. This means that when they ask for help, they aim to put it in the form “I have tried… and I still can’t….” This is so much more positive as I’m able to start off by congratulating them for trying. It’s also a nice way to reinforce the idea of a growth rather than a fixed mindset.

Alternatively – or additionally – it can be worth asking students to describe their problem in terms of Knowledge, Understanding and Skills. Defining the problem is the first step towards solving it. (I knew this sounded ‘quotey’ but was impressed to find that most online sources quote something similar from Einstein.) Efectively this is a form of self-scaffolding, as they are setting themselves up to try a relevant approach. There’s no point reading a glossary if the problem is with solving an equation. This practises skills our students will need, not only in exams but in ‘real life’. Students define parameters, figure out what gaps they need to fill and choose useful strategies. Getting them to analyse or audit weak areas points them in the direction of the solution, the same as checking confidence with an exam checklist sets priorities for revision.

I discussed my ideas – and how I shared them with my classes – of a Learning Journey. Many of the Purpos/ed discussions focussed on the idea that as teachers we are trying to equip students with skills, rather than facts; this blog post sums up the approach nicely. A very important lesson for us to share with students is that we as teachers are not infallible. When a teacher doesn’t know something, or struggles with a question, how we approach it is valuable; it’s often worth ‘thinking out loud‘.

(Clicking on the image of the form will download the printable pdf version)

I also make a checklist available which they are expected to complete if they struggle with homework. If needed, I can point out that the tickboxes are based on students’ suggestions, so they are realistic approaches. It not only gives a gentle reminder about strategies, but also means that leaving work half-completed is no longer the easy option.

If the above doesn’t work, here’s I Don’t Get It as a ppt.

Being a #teacherontwitter

This will be a very quick post (as it’s late and I’m hungry) inspired by this article in the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s occured to me before that although there are guidelines for teachers on Facebook, there’s not the same kind of emphasis on Twitter. Here, then, are the rules I follow when I tweet – they also apply to my blog.

  1. I blog and tweet discreetly – I suppose I could be identified, but it would take some effort and some luck – because I choose not to identify myself to my students. It may be about teaching, but its not part of my working life, so they don’t have a right to know. (The same applies to my colleagues and bosses.) This means a rough area and a first name.
  2. I never identify students by name and when I discuss them critically, make sure that it is general, not specific. I use their errors and attitudes as generic examples, not to ‘name and shame’. I follow equivalent rules to those I would expect of a doctor or nurse who tweets about their shift; about ‘patients’ as a group but never particular patients.
  3. I try never to produce anything that I would be embarassed to have read out in the staff room or printed out in the playground. Anyone who reads my Twitter feed will have picked up a lot about me. I’m married with two kids, I climb and run, I read a lot, I have an odd sense of humour (with a preference for bad puns), I’m passionate about teaching, skepticism and atheism. Most of my students will have picked up bits and pieces of that. Occassional tweets will have hinted at frustration with tickbox assessment, experience with mental health problems, a distrust for the law, and a strong belief in equality of LGBT aspects of sexuality. Make of that what you will; I’m ashamed of none of it.
  4. I am always aware that in my Follower list there are students, and some of them could be mine. There is no requirement that people sign up to Twitter under their real, full name – I didn’t. So if my students realised my ID somehow, or stumbled upon my blog, they could choose to follow me, knowingly or by chance. If in doubt, I don’t hit ‘Send’.
  5. EDIT: I’m an idiot – blame it on lateness. One of the most important rules is, of course, a positive one, rather than negative. It’s about what I do, not what I avoid. I try to help. I’m positive when I can be, constructive when it’s been a bad day or a long week. I share ideas, pass on links and try tog et conversations started. My recent efforts with #pimpmydemo are an example of this, but it’s (hopefully) demonstrated whenever I swap banter with a colleague, make suggestions, respond to challenges. All because I want to use twitter, and my blog, to make things better, somehow, some way. Hopefully I’m managing.

What are your rules for being a #teacherontwitter?

Reflective Practice – Better and Faster

Most teachers will have used some of their holiday time to think back over the previous weeks. We’ll have considered what went well and what could have been better; we’ll file some lesson ideas as successes and others as ‘learning experiences’. I’m not even the only blogging teacher to have been thinking along these lines, this week – see this post at the Creative Education blog for example.

No teacher is perfect. No matter how experienced or innovative, there are lessons which don’t go as planned. For many of us, the habits of detailed, regular self-evaluation we had as novices are less practical with a full timetable. However, we still reflect on good and bad points of a lesson or activity. The problem for many of us is finding time to reflect in any kind of systematic way. There’s not much chance at the end of one lesson to go through a detailed form or complex process, when we need to be getting the next one started. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Reflection – often focussing on ‘critical incidents’ – is hardly unique to teaching. My wife is a health professional and one of the formats she uses is called the Gibbs Reflective Cycle. Parts of it are obviously less relevant to us, but it’s worth a look.

The ‘action planning’ concept is often useful to give a focus to the process. It’s often considered a critical part of PGCE and NQT mentoring, for example. I find this more detailed approach useful for bigger problems (I’ve recently been struggling with a few ‘challenging’ year 11 students, for instance, and it’s given me clues about some of the more subtle causes and influences) but it’s specifically intended for events that are out of the ordinary, both positive and negative. It’s too lengthy to use every time. So how can we capture the day-to-day issues, the little things that add up over a week or fortnight?

Most issues in the classroom can be placed in one of three areas; what we know, what the kids do to learn about it and how we manage what they’re up to. Of course they overlap; we choose some learning strategies specifically to manage behaviour, don’t we? But thinking in terms of these areas will let us focus on whatever is the biggest concern – or the biggest triumph – at any one time.

You only need to watch Jamie Oliver’s Dream School to see that subject knowledge alone is a waste of time in a classroom. (Relatively) recent research (here and here) has shown that even at university level interactive learning activities make a significant difference to students’ achievement. And if behaviour management fails – something which we should remember depends on the consent of the pupils and the support of the school – then teaching is often a step too far.

It can be quick to check how a lesson went, by using these areas to guide our reflection. How you score them is up to you. It could be a simple tick or cross for each category, or a score from 1-5 under each heading in a table. You could make a note in your planner in your own code. Ideally there should be some way for you to record particular high and low points, whether it was a less successful lesson in terms of managing difficult students or an activity that really got the whole class engaged. I’ve saved one possible table as a pdf which is at the bottom of the page, along with some prompt questions. These are mostly Yes/No to make it easier and quicker – that is, after all the whole point of this blog post!

Subject Knowledge

  • Did you refer back to notes/texts for information, or just to check that everything had been covered?
  • Were you able to give extra examples or applications when needed?
  • Did you suggest useful extension activities or challenging questions to more able students?
  • Were there any questions you were dreading?
  • If there are areas you want to check or recap, do you know where to look?
  • Were you confident enough that your enthusiasm was noticeable to students?

Learning Activities

  • Do all students have the required/intended content recorded in some way?
  • Were your instructions followed by useful questions or a groan of “Not again…”
  • Did you use a range of activities? (you may use VAK or multiple intelligences checklists for variety)
  • Did the responses (e.g. during the plenary) show that students across ability range made progress?
  • Were the starter and plenary useful?
  • Did you tick the cross-curricular/careers/metacognition box? Should you have?

Behaviour Management

  • Were activities helped or hindered by your procedures and how you phrased your instructions?
  • For both positive and negative actions, did you follow your school/college strategies?
  • If students acted on your reminders/instructions, were you able to show that you recognised this?
  • Did you act and react fairly, both in your opinion and that of the class?
  • Did you prevent problems from escalating and so affecting more focussed students?
  • Do you need to follow up any of your actions?

printable: reflectivepractice as a pdf

I hope that you can see how this ‘quick and easy’ approach to regular reflection could help. A lot of us do this subconsciously, perhaps intuitively. But we tell students that by thinking about what they’re doing, how they’re learning, they can do it better. Why shouldn’t we be the same? I find it useful to look back over my ‘scores’ every fortnight or so, and in fact I’ve now allocated one of my PPA sessions to just that. Doing it a few days after means I’ve got a better perspective, and I can see how a series of lessons went rather than just one. That way I can tell exactly which issues were transient – we all have them, after all! – and which I need to work on. Perhaps you’d like to share what approaches work for you in the comments below?