NQT’s: what to do with that 10% extra time.

By Alex More

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If asked what thing would make the job of teaching a little easier on a daily basis, most teachers would probably say a little more time. Time is something that tends to fly by making it a precious commodity in schools.

Newly Qualified Teachers, for the first year of their training, have a reduced timetable, 10% of time set aside but there is little guidance out there on how best to use this precious commodity. So, this blog is aimed directly at NQT’s and here within I hope to share some advice and ideas which I hope will help you maximise that 10% extra time and make teaching all the more enjoyable in the process.

Drop in and observe a more experienced colleague and do this on a regular basis. Find yourself a ‘guru’

There seems to be a trend of late or perhaps a feeling that lessons should only be observed for 20 to 30 minutes. Personally, I feel that to truly appreciate a great lesson and indeed a great teacher you need to watch the whole performance. Imagine going to a gig to watch a band and just staying for a couple of songs before leaving. To form opinions we must watch the learning evolve. To achieve this we need to be there from the moment students arrive, and be there when they leave.

Find out which teachers within your school have a passion for teaching. Ask the students who the great teachers are what it is they do that is great. Allow yourself to be guided by their responses, trust what they say, after all, they are the main actors in the learning process. Once you have your sights set on this ‘said guru’ approach them and ask if they would mind you popping in to watch them teach from time to time. They might be flattered or they might appear flustered, try to be clear about what it is you want to get out of observing them and tell them this. Like all great actors, they’ll endeavor to show you what you came to see, magic high paced and engaging learning!

Going in with a clear focus on a specific idea that can help you advance your pedagogical skills is invaluable. Perhaps your guru is a flipped learning advocate or has a special way of starting lessons, asking questions or challenging students through solo taxonomy. Tap into the magic and visit them as regular as yours and their time and patient permits. At the end of the process tell them what it was that you learned and say thanks. Teaching can be a thankless profession and your words could open the door to many others experiencing those magic insights.

Find an extra curricular club and get involved
One of the best and scariest things I did from week 1 of my NQT year was running a club. It taught me all about that hidden curriculum, the one that exists beyond the confines of the classroom walls, free from the shackles of academia, deadlines and student limitations. Here is a place you will always be valued, always be appreciated and it can be truly humbling. Give it a go!

 

 

Immersing yourself in a club or a fixture will allow you to see students interact in a different environment. It sounds a little clique, but barriers will be broken down and students will view you differently, in a good way! After 16 action-packed years of teaching, I am humbled on a regular basis by students behaviors offsite and away from the classroom. Here is a place you might witness a student who really struggles in the academic setting thrive.

Set up your mini-action research project and share the findings 

I wish I had discovered this during my NQT year! Perhaps a controversial suggestion but … 

Action research is defined by Cohen et al (2011) as a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions.

I like the idea of being an actor in the process of learning and action research allows you to get hands on. Practitioners who engage in action research inevitably find it to be an empowering experience. Action research has this positive effect for many reasons. Obviously, the most important is that action research is always relevant to the participants. Relevance is guaranteed because the focus of each research project is determined by the researchers, who are also the primary consumers of the findings.

You can pick an idea that interests you and run a mini-action research project. I have outlined a few ideas below. Remember, this is not a full-blown thesis, it’s more about the process that the end product and ultimately it should be fun!

Seeing the school through the eyes of a student. A small-scale action research project monitoring how motivation varies throughout a typical school day.

A small-scale study aimed at interviewing students about Growth Mindset

Focusing on collaboration in science and art. Observing how two different departments provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively on their subject.

 

Find a hobby, old or new and stick with it

Your NQT year will be taxing emotionally, physically and socially. Teaching is full on and can be exhausting if you don’t allow yourself some ‘you time’. It is possible to achieve downtime during the school day but it is easier to set aside some time in the evenings to see friends, pursue your hobbies and be human.

In-school peace and ‘you time’ I have found solace in a good book at times. I have found silence in the library which doesn’t tend to be the trendiest place kids want to hang out in. More recently, I attended a basic meditation session run by a colleague during lunchtime which was amazing. Some simple breathing exercises and a little space to relax will chill you out and calm down the fuzz that school’s naturally create. If none of the above works, pop your headphones on blast through your favourite playlist for a little time out. Any time out is good and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.

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Out of school but not out of touch. School life has a way of sucking teachers in. Don’t fall for it. Yes, marking books, planning lessons and checking emails all have a place but that place needn’t be every evening or even during your free time at work. Be creative, make some plans with other NQT’s, work colleagues and those who have no ties to teaching. Keep a balance, get out to the cinema to see the films you live, eat out, work out and keep that work-life balance firmly in check. All the research is synonymous is suggesting teachers struggle with work-life balance so start how you mean to go on, on your terms. I am not advocating for a minute to shirk work whilst at work but use your time to network and expand your horizons.

Smile, laugh and help people out This one doesn’t cost a thing but is invaluable to those who need it the most, it’s giving a little time to save them time. This is so easy but rarely administered in my experience. Why not be that agent of change? You might be thinking how would I go about this? There are a thousand ways to be kind but here’s just a few …

Offer to fix the photocopier or grab some paper and drop the copies off to a colleague who rushes into the staffroom to make some photocopies and doesn’t really have the time to fix the jammed sheets or empty toner.

Offer to take another’s break time duty so they can put their feet up and chill out for 10 minutes

Smile when no-one else around you is happy. Smiling is infectious and your efforts will soon catch on.

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The Complexity of the classroom

By Andew Currie

This week’s blog is penned by welcome newcomer Andrew Currie and focuses on the Complexity of the classroom. Enjoy!

If you sat down with someone and had to explain all of the decisions you make within one lesson the list would be extensive: from the tone of voice you use; to your positioning;  to the timings and the minute by minute alterations, you make to the complexity of your lessons. What Krievaldt and Turnidge (2013) refer to as ‘clinical reasoning’, an unspoken tacit knowledge which is developed over time in the classroom and so can be difficult to describe to trainees. So how can we unpick this complexity and begin to demystify this intriguing, intoxicating and sometimes infuriating profession we call teaching?

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Many of my reflections come from recent discussions with Joe B at a recent National Association of school-based teacher trainers (NASBTT)  conference for SCITT directors, where we began to unpick just how we teach teachers, amongst a variety of other topics. As part of the course, we were provided with a copy of the book written by Katherine Burn, Hazel Hagger, and Trevor Mutton and Edited by Ian Menter: Beginning Teacher’s Learning. This pithy and precise book is a great tool for anyone involved in teacher education and will certainly form a major part of any mentor training I deliver moving forwards.

Many people use the analogy of the complexities of teaching to that of the driving of the car; when you first begin your lessons everything is considered and deliberate, every gear change and an indication is a carefully choreographed series of actions. The whole process is exhausting and you begin to wonder how you will ever complete a three-hour journey when a thirty-minute lesson leaves you ready for a lie-down. So it is a small wonder that we have trainee teachers reaching crisis point and wondering how on Earth they will see out the term, let alone their NQT year or even a career; indeed many do not. This is why according to a recent National Education Union survey, 80% of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months. 

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If we consider looking at teaching through the lens of cognitive load theory there is a great deal of extraneous load placed on teachers from unwieldy marking policies to excessive use of monitoring and data capturing. However, that is another post in itself and the load placed on trainees is determined at an individual school level. What I am interested in is the intrinsic complexities of teaching: how well are they understood by trainees and mentors and how can a better understanding of them support us in making trainees hone and perfect precise skills, rather than drowning in a sea of unfathomable practices. In the diagram below CL refers to Cognitive Load. 

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Image from elearning coach
http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/what-is-cognitive-load/

In Beginning teachers learning  Burn & co make reference to Doyle’s  6 competing concerns of the classroom (1977) and through their  DEBT research project identify the 6 goals that trainees have when reflecting on their training year. By looking at these and understanding the inherent complexities within each one and reminding ourselves of how challenging these are for novice teachers, mentors and trainers can start a discussion around how to support trainees and prevent their progress from ‘stalling’  or even worse ‘crashing’ out of the profession altogether.

Pupil achievement

This is the goal of all trainees and their ideas of pupils achieving do not always tie in with those of the experienced teacher. Much is spoken about the progress made by pupils under trainee tutorage, however, for trainees’, this achievement may look very different to what the mentor may expect. It could be the successful completion of a task or the perception that the pupils have understood the concepts trainees were trying to teach.  

Pupil state

This is a biggie for trainees in the early stages of their training, I am sure that the word enthusiasm and confidence is a regular feature of many reflections.  Indeed the sticky issue of ‘pupil engagement’ is one that many experienced teachers still grapple with. This is a goal for many trainees as their perception of pupils enjoying their lessons is tied up with their self-perception of their ability to teach.

Pupil action

This is summaries by Burn as ‘what the pupils are actually doing’, and can range from the organisational challenges of a classroom to the behaviour management strategies. If the pupils are seen to be doing what is expected at a point in the lesson that is often good enough for trainees. However as the more experienced teacher will be fully aware, in the classroom, there is often more going on than first meets the eye.

Pupil knowledge

This could be understood by more experienced teachers as being closely tied to pupil achievement, however when unpicked has a lot more to do with the trainee teacher’s understanding of pupils learning. To what extent do trainees understand the current level of pupils knowledge on a topic? How regularly do they check in and update their understanding of the lesson or unit unfolds?

Self-learning

It is easy to forget that in their training year (and hopefully beyond) trainees hold a dual identity of both teacher and learner. Weekly they are gaining new knowledge of theory or strategies and reflecting on their impact on teaching; setting targets and producing evidence that they are indeed making progress.

Ingredients

Trainees and teachers can become obsessed with a particular strategy or approach and their focus on this can cause them to lose sight of the purpose or reasoning behind said strategies inclusion in their lesson. Indeed many mentors will have played out the following conversation in post-lesson feedback.

Mentor: So what went well in that lesson

Trainee: I used the AFL strategies of first of five

Mentor: Okay,  and why was that important?

Trainee: Well, my target was to include more AFL.

Mentor: Why do you think that was a target?

Trainee:

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Burn et al (2000)  also explain that within any given lesson trainees can also be subject two 12 further factors which trainees take into account. I won’t unpick these but as you can see there is a huge amount of trainees and their mentors to consider.

Burn correctly identifies that we need to find ways of “managing the complexity so that trainees remain confident that they can succeed, but without distorting or denying its reality in ways that will ultimately inhibit their learning.”

So the question is how can we ensure that the complexity which is inherent to teaching doesn’t overwhelm trainees?

One suggestion is that to be explicit in identifying these complexities with new teachers and providing them with the time to unpack their own perceptions of each of these elements. For example is their perception of a successful lesson identified by the action, state or achievement of their pupils? How does this focus affect their approach to teaching?  Which ingredients do they hold in high regard and what is the impact of this on their planning process? This metacognitive approach to lesson evaluation could provide new and experienced teachers with a greater insight not only into their outcomes but into their own understanding of what it means to them to be a teacher.

It will be of little comfort to newer teachers that the concerns they have around their practice are unlikely to go away, instead they will be replaced with other concerns which will continue to improve their practice. If we as more experienced members of their team  begin to share our own concerns about our own teaching, this can be a great relief to trainees and NQT. It is our job to explain the fact that whilst there will always be difficulties to navigate, and bumps in the road, the journey is worth it.

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References

Burn, K, Hagger, H,  Mutton T (2000) Beyond concerns with the self : the sophisticated  thinking of beginning student teachers [Journal of education for teaching]

Didau, D (2015) Does engagement actually matter? [ The Learning Spy]

Krievaldt and Turnidge (2013 )Conceptualizing an approach to Clinical reasoning in the Education profession [Australian Journal of Teacher Education]

Menter (2015) Beginning teachers’ learning [critical Guides For Teacher Educators]

Malamed, C : What is cognitive load? http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/what-is-cognitive-load/

Tickle, L (2018)  Every lesson is a battle’: Why teachers are lining up to leave [The Guardian]

National Education Union Survey Accessed at   https://neu.org.uk/latest/neu-survey-shows-workload-causing-80-teachers-consider-leaving-profession?page=1

 

Meeting student’s in the ‘magic middle’

By Alex More 

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The middle it seems is rather elusive in education.

We as educators tend to cater well for the very gifted with a challenge in abundance. We also work hard with students who require more support to learn. As a result and because teachers are human we often forget about those students ‘in the middle’. This group are nameless but will be known as NON  ‘Not Often Noticed’ for the purpose of this blog. By nature, our NON-students tend to be passive, polite and don’t demand our attention, but statistically, they make up the largest demographic represented by 61% of the student body in the UK (EEF study, 2015).

I once heard of an interesting idea where the teacher was asked to draw three circles on a whiteboard. In the first circle, the teacher was asked to write down the names of all the students who demanded the most attention. These students were mostly represented by either the students who required more support to learn or those that misbehaved on a regular basis. The second circle was filled in with students who were considered academically abler, an awkward phrase but filled with student’s who relished teacher challenge which ultimately demands time. The final circle was for students who fit into any of the categories above. Teacher’s sometimes struggled to recall these names, normally 3-4 students are temporarily forgotten, these are the ‘invisible students’ and they need our attention.  

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Could we be doing more for this group?

Perhaps, and maybe we should, but with ever-increasing pressures being placed on teachers everywhere this is unlikely to happen. So then, let’s consider viewing the middle through a different lens, one that is inclusive, one that does not discriminate and one that is not designated to any group at all … welcome to the ‘magic middle’.

Many students are good at staying in the middle zone, where it is comfortable and safe from challenge.  These are the students who are just getting by, as they probably will do most of their lives. While they are doing so, the opportunity is slipping past them.  I think we are right to try and draw them away from that passivity and help them grasp for better, even though it is our idea of better and not necessarily theirs.

In a recent blog Students as the main actors of the learning process Blog linkI discussed the potential role Vygotsky’s ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) plays in helping teachers work with students to bridge the gap between what they know and what they are yet to learn. This blog attracted a healthy level of interest on the blog, via emails and via the social media platforms. We love a good conversation that’s linked to learning, so with this in mind, the aim of this short blog is to respond to a few of those comments and conversations hinged around three main themes, or ideas …

  • More about Vygotsky and his ZPD work
  • How the ZPD works in practice
  • Bergers ‘magic middle’

 

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 – 1934)

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Lev Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist and a thinker ahead of his time. He was the founder of some unfinished theories which were considered controversial at the time. His thinking and ideas were widely suppressed by the Stalin regime and Vygotsky died before he could really explore the potential of his ideas. His work on developmental psychology, specifically interpersonal connections and actions within social environments have lived on, even if the ZPD and instructional scaffolding were vague notions prior to his death. His work has found new life in the hands of academic believers, the ‘Vygotsky cult’. His work was written in his mother tongue, Russian and translated after he died. Some critics believe some of his work was lost in translation and hint at limitations relating to socio-cultural theory. One certainty remains, Vygotsky viewed interactions between students and teachers as ‘social interactions’. The ZPD could be the framework to explain how teachers and students work together, interact and learn from each other.

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

A widely accepted definition states that the ZPD is the area between a child’s current development level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level a child could achieve through adult guidance or supportive peers.

In the educational context, usually, the classroom setting the ZPD occurs when the teacher gives the student some input or instruction on how to do a skill or task. It must represent new learning for the student. The ZPD is a dynamic and ever-changing place where interactions are exchanged and crucially relies on many variables. These variables often hinge on how the student perceives the knowledgeable other (the teacher or peer). Below is an example featuring our imaginary child Hope.

Hope is unsure how to approach a question that requires her to evaluate the impact of a high cholesterol diet on the heart (6 marks).

She has some knowledge of what the question is asking. In this particular example, she knows what cholesterol is and has a firm grasp on that knowledge. Hope is struggling to understand what is meant by ‘evaluating’. At this stage she requires help.

Cue the teacher and or knowledgeable other. The student is ready to work within the ZPD

(It is worth mentioning at this point the teacher doesn’t actually have to be present for the ZPD to become operational. The technology exists today that allows this to happen remotely, via email, Google Drive, and other online sharing platforms, even social media if working with knowledgeable peers)

Teacher – tell me what you understand about the question

Hope – I know what cholesterol is and that cholesterol can be good and bad. I don’t really understand what the question means by ‘evaluate’

Teacher – Interesting, there are-  good cholesterols and bad cholesterols. Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid. I assume you are happy with the difference between a Low-Density and a High-Density lipoprotein?

Hope – Yes got it, low is bad, fatty foods etc and high density means it’s got lots of good fats the body can use

Teacher – correct, so let’s focus on evaluating then. By definition, evaluate means to determine or set the value of something, to appraise it for it’s good and not so good qualities. In the context of this question, you are being asked to evaluate the impact. The impact is what happens, the end result so perhaps you could evaluate what happens when you have a high concentration of bad cholesterol in the body. As you mentioned, bad cholesterols are low-density lipoproteins. You could link these with health risks to really show your understanding and perhaps make a couple of recommendations

Hope – Cool, that makes sense I’ll go away and have a go at it on my own now. 

If the instructional scaffolding is sufficient, the area between what the student is capable of and what they are not capable of is reduced. In the example above, Hope had some grasp of the keywords but required support in the ZPD to gain the insights required to link the learning together. In this example, she needs the teacher to shed some light on how to evaluate. 

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The overlapping curves of the Venn-diagram above highlight in pictorial form the ZPD. How much time students spend in the ZPD depends on many variables. Katherine Berger proposed that we should view this overlapping area as the magic middle

Berger’s Magic Middle

Berger’s view on the ZPD differs slightly from the traditional view in that she viewed this zone as the gap between what a student already knows and what a student isn’t ready to learn. She proposed that practitioners should partially remove the scaffolding but not completely as the learner would fall over. Whilst this is hypothetical the reasoning seems logical and describes perfectly some of the students I teach. Educating students in the magic middle requires teachers to use a series of verbal prompts to ensure the learning is individualized.

These verbal prompts can be separated into two levels;

1st level: Private Speech

At this level private speech (the learner articulating their thoughts aloud) helps them regulate their thinking. The teacher can listen and judge what the child knows and where the gaps in knowledge appear to be.

2nd level: Inner Speech

This level occurs when the learner leaves the proximity of the teacher and is working independently on the task with the knowledge gained from time spent in the magic middle. Think of this as an intrinsic by-product of extrinsic feedback where instruction is modified for each new learning experience.

According to Vygotsky, at any given point in a child’s development, there are certain problems that the child is on the verge of solving, they just require a little guidance and input to get there. In reality, the limitations of the classroom, specifically the ratio of teacher to the child make time in the magic middle precious. One idea to maximize the impact of the ZPD and time spent in the magic middle is to introduce children as Learning Experts.

Learning Experts

Students are the main actors of the learning process, so why not trust them to teach each other?

Peer and collaborative learning scored an effect size of 0.53 in the Hattie ranking system (revised 2017) so worthy of consideration for educators looking to use knowledgeable children to teach or at least instruct other children within the classroom.

There is no blueprint for Learning Experts at the moment, it’s an idea at the embryonic stage. However, it seems logical to assume it could work. I recently completed a thesis on Flipped Learning and discovered by default that most of the students interviewed collaborated online via social media when discussing the flipped task I had set for home study. When asked why they did this their responses were consistent with thinking around the ZPD. Students valued the opinions of their peers and wanted someone to check knowledge with prior to submitting. You could argue this is a safe way to learn, it makes a great deal of sense.  

Learning Experts could be any student in the class. With our NON (Not often Noticed) group making up the largest proportion of groups within the classroom, perhaps becoming a learning expert is the NON-child’s way to get recognised. Furthermore, could we as educators train, skill up and trust these learning experts to teach and instruct others in the magic middle?

I don’t have the answer to this but it’s a cool proposition … I’ll leave it in your hands to decide and maybe try in lessons.

‘The middle path is the way to wisdom’ (Rumi)

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