Guest post by @Treagie : Pimp your lessons

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I’ve always thought that leadership is about doing the right things as opposed to doing things right (not my saying).  In leadership, this often means empowering other people and taking a back seat and letting other develop and take the credit.  This approach has enabled Priory Geography to explore a wide range of projects and increase our headline A*-C by an average of 12% each year (although we still have work to do on achievement).  Sometimes, I wonder if this is a politically wise move, but I don’t really care.

Part of my new role (leading teacher learning) is to provide an ‘Induction’ programme for new teachers and others who wise to pop along.  Traditionally, this has been delivered by the ‘experts’ who have been teaching a long time and as such talk from the perspective of ‘having already made it.’  So, to mix things up I’ve asked NQT+1 teachers to run some of the sessions.  This allows me to introduce Hannah, who is far more creative in her approach than I am.  Check out her blog here. I love Hannah’s pedagogic risk taking approach.  Anyway, I’ll stop talking:

“Towards the end of my NQT year, I was asked to put together a talk on innovative teaching practices for this year’s NQTs because I had "gained a reputation" for basically giving things a go. I’ve always been fond of trying out new things and whilst, in my personal life, it’s resulted in me having a ridiculous number of non-starter social media profiles; in my professional life, it would seem that it means I’m willing to try new ideas on for size. This afternoon, I gave my presentation and was pleased with how well it went.

So, here are my top tips for trying out some new ideas in your lessons…

1. Learning should be fun!!

Innovation in teaching is not just about ticking boxes and trying to engage the kids, it is also about keeping your teaching style fresh and making it fun for you too. Before a particularly important observation last year, I trialed my lesson with a lovely Year 7 class. Their main feedback was that they like lessons more when we’re enthusiastic and excited. Think about it: if you go to a concert and the front man stands still and just does the bare minimum, do you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth? No. Nor do the kids. If you’re excited then they’re excited too.

2. Group work.

Group work is one of the most powerful tools in the modern teacher’s toolbox. However, ensuring that all students are fully engaged is tricky and often seems like an unmanageable task. Enter: Kagan and his myriad of group work-based strategies, designed to engage all students from the shiest to the most confident. There are books and online resources fit to burst with strategies which will best meet your subject needs and to best fit the lesson stage you require it for. My favourite involves students creating co-operative notes via making paper airplanes and flinging them around the room.

3. Higher thinking skills.

When Every Child Matters was brought into force a few years ago, the emphasis was placed on preparing students for the real world as well as for their exams. One of the best ways of fulfilling this teaching requirement is by implementing strategies which develop the student’s higher thinking skills. I highly recommend DeBono’s Thinking Hats, which encourages students to approach problems/ideas/subjects from a specific thinking point of view. For example, ‘Adopt the yellow hat and discuss only the benefits and positive outcomes which come from this.’ Google it and give it a go!

4. Critical thinking skills.

Much like above, the ability to think critically can help students to access the media without being manipulated. I love using Socratic Circles in my lessons which involve the kids discussing a particular subject following a stimulus. I take a total backseat and just let them run with it. The idea is that the class are divided into two: one group sits around the table in the middle and discusses their views and opinions, whilst the second half sit on tables and ‘look in’ on the conversation. The latter gives feedback after the discussion which can be a peer assessment of who did/didn’t contribute well, or it can focus more on the learning objective and ask them to draw conclusions from the discussion. Then they swap round. The idea is that they listen to one another and feed off of one another to think critically. It works like a dream with high and low ability students.

5. Review your progress.

The first few times I tried out different things in lessons, it didn’t go well. In fact, the other week, I tried out Socrative.com for the first time and it was a total bust; the activity I pictured taking ten minutes ended up taking up forty and completely destroyed the lesson’s momentum. I will try again though. If the kids get it wrong, we set them a target which will help them to do better next time. So, what better way of improving your teaching practice than by doing the same? If it goes wrong, try not to be disheartened: chalk it up to experience, learn from it, try again.

6. Structure

Carefully structure your lessons. Lay down the ground rules and stick to them. I find that being extra strict the first time you try something is a good idea because it encourages the kids to realise that they need to take it seriously for it to work. But, structure is the most important element – plan your timings, consider your class, use your PowerPoint to direct the lesson. Hands-off teaching is great but it’s a fine balance between taking a step back and being totally in control of proceedings.

The main tip is to just have a go!! There’s loads of excellent ideas out there waiting for you to try.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, or want to follow my adventures in trying new-fangled teaching methods, you can do as at my blog, here: http://treagie.blogspot.co.uk/

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!”

One Response

  1. Great blog, it's always good to take risks to ensure that teaching practice doesn't stagnate and become dull for students and teachers. It sounds like you're creating environment in which taking risks and trying things out is encouraged, which is great!

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