It’s been my pleasure over the past fortnight to visit as many classroom as possible at Wellacre on the lookout for some teaching & learning bright spots for the start of the new academic year. For those unfamiliar with the term, we borrowed the idea from Shaun Allison at Durrington High School (their excellent blog is here), who in turn borrowed it from the inspirational authors Chip & Dan Heath. Put very simply, to continue developing we need to identify what we’re already doing well and ‘grow the bright spots’ in order to make our best practice even better. Here goes:
The most common theme across lessons I visited was a real sense that the bar has been raised for our students, and they’re working as hard as ever to meet it. There were loads of examples of really solid routines being developed – by some of our newest colleagues in particular, and the highest expectations being reinforced. In Katie McDonough‘s Y11 drama lesson, students starting to prepare for their written controlled assessment were comparing their work to criteria from the highest mark band. It didn’t matter that they’d just started, the message was clear: we’ll draft, improve and redraft until yours is as good as this.
The Geography department have recently moved into new classrooms, and have taken the opportunity to develop some really strong routines. I particularly liked Gill Perry‘s table monitor cards and key word bookmarks, which are already proving effective in improving students’ independence.
As a T&L focus across the school this term, we’re all working on using Cold-Call as our main questioning routine (If you want to learn more, see this recent post from Doug Lemov), so after only two weeks it’s really encouraging to see the impact it’s having on our students. In Lisa Fallon’s Y11 photography class, it was almost possible to see the boys’ mental gears turning as they realised that any one of them could be chosen to respond. Lisa doesn’t let them get away with surface-level answers either, often combining Cold-Call with Stretch It to push students towards deeper thinking. New maths teacher Chris Hume uses cold-calling as a time-efficient way of reviewing his Do Now, while over in MFL Celine Cesbron has made the technique her own by adding a routine for students to fold their hands on their desks – reinforces a ‘no hands up’ culture and makes it really easy to see at a glance who’s on task.
I always love to see teaching colleagues taking risks in their lessons. It often leads to amazing and memorable learning experiences, and even where things don’t quite go to plan then reflecting on the reasons why can be a powerful way of developing our own practice. It was really exciting then to be part of two such ‘risky’ lessons so close to the beginning of term – in fact one was the very first Y7 technology lesson of the year. Julia Brunning‘s Great British Concrete Bake-off was a fantastic way to engage students at the very beginning of their secondary experience while laying a firm foundation (pun definitely intended) of the stages of the iterative design process. Did your concrete match the brief? If not, better get mixing to a different recipe!
The second, and an early contender for risky lesson of the year, was a Y10 art lesson from Claire Niebel, and again a magnificent example of how to hook students in right at the beginning of their GCSE course. Claire’s own description, and a piece of student work produced as a result, are below:
After our trip to the Tate fell through, I wanted to recreate the Tate exhibition in my classroom. I set up a screen for year 10 , and gave them only the name of the artists and the title. Students were then subjected to artwork whilst other senses were stimulated, for example: In Francis Bacon’s work students looked at the portrait called ‘figure in a landscape’. They were immersed in industrial sounds and then given some salt to taste. Following this students were asked to pick up the bowl of crushed charcoal and smell it. They were then given a piece of chilli chocolate and finally I sprayed the room with cranberry and asked them to focus on the blue part of the picture.
Students then wrote what the image meant to them. Connor’s responses to all four paintings completely blew me away!
“This image made me thing of the world war as the salt made me have a dry throat as if you are front line. the burning smell of the charcoal is like the men shooting on the front line and the chocolate is in the bittersweet victory”
It’s worth saying that this lesson didn’t necessarily impress me because of how complex or ‘showy’ it was, but simply because of the deep understanding and quality of student work that it led to. For me, this is the ultimate measure of how ‘good’ any lesson is, and otherwise Claire might have put a lot of effort into arranging the lesson for little payback in terms of learning, but thankfully this risk paid off!
Finally, down in maths, I overheard some great student feedback for one of our newest maths teachers: “He makes us do harder work, but it’s like we don’t realise we’re working harder and actually it’s better that way”.
And, simply: “I like maths again now”.