February Bright Spots

One of the highlights of my working week is visiting classrooms on the lookout for our Teaching and Learning ‘bright spots’. For those unfamiliar with the term, we borrowed the idea from Shaun Allison at Durrington High School (his excellent blog is at www.classteaching.wordpress.com) who in turn borrowed it from the inspirational authors Chip and 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:

In Michelle’s Y9 drama lesson, detailed knowledge of her students allows her to be very precise in choosing partners for a paired activity. The rationale for this is shared openly with students with warmth and humour, but there is never any doubt about who is in control.

  • “You’re a giggler so I need to put you with someone who’ll keep you in check”
  • “You’ll really push him, and stretch his characterisation?”
  • “Make sure he keeps you on task and doesn’t let you lose focus”

The effect: lots of well-balanced pairs leading to some excellent dramatic dialogues based on this scene.

There was some excellent bouncing of questions around the classroom in Carl’s Y9 history lesson, and he makes sure that all students are challenged to answer more deeply, often following up with a “Why?” or “How would that make you feel, if you were in the same situation?”. In particular I liked the rally created between two students, each very eager to one-up the other one’s response, with a simple “What do you think about his answer?” Doug Lemov calls this one Stretch-It.

Dropping in to Tom’s Y10 English lesson as they were completing writing assessments reminded me that often the best learning takes place when embedded routines and careful preparation have combined to create an environment that needs very little teacher input at all. There was an electrifying – although silent! – buzz of purposeful practice, and plenty of evidence of the teaching processes that had led up to this point in the carefully-crafted plans that students were working from.

Ash’s science lessons are characterised by formidable subject knowledge, wonderful explanations and a real warmth and fondness for his students. I can’t think of many other teachers who can hold the attention of Y10 boys on the invagination of phagocytes by white blood cells without raising so much as a titter, and would trust his students enough to carry out a live demo of his own patella reflex (i.e. shutting his eyes and inviting a student to hit him on the knee with a ruler!) It was in Ash’s lab this week that I also observed some of the most subtle differentiation I’ve seen for a while – in full flow and without breaking rhythm, discreetly writing out a key word spelling on a mini-whiteboard for a student he’d noticed was struggling.

IMG_1426The iterative design process is the current focus for Julia’s Y8 DT students, who are completely used to the idea of evaluating and improving their own design decisions to meet a brief. When I dropped in, they were busy creating nets of 3D shapes and evaluating them as potential moulds for their concrete clock designs. Plenty of cross-curricular links to maths here, but also open-ended differentiation (all the way from a humble cube to a compound solid formed from three tetrahedra!) and an incredible level of creativity and independence shown by students, all facilitated by precise questioning from the teacher.

In several classrooms it was great to see some really effective use of our no-hands up strategies to make sure all students are fully engaged and accountable for their learning. Jason’s use of Cold-Call in maths meant that when he asked students to spot a pattern in the questions they had just answered, they all had something ready to contribute; while Jane opted to use Nominate in French for the same purpose – it was great to see you stick to this despite several hands creeping up at times!

I overheard a great snippet of growth mindset language in Lorraine’s Y10 maths lesson: “You know how much your muscles hurt the first time you go running, but then it gets easier as you get used to it? Thinking is the same, you’ve got to exercise your brain so it doesn’t hurt so much!” This came as her students were making good formative use of a test they’d completed the previous lesson – identifying the areas they hadn’t done so well in (yet!) and working in pairs to re-attempt them.

Still in maths, Colin also encourages his students to think harder by never letting anyone ‘opt out’ and accept a partially-correct answer. Some of his re-tracking phrases that I loved were “It is something to do with that 5…” and “That’s not quite it, but I like how you’re focusing on that 23…” In both cases, the student who’d got it wrong to start with managed to come back with an improved answer. Another gem in this lesson is the students’ unbidden use of correct mathematical vocabulary such as “inverse” instead of “opposite”.

Finally, Mark emailed me a simple technique and resource he’s been using in business studies lessons to scaffold higher-order responses from his students. The ‘Donut Matrix’ has come out of some of the work Mark has been doing through our TLCs and in his words is “easy to use and so effective”.

You work from the outside to the inside (effectively going up in levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy). I have found this hugely effective here so far for students in teams and all have to participate.

See for yourself here: Marketing Mixed UP TASK


About Stacey Partridge

Assistant Principal responsible for Teaching & Learning and CPD, Stem, Transition & primary liaison. Applied Learning Quality Nominee, CEIAG, Prince's Trust and SMSC. Wellacre Academy Flixton, Greater Manchester
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