Thursday, 24 July 2014

Holidays Are Here - Teachers, Take Some Time Off

So the holidays are here at last.  Schools have shut their gates for the last time this academic year and children are off, off and away - school a distant memory.  The corridors of schools up and down the country are peopled only by the occasional member of site staff doing repairs that they are never able to get done with us all getting in their way.  Classroom are empty, bar the bin bags full of a years worth of debris in preparation for the deep clean over the holidays.  




Every year is a wild and wonderful journey when you are a teacher.  Only a teacher can really know what you mean when you say this.  There are dizzy highs and some sad lows - lots of which are outside of our control.  It can feel at times that we are pulled from pillar to post with all the changes that are imposed upon us from every direction.  It can appear that we have no say and are not respected as professionals.  It can take all our strength to stay true to what we know while still being open to new ideas.  But we do it.  We do such an important job and we must remember this when times are tough.  We make a difference and what we do matters.  We have a duty to do our best and keep strong.

With all that in mind, it is so important that we recuperate and regroup when we can - WE NEED TO!  Summer holidays are the perfect time to do just this so take that time and enjoy it.  You will be a much better teacher for it when term time comes around again.

Yes, of course we have to spend some of our holiday preparing for the year ahead but don't let this fill your holiday - because it will if you let it. Allocate specific time to school related work.  Teachers, I appeal to you to make sure that you make time to be you this summer.  Do what you love and revel in it. (Outside of teaching of course!)  

Holiday To Do List:
  1. Read those books that have been piling up on your bedside table. 
  2. See the friends you have been neglecting during term time. 
  3. Take that trip away with a loved one that you have spoken about for so long. 
  4. Unashamedly, take a nap in the middle of the day. 
  5. Lie in the sun all afternoon with your music a little too loud and a cool drink of your choice in your hand. 
  6. Spend quality time with family and show them how much you love and appreciate them.
  7. Follow your passion and enjoy your hobby be it knitting, sport, writing or gardening.
  8. Take some time to relax - do some yoga, go for a walk or meditate - whatever it takes.
  9. Try something new. Do something you have never done before, just for the heck of it.
  10. Go on a day trip.  Get on a train or hop in the car and just get away from it all for the day.

Have an adventure this summer and go back to school refreshed and happy that you have had a great break.

Happy holiday teachers!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Back to (Teaching and Learning) Basics - Language in the Classroom


For me it was never an issue.  I was brought up with parents who spoke to me about the world and discussed things with in a way that allowed me to never feel out of my depth but always challenged.  They encouraged me to share my opinions freely and express myself well.  They bred a love of words and an interest in learning in me.  Once that base is there, no one can take it away from you - it is there forever.  I am eternally thankful to them for that.

There were always books in my home and I read like there was no tomorrow from a young age.  I remember never wanting book to end and mourning them once they did.  Trips to the book shop became a treasured time that I would yearn for.  I vividly remember scanning the shelves and deliberating for hours about which book to choose next.  One Christmas spent at Auntie Jean's I spent nearly the entire holiday holed up in the attic reading the box set of books I had received as a present.

Lots of our students don't have this environment at home.  They don't have access to books whenever they want to escape into another world.  They are not encouraged to share opinions and discuss things openly.  They don't have parents who know how to challenge and support them with their expression of language as they themselves were never challenged and supported.  This is not an indication of a parent's lack of love for their children and I would never want it to be thought of that way.  It is simply a different life experience.

The world today demands so much of our young people when they leave full time education whether that be at 18 or older.  If their expression and language use is not developed to a certain standard they are automatically at a disadvantage and life is tough enough out there without this avoidable barrier.  Teachers have the opportunity, no the responsibility, to bridge that gap.  We have a duty to give them the gift of language and all the power that comes with that gift.


Some Top Tips for developing student's use of language in the classroom:


  1. No Slang - Never accept slang use in the classroom.  Buy that I do not mean tell them off for using slang if the meaning is correct behind the word, but ask them to rephrase to make the sentence formal.  Once this is done celebrate their answer.  You don't want them to feel embarrassed for using slang but you want them to be able to express their meaning well.  Supportive correction is the way forward.
  2. Exam Talk - Getting them used to talking as if they were writing an answer in an exam is the fastest way to get them writing better in their written work.  If you expect them to write in full sentences and formal language in exam answers in your subject then you musty expect them to speak in full sentences and formal language.  If they can say it they can write it.
  3. Amazing Vocabulary - Share brilliant words linked to your subject with your students often.  Talk about their meaning, different ways of being used, links to other words, ways it can be used and their origins.  Foster a love of words through modelling this love with the students.
  4. Reading Exposure - Expose students to high quality texts and talk about them openly.  Share with them shorter extracts from challenging texts linked to your subject such as articles from The Guardian, research papers, A-Level and degree reading materials, books from different cultures and eras. The importance lies in how you approach these texts and the discussion that you encourage and expect form them on the text.  
  5. Formal Debating - Host a formal debate or two across the year on a question pertinent to your subject.  Expose them to the conventions of formal debate and get them fighting for their side in a controlled and eloquent manner.  Very powerful.
  6. Language Displays - Get some beautifully phrased and inspirational quotes highlighting key concepts in your subject up on your walls.  Literacy linked displays that can be referred to and used in everyday teaching are great too.  Surrounding students with excellent language use will seep into their language use without them ever realising it.  Immersing your students in language and inspiration to express themselves better can really get those that are day dreamers and ponderers to up their anti in terms of their language use too.
  7. Perseverance - It takes time to learn a new language, which is essential what some of our students are doing when we expose them to academic talk and writing.  Repeat, remind and encourage regular practise of academic language.  Think of different ways to challenge and test them in class and celebrate their successes.
  8. Vocabulary Journals - It is a great idea to encourage students to keep track of the new words they are collecting in their vocabulary.  Keeping a journal of new words learnt can really make a difference and embed the learning of new words.  This can be just within your subject in their books but works just as well across subjects on a whole school level in a cross-curricular vocabulary journal that they carry around.
  9. Language Frames - Provide sentence starters / stems to aid discussion and writing in class.  This can take the fear out of formal talk and academic language use.  It is important to remove this aid once the students are proficient in using them so that they can develop further.
  10. Never Dumb Down Your Language - it is important that you constantly model excellent use of language in your classroom and in your subject.  If you expect them to do this they need to see that it is possible and you are the best person for this job.  High expectations at all times in every way.  If they do not understand then explain or express it differently - don't dumb it down.

 Other post in the Back to (teaching and learning basics) series are below.
  1. Introduction
  2. Lesson Objectives
  3. Reviewing Learning
  4. Marking and Feedback
  5. Making Students Feel Safe and Valued
  6. Assessment and Planning Loop
  7. Attitudes to Learning
  8. Challenge
  9. Enjoyment
  10. Pace
  11. Expectations