So, here goes…
Edu-twitter and edu-blogs have been a huge part of my development as a teacher in recent years. There is such great advice out there (and so many amazing resources!) that I did wonder whether I had much to add when I joined twitter and made this site. I’ve been toying with starting a blog for a while, and have been using WordPress to share a couple of resources (more on the way) but with a new academic year fast approaching, I’ve decided to jump in with a post about something that I’ve had mixed results with in my 8 years of teaching so far – new year’s resolutions.
I don’t make resolutions in December for the coming calendar year, because I never stick to them. At times, I’ve felt this way about my goals for the academic year, too. Things change all the time in teaching. Tens of times a day. The best laid plans go out of the window fairly regularly in my classroom, and that’s OK with me at this stage. I’m adaptable and experienced enough to reroute rather than be derailed.
What does frustrate me at times, though, is when some longer-term plans don’t pan out. Oh, I read about that retrieval technique and I only used it once or twice… Damn! I didn’t stick to the expectations I laid out in September there...
Which leads me to the purpose of this blog: accountability. Below I’ll outline my resolutions for this coming year, and really, while I’m sharing this for others to read, I’m writing this for me. I want to have this to come back to throughout the year and hold myself to account with. Did I do these things? Time will tell, but I’m hoping the chances are greater because I did this.
(Note: for several of these I refer to doing things ‘every lesson’. I obviously won’t be mad at myself if I don’t squeeze them in around a huge practical, or a test, etc. but I am aiming to do them each time I am “delivering content”.)
Whole class feedback – due to COVID, I went the entire academic year 2020/21 without taking a single set of books home to mark. I marked tests, individual pieces of work, and tried to do more self-assessment with feedback in person during lesson time. This year, as I get back to marking books in line with the school policy, I want to utilise more sample marking, more whole class feedback, and make time in lessons to review this fully. I’ve also bought myself some marking and feedback tear-off pads from The Positive Teacher Company, one for at work and one for at home, to give me no excuse to not jot down that feedback and slip back into pointless tick-and-flick marking.
No opt out – This technique from Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0 is working wonders for our Head of Chemistry, who discussed it at our school’s Academic Reading Group that we run together. I want to make use of this in every lesson if I can, ensuring that no student is developing complacency during questioning. Speaking of which…
More questioning! – I too often finish my explanation of a concept, then move on to some individual practise, and have to circulate the room to identify misconceptions and assess the understanding in the room. In the long-term it is clearly more effective to gather this data in two stages, with pre-planned questions first, using TLAC techniques like no opt out, right is right and stretch it. Then I can turn it over to individual practise if the students are ready, and hopefully get better outcomes.
Retrieval/Prerequisite Do Now in EVERY lesson – It is our school policy that every lesson begin with a Do Now activity, and while I do (almost) always have a task ready to begin the learning, this year I want to always use this to either practise retrieval of prior learning, or check for understanding of prerequisite knowledge for the lesson’s content. This way, if reviewed quickly and well, the Do Now is always either helping with the student’s overall knowledge of biology, or ensuring we start the lesson with the knowledge we need to build on already there.
Set out my routines and stick to them! – I’ve saved the biggest until last here. Last year I spent a full lesson with almost all my classes, establishing expectations for the start of the lesson, the way we work, the three core rules (Be ready, be respectful, be safe) and the exit of the classroom. However, with students in and out due to COVID, and my own forgetfulness, many of these I let slip, and learning suffered at times because of this. I’m currently working on a new version of this first lesson, and will be planning in time to re-teach the routines as necessary, to give students the least possible chance of failing to meet behaviour expectations. Incidentally, if you want to improve your classroom behaviour and haven’t read Tom Bennett’s Running the Room, or Adam Boxer’s blog on the topic, there’s two great places to start.
So there we have it, 5 things I’m trying to achieve in my classroom this year, and I will be checking back in with myself throughout the year to see how well I met these targets. I’d love to hear from anyone on twitter @BiologyWalker what you’re trying to improve this year.