Changing times

Changing students' attitude towards learning and building an ethos/culture within a school around this is challenging, especially when trying to change the habitual happenings for a large majority of students, and in most cases, teachers. 

The first seven weeks of this academic year has seen a huge focus on embedding strong routines and setting the highest of expectations. We are working to create consistency for students, through creating consistency with certain routines. There have been some really 'quick wins' that have undoubtedly had a positive impact, and have moved us forward with our focus. They all relate to embedded routines or high expectations. 

  • Do it now tasks are now ready for students on entry to the classroom, with the vast majority of these focusing on recapping prior knowledge, or knowledge retrieval overtime. These have created a calm and extremely purposeful start to lessons, and allowed staff to greet students at the door, building positive relationships, whilst commanding the corridors. The DIN tasks, with chunked written instructions, enable students to get on with learning straight away, and allow the teacher to create a strong, purposeful start to the lesson. 

  • Students use knowledge organisers as their home learning strategy across all year groups, self-quizzing against the foundation knowledge for each topic, with the topics being spaced out and interleaved over time. Students and parents have provided exceptionally positive feedback on the consistency towards the approach across all subjects, and the initial outcomes have superseded our expectations. Students are working harder than ever at home, and students are now using phrases such as 'working memory', 'long term memory' as well as 'knowledge retention' and being able to recall knowledge 'subconsciously'. This has revolutionised our approach to home learning. Teachers sign to say that it has been done, but students are accountable for the process and the quality. Designing bespoke exercise books for Y7 & 8 students to do their KO home learning in, was in hindsight, one of our strongest ideas. It set the highest of expectations straight away.  

  • Regular low stakes testing has become something that students are routinely used to, with the focus moving towards what they can remember, rather than what they can't. Students are now doing knowledge retrieval MCQ tests every two weeks, and there is such a competitive nature behind individuals wanting to beat their personal scores each time. The low stakes tests build on the spaced and interleaved approach to KOs, making sure that knowledge retention over time is the focus, revisiting content at the time when it is just about to be forgotten. Yet, what has been imperatively important, was to explain to the students why we are doing the tests, and why KOs have been brought in for home learning. The buy in has been superb so far, although this is very early doors with the process. 
Then there are the attributes to changing students' attitude towards learning that are going to take more time, and after seven weeks, we are further forward for sure, however, perhaps only at step 3 out of 20. These specific areas below, are challenges for us, as whole school routines/whole school high expectations aren't quite there yet. Inconsistency makes it difficult for an ethos/culture to change. 

  • We are focusing on students making eye contact through teacher-led part of lessons, sitting up straight and engaging fully in the dialogue in the classroom. This is very much in its early stages, and in some classrooms, it is fully embedded, yet in others, we are a way away. What is really interesting is that students will do it in some classrooms and not others. The link - high expectations and strong routines. Where these have been embedded and insisted upon, it is really working. Where they haven't, there isn't the same attitude towards learning. In summary, what has been made crystal clear is that a routine can be changed, yet expectations from students must remain sky high, and can never be lowered. Some teachers are using SLANT as a trial. Read more about this here. However, we use 'never interrupt' rather than 'nod your head'.

  • Making it 'cool to learn'. This is our largest challenge, and students have mentioned that at times they don't want to provide answers verbally, for fear of being seen as a 'nerd'. Of all feedback we received from students, this was probably the most disheartening. This has to be changed, and is a challenge that we have accepted, and we are hitting full on. Celebrating the superstars is our approach. Making it 'cool to be clever'. Our students that show that are great, get to go for a celebration meal with teachers at well known restaurants. This is slowly changing the tide. 

  • There is still some low-level disruption in classrooms, mostly 'the attention seeking type'. Turning around, asking silly questions, trying to talk when others are etc. To combat this, we came up with four classroom rules that, hopefully, are inclusive and positive in their language, based around a presentation by Robin Lounder at researchEd National Conference, on the work of Bill Rogers and Jacob Kounin. 
  1. We are silent during teacher-led instruction
  2. We follow teacher instructions at all times
  3. We don't disrupt the learning of others
  4. We respect each other at all times
These have been a really positive addition to the classroom. They are simple, and we believe that any behaviour that disrupts learning fits into these nicely. The word 'respect' is deliberately woolly, so that it can be used, if the behaviour doesn't fit into one of the other three rules! Students can clearly see that by following the rules, they are creating purposeful learning conditions. Our challenge is to ensure that all teachers continue with the highest of expectations around these, as well as using strong routines to support them. 

Along with the challenges that we are facing above, it has been challenging trying to alter, improve and develop teaching. If students' attitude towards learning is truly going to change, then students have to be gripped in lessons, and effective lessons, are built on high expectations and strong routines being the foundation for learning to take place. 

It is challenging, as a teacher, to get students where you want them to go with their learning, if those two basics aren't in place. In my role, I get to drop-in on many lessons, along with colleagues in the T&L team. Our focus is clear. We are concentrating on whether the basics are being done, that allows for effective teaching. Effective teaching creates an improved attitude towards learning from students. The correlation is clear in my opinion. 

Here are the five pieces of feedback we have given most commonly, over the last seven weeks, and they all focus on the basics. All five focus on maintaining high expectations and embedding strong routines. These are also critical in terms of being effective in the classroom. 

1. Insist upon silence when you are talking. Never talk over students.

2. Insist upon silence prior to providing instruction. Don't start instruction until you get it. Stop instruction if you are interrupted. 

3. Insist that all students make eye contact with you during teacher-led instruction, and that they have no distractions (equipment) in their hands. 

4. Check that clarity of your instruction, through asking a student/s to explain the instructions to a task, rather than asking a generic question such as 'are we happy?' 'does everyone understand?'

5. Use names at the end of questions, using the 'Cold Call' strategy, to increase the participation ratio with questioning. Read more about this here.

As you can see we are on a journey. We are moving in the right direction, however, to truly change the culture, high expectations and strong routines have to continue to be the focus. If teaching is to be effective, and students' attitude towards learning is to change, these two are the bread and butter. 

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