Literacy, Writing

“Where do I begin?” 10 Strategies to Help Students Start Writing

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner

Follow him on Twitter: @NBentleyTweets

Writing an be a key element of lessons across the curriculum, and practitioners working in all sectors often seek to encourage their students to develop confidence when starting writing. What follows, then, are ten practical suggestions for ways we as professionals can encourage young people in their written work.

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

 

1) Mini Whiteboards

Trying out ideas on a whiteboard before students commit pen to paper can be hugely meaningful – whether through a thought-shower to get ideas down, or planning sentences first.

2) Hot seating

Asking students to respond in-role to key questions can be enjoyable and can inspire all manner of thoughts and ideas about writing. They could do this by role-playing as a writer, mathematician, historical character, or indeed any figure linked into the learning material.

3) Live Marking

Not only can live marking – sitting with students to give them instantaneous feedback – support students to challenge themselves or extend writing that might have taken place, it can also be a quick and workload-friendly way of providing helpful and meaningful feedback for students on their writing.

4) Technology

This can support students if writing on a page can seem daunting. Assistive technology can support students with their writing, whether on a computer, laptop, or other text-capturing device.

ballpen blur close up computer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

5) Modelling

Modelling can allow students to visually see an effective way of writing before they complete it more independently. A prepared model or examples of successfully completed student work can be shared and unpacked with students, live modelling can demonstrate the process of completing writing, and shared modelling can allow students to involve themselves in the process of writing alongside the teacher before conducting it independently.

6) Debating

Not only can debating generate ideas and material before students proceed to complete their writing task, it can also allow students to take a specific positions on concepts or ideas.

orange tennis racket beside green tennis ball
Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

 

7) Word Tennis

Before students complete a writing task, they must generate as many words linked to it by playing “Word Tennis” – a physical version of a word association game. Students mime playing tennis, and each time they serve or return the ball they must call out another word linked to the theme of each game.

8) Talking

Having a discussion task with a pair or a small group before writing independently can be a fantastic way of generating ideas or material for students to write about.

9) Writing in-role

Taking on the persona of a character or other individual can provide a way-in to a piece of writing. Students could take on the role of a journalist, scientist, detective, or other individual to support them in having the sense of a “voice” in their writing.

10) Drawing

Sketching out a model, or diagram, or image, before proceeding to break it down or explain it using written language, can be a helpful way into writing.

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Numeracy

5 Ways to Implement Numeracy into your Lessons

Grace Gowland – Numeracy Coordinator

As teachers we already have so much to think about when planning a lesson, so here are 5 easy ways to make sure you are having an impact on the development of every student’s numeracy, every day!

1) Play a game:

Have 5 mins free at the end of your lesson? Or maybe you are just looking for a super engaging starter. Then you really can’t go past Countdown! Students love to play along at home and they will love playing it in your lesson. Have students race against each other, or for a more collaborative approach, work in groups and race against the clock. You could use a clip from youtube, or use this fantastic generator. I’m sure you’ll find yourself wanting to play along too! 

Of course Bingo is another classic loved by all, and so versatile. Use it to close gaps in knowledge, check for understanding, or as a plenary to consolidate learning. Your Bingo doesn’t necessarily need to use numbers, since the skill here is about looking for patterns. If Bingo isn’t your thing, then how about a number puzzle or brain teaser – anything to get them to think  outside of the box and exercise their problem solving skills.

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

2) Use real world problems:

Numeracy is an essential skill needed to function in the everyday world. We use it every second of every day: to be on time, to schedule meetings and to make sure we don’t burn our dinner at night! Where possible give students the opportunity to interpret timetables, draw timelines or graph the tension in a scene. Ask students to estimate how long it will take them to complete a task, so they can set realistic expectations for themselves. 

3) Reward your students: 

If one of your students has a lovely little maths moment in your lesson then make a big deal out of it! Girls tend to have less positive attitudes towards numeracy when compared to boys. They have higher levels of maths anxiety and lower levels of confidence in their maths skills (Ganley, 2018). This tip is really about building their confidence and encouraging them to engage with numerical tasks. Students love stickers and stamps irrespective of their age, and better still, use the internal rewards system at your school. This year at Sarah Bonnell School, we are launching the Numeracy Achievement Point as a way of tracking and monitoring student engagement with numeracy. 

4) Challenge your students:

  • When they ask how long it is until the end of the lesson, rather than just telling them, give them a problem to solve. For example, it was 25 minutes until the end of the lesson 15 minutes ago!
  • When returning student work, give them a mark as a fraction and ask them to convert it to a percentage.
  • When students ask what day it is, tell them it is Thursday in three days.
  • And when they inevitably ask you what the date is tell them it has been a week since the 4th of September!

All of these are small ways you can engage the numerate mind and encourage mental fluency.

5) Set a target and use a timer:

I’m sure this is a quick win that many of us already use. As a class, decide how long you will need to complete the task. Involving students in this decision holds them accountable and gives them ownership of the activity. I have found that a real life egg timer is especially motivating for students who struggle to keep on task. You can pick them up on Amazon for next to nothing and pop it on their desk! Or go digital and use one of these engaging timers. They will love to watch the sand drain out, or the candle melt down, and be motivated to complete their task in time.

Student Leadership, Student voice

Student Perspectives: The Value of Being a Teaching and Learning Ambassador

Aliza Babar – Teaching and Learning Ambassador and Sarah Bonnell School Student

Working as a Teaching and Learning ambassador at Sarah Bonnell School has truly been an enriching experience. Being able to represent students and explore our experience of learning has been a fantastic opportunity to develop our understanding of what makes an effective lesson and how to incorporate the feedback we receive into all lessons.

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As a Teaching and Learning Ambassador, our goal is to ensure all students are working to the best of their abilities and are working effectively when in the classroom. We achieve this through our learning walks, where Teaching and learning Ambassadors are able to observe learning for a brief period of time and have the opportunity to communicate and engage with the students, in order to investigate what environment and what resources they work with best. Importantly, these learning walks are highly confidential between the ambassadors and the teacher teaching the lesson. The entirety of the process is revolved around the students only and not the teacher teaching the lesson.

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Every academic year, the newly selected Teaching and Learning Ambassadors undergo a series of training sessions to ensure they are confident with the process. The series of training sessions that I had participated in were held at Rokeby School, where students from Rokeby School, Lister Community School and Sarah Bonnell School had the exciting opportunity to collaborate and explore some of the key components to effective learning. The sessions were mainly student led, which allowed there to be a much more collaborative atmosphere. Throughout the sessions, we created a ‘learning record form’ which we use to collate our feedback during our learning walks. The experience was definitely helpful as a lot of the knowledge that I carry with me now is a result of those weekly training sessions.

Overall, being a Teaching and Learning Ambassador has helped develop my confidence and how I feel during lessons, and has given me an insight into the development of teaching and learning across the school. It has been a really positive experience for me.

Drama, Literacy, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Writing

Four Creative Strategies to Support Students’ Communication Skills

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner and Nurture Group Teacher

@NBentleyTweets

Teachers are often really keen to develop young people’s communication skills; to support them in their writing, to improve the quality of their conversations, and to prepare them for the reading, writing, speaking and listening they will need to do in their broadest sense, as life skills. It is helpful, therefore, to consider how this can be done in an enjoyable and creative way. This blog post seeks to suggest four ways I have sought to employ create strategies to develop communication skills.

Collaborative Drawing

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Image from Collaborative Drawing

An inclusive and often enjoyable way of encouraging students to record their ideas can be a collaborative drawing task. I have had students unfurl large sheets of wallpaper where they can draw ideas which help them to create visual worlds related to the content of what we have been studying. For instance, this could be an interesting setting from a historical period in Humanities, the surface of a planet in Science, or the opening scene from a play in Drama. Students are then challenged to use specific details and impressive vocabulary to describe their designs, using the image of what they had created as a model to ensure they are precise, specific and sophisticated in their writing.

The Value of Reading Aloud

Myra Barrs and Valerie Cork worked with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (Twitter handle @clpe1) in The Reader in the Writer to do some hugely meaningful work in relation to the connection between studying literature and students’ writing. One wonderfully helpful finding has been the relationship between teachers reading aloud and the writing students have been able to produce. This has really inspired me to indulge in creative storytelling, retellings of writings, and shared choral speech with young people, as means to break down pieces of text and encourage young people to develop their writing and responses.

In-role Tasks

Drama activities can be hugely meaningful as a means to support students to access challenging language beyond that which they might ordinarily be confident to draw upon. In English lessons, this might involve participating in a collaborative discussion as a journalist before writing a report. Students could role-play as geographers, scientists, or philosophers – indeed any groups of people who might be relevant – to stretch their vocabulary, before writing.

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Image of a Resource from an In-role Task

Language Movement Games

Warm-up tasks where students move around a classroom space, before responding to key words can be an enjoyable way to introduce challenging adjectives and adverbs before young people use them in their writing and speech. As a teacher you can call out words which students must embody in their movement, e.g. “petrifying,” “ecstatic,” or “monstrous.” Alternatively, students can be given the task of calling out challenging words for each other.

These ideas have simply been suggestions for how young people might engage with language and communication as a means to approach the curriculum and develop key life skills. I have found them to be meaningful not only as a way to improve writing and speaking, but also an enjoyable set of activities to support students’ engagement in learning, and to foster a safe, secure and joyful learning environment.

Diagnostic Teaching, Marking and Feedback, Numeracy

Theirs now to reason why: using Exit Tickets to improve pupil reasoning and explanations

Liz Hill – Teacher of Maths

In 2013, reforms to English and Mathematics GCSEs were announced. The aim of the new specification for mathematics GCSEs was to “demand deeper and broader mathematical understanding” whilst also requiring pupils “to apply their knowledge and reasoning to provide clear mathematical arguments.” (Nov 2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/reformed-gcses-in-english-and-mathematics )

When planning lessons, I not only think about teaching how and when to apply specific mathematical skills, but I also want to teach pupils to be able to offer a written explanation to reinforce their understanding, as per the new specification. Whilst I am aware that many pupils are able to articulate the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ verbally when questioned, the process of writing down the ‘why’ is often a challenge. Add to this that the syllabus is now larger and more demanding – how are you supposed to teach content and have pupils provide written mathematical arguments?

Enter the exit ticket!

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I cannot take all the credit for the layout of my exit tickets, I commandeered it from MrBartonMaths and have tweaked it to fit with Sarah Bonnell’s marking policy.

The exit ticket is given out 10 to 15 minutes before the end of the lesson after a series of lessons on a topic has been taught. Pupils are to answer the four questions quietly and independently, although I encourage pupils with support workers to have a go at it alone.

From the pupils’ answers, I aim to learn how well the pupils understand the topic we have been studying. Each question is supposed to be more challenging than the last, and each question is diagnostic (a post to be written on this at a later date!) so I get a clear insight in to any misconceptions before even reading the pupils’ explanations.

On the right hand side pupils are meant to offer an explanation. I often tell them to imagine they are explaining to a martian how to work out the answer to the question. For those who aren’t confident and who struggle to write an explanation I ask for clear working out, since this is also a key skill in gaining marks at GCSE.

Since rolling these out in September, I have noticed that the ability of my pupils in articulating ‘why’ when asked has improved infinitely. My pupils are becoming more confident and detailed when sharing their method and thought process for solving a problem. Even more exciting are my pupils’ improvements when providing written explanations. Exit tickets are being answered faster and faster in classes where they do them regularly. Pupils have gained independence when starting their exit tickets – they are quiet, focused and thoughtful.

I have practised the exit tickets most often with my Year 8 class who are set 5 and often lack the confidence needed to allow themselves to progress. In September, some pupils were unable offer any explanation and I made it clear that they just need to circle A, B, C, or D (as I have said already, the diagnostic question lets me assess their understanding straight away). I mark the tickets with excitement and pride as I see the progress of the class. The same pupils who started the year circling only A, B, C, or D, now offer me working-out and sentences of explanation without assistance, prompts or hints whatsoever. When given further time during the feedback sessions, these same pupils are able to reason with my questions  and improve their answers. This will set them in good stead as they hurtle towards KS4 and start being expected to offer mathematical arguments to access the marks in the higher graded questions.

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As my groups’ ability and confidence in explaining has improved, I must confess that my feedback on exit tickets has improved too. Each exit ticket is a marked piece of work with a WWW, EBI and clear questions, so pupils can develop their understanding and reasoning to take themselves to the next step. I am currently working with the Exit Ticket template version 2.0. If you think that you could use it for your lessons, and find ways to improve it, please let us know how it goes!

Diversity, History, Reflection

Teaching Diverse History

Lydia Hasan – History Teacher

“But Madam, I don’t want to learn about stuff I can’t relate to…”

The amount of times I have heard students tell me that, and it breaks my heart because I remember exactly what it was like to be in their position. In fact, it was not until I was 19 years old, studying history at university, that I first learned histories of countries other than the ‘typical trio’ that schools give you: Britain, Germany and Russia.

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Whilst of course the typical ‘secondary school history experience’ gives you doses of other countries; it is always from a white perspective. Take the Transatlantic Slave Trade for example, usually taught in year 8, this is more than likely the first mention of Black people in the typical history curriculum a student would learn. But is that enough? Is it enough to just ‘dash’ an entire race of people into an already existing ‘British Empire’ scheme of work? For students of that heritage, it feels horrible sitting in a class knowing you’re a descendant of a slave and that’s the only time someone from your culture gets mentioned in history lessons. It’s not nice. So, going back to university, it was no surprise I got involved in movements such as: ‘Why is my curriculum white? and ‘Decolonize the curriculum’.

 

Fast – forward five years and I am now in a position where I am in control of what history I can teach my students so they will never have to ask, ‘Why is my curriculum white?’. This is very important because one of my main reasons for coming into teaching is to give students the experience that I never got; something that also happens to be part of the school’s ‘Education for All’ ethos. When you look at the demographics of the students in this school, you will notice the large majority are from BME backgrounds. This is something I share with those students; being half Caribbean myself and having the 70th anniversary ‘Windrush’ celebrations last year has given me a passion to design a historical enquiry exploring the history of the ‘Windrush Generation’.

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My main inspirations for designing this enquiry came from: my research into ‘Cultural Relevant Pedagogy’; the schemes of work in Robin Whitburn’s ‘Doing Justice to History’ book; and Robin Walker’s ‘Black British History Teaching Materials’. Also, for anyone wanting to read more about this topic, I highly recommend David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’. It’s also been made into a BBC documentary, it’s okay, I watched it before reading it too!

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The title of the enquiry will be ‘How far were the ‘Windrush Generation’ ‘Welcomed Home’ in Britain?’. The reason for this title is that the first activity the students will have to introduce them to the enquiry will be to answer questions based on a picture of the cover of the London Evening Standard the day the SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. The lessons will go from 1948 right up to the current day, including a wide – range of events such as: the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963; the ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech; the Brixton Riots and the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The enquiry will end by students exploring the modern relevance and creating a memorial to commemorate the contribution of the ‘Windrush Generation’ to Britain.

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As part of my action research, I will be evaluating these lessons throughout the planning and teaching stages. I will also (hopefully!) get some feedback from student and colleagues; ‘student voice’ from ‘Black’ identifying students will be particularly useful as it will allow me to see if it is true that students are more engaged when learning about history that they can relate to.

Diagnostic Teaching, Literacy, Time saving teaching, Writing

The Power of DTT (Diagnosis, Therapy, Testing)

Hana Malik – Curriculum Leader for English

Twitter – @MsHanaMalik

It is that time of year again, where you feel sandwiched between fear and hope: Year 11 students will do as amazingly as you know they can, or, some Year 11 students might not get there.

What we as teachers in the classroom, especially in this last push before final exams, undertake with learners will impact final outcomes. Fact. So how should one decide what to do with those precious remaining lessons?

DTT, Diagnosis Therapy Testing, is not new (is anything in education?) and we all do it, with all groups throughout the academic year. But are there ways to maximise this process to ensure Year 11 students have the best possible chance to achieve highly?

What is DTT?

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Diagnosis: Finding out what the student needs.

There are countless ways to garner this information; for Year 11s, and arguably all year groups, the more specific you can be the better. As a teacher, be clear on what it is you wish to know, whether it be the extent to which content has been learnt or how successful students are in applying a skill. Thereafter, you can decide on how to record  and track that data.

One way we have tracked Year 11 mock data is through personalised learning checklists – PLCs. This straightforward and effective colour-coded system of logging marks allows you to see where the areas of strength are within a class. You can then deploy ‘experts’ as you wish. It also, vitally, allows teachers to gauge areas of weakness; teachers and students can see the content and/or skill which needs to be revisited, and even the extent to which it needs to be revisited – Is there a trend? How many students under-performed in this area?

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Example of GCSE Literature mock PLC

Therapy: After identifying areas which need to be ‘treated’, teachers can devise lessons and revision sequences which will secure marginal gains.

This is vital in ensuring DTT is effective. As part of Year 11 therapy, I believe it is important to create and encourage a culture of sharing. What’s working well with specific students? Might it work with other learners? Creating a ‘Best Practice’ folder is one way to do this, carving time into meetings to share practice is another.

Ultimately, teachers having the resources and skills to close gaps is what makes DTT effective. That is to say, this is the bit that means the most and probably takes the most time. But, as every exam class teacher can tell you, it is always worth it.

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Examples of therapy, securing marginal gains

Testing: Has it worked?

The only way to know if students have closed that gap you spent time ‘treating’ is by testing, and the test that ought to be sat really depends on what students have gone over.

In Year 11, mocks seem to be the most popular choice. However, there are other options. Quizzes, short and swift, can often highlight how well students know content. Flipped learning is also an enjoyable way to test whether students can transform learning.  

More often than not, therapy will prove effective the first time around. And, if it hasn’t, all we can do is try again.