Back to the Drawing Board

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March 26, 2013 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin

It has been a while (nearly four months) since I last wrote a post on this blog. There have been two main reasons for my lack of blogging.

The first reason has been the birth of my first child. On 4th October 2012 our family welcomed a new member in the form of Luca Napolitano-Cremin. 5 months since his birth I am still finding my way through dirty nappies, sterilisers, bottles and sleepless nights. Fatherhood has been a revelation, and the greatest job I have ever undertaken. I am relishing every moment of my new role and honestly believe that it is helping me become a better teacher.

The second reason has been my move to a new school. I spent two years in my previous school. An Outstanding school by OFSTED’s standards and a place where, after taking a year out from teaching, I learnt how to love my job again. I learnt a huge amount in the two years I was there, but felt like I needed to move on for a different challenge and to prevent myself from simply coasting. My new school is a mixed comprehensive close to the centre of London. It is a good school that has made vast progress in the last 7-8 years and is constantly seeking to further improve.

Starting in a new school has proved very challenging. The last six months have made me feel that I have really been coasting along on a wave of, ‘good enough’ for the last couple of years! Although I am proud of what I have achieved in the six years that I have been teaching, I feel that there are still a few basic aspects of my teaching that I need to perfect.

My first target for improvement is my use of formative assessment. I can look back at nearly all of the observations I have had since I was an NQT, and the one thing that has prevented me from moving from Good to Outstanding has been my use of techniques to judge pupil progress during a lesson. I have struggled for a while to have a bank of simple activities that can be used in most lessons to judge pupil progress. I have been developing my use of SOLO taxonomy (see older posts here) as a means to solve this issue. Despite plenty of work on SOLO, I feel that I haven’t quite got there yet with fully embedding these ideas in to my lessons and so I will be working on that between now and the summer ready for full implementation in September.

Marking has always been a thorny issue for me too. Like many teachers, I have often spent hours marking a class set of books, only to realise that pupils have paid little to no attention to what I have written. This experience can be soul destroying and is often I find done not to help pupils learn, but to satisfy the wants of parents and senior management. Despite this experience, I am fully aware that formative feedback, or even feed-forward, is important for pupils’ learning. With this in mind I am trying to employ the following strategies:

  • Highlighting activities that are present in schemes of work that lend themselves to marking within the lesson or once books have been taken in. By doing this I can avoid wasting time reading through notes pupils have taken down from the board or during discussions with me and focus on work that has required the application of knowledge.
  • Using a stamper in class that has three different messages: 1) Learning objective achieved 2) Learning objectives not yet achieved 3) Verbal feedback given. I am hoping to be able to have discussions with a number of pupils each lesson about their work. Before each lesson I will plan what piece of work I will focus on and provide pupils with feedback about that piece of work. I will use the stamper as a signal that a discussion has taken place. I will also ask pupils to write next to where I have stamped the ‘feedforward’ advice that we have discussed together. Pupils can then take steps to act on this advice.
  • Green It Up – I spotted this idea on Twitter some time ago and unfortunately cannot remember who the idea came from so apologies for not referencing the said person here. I have bought a supply of green pens for my classes so that when they respond to the feedback/forward I write in their books they do so using green pens (the colour green, as far as I am aware, doesn’t have any significance apart from it is easy to distinguish from their normal notes and my marking!). By having their responses in green it is easy for any observer, myself, parents and the pupils themselves to see that a dialogue has taken place about the work. The fact that this dialogue is easy to see will, I hope, encourage pupils to interact more with the feedback I provide.

These are three straightforward strategies that I hope will be easy to implement and improve pupils’ learning in my lessons. The aim is to start using these after the Easter holidays and assess any impact just before the summer holidays.

As always with any post I write, I would love to receive any feedback from people and would also be interested in any other strategies people have effectively used for marking and engaging pupils in feedback. I look forward to hearing from you all!

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