Thursday, 29 December 2016

Whittling Down My Workload

First, a word of caution- there is nothing particularly impressive or really revolutionary here.  In essence, I just wanted to blog about how, since becoming a middle leader in the summer, my workload has changed and how I've managed those changes.  Making the transition to a middle leader involved changing many of the ways that I worked- including a distinct lack of activity on my blog and twitter account.  These are the main ways I started to get back some of that time.

1. Protected Time for Email Management
Before I become a subject leader, I aimed to deal with emails swiftly and effectively.  I could easily rattle through the couple of emails that had made their way into my inbox during the first five minutes before school, at break or at lunchtime.  I kept my inbox empty, with folders to file away anything that I might want to refer to later and a trip to the deleted items folder for anything that I'd only need to see the once.

That was how I started to tackle emails in my new post.

I quickly found that dealing with queries was not going to be as sleek as before- often emails could involve finding out more information before replying: parent queries to follow up came from students I didn't teach; I needed to spend time looking through a busier diary before I could get back to someone with a date for a meeting.  And then there was the increased quantity of emails itself. I had to adapt.

I decided to create protected time to go through emails.  This is mostly a 45 minute window before school, which also allows for arranging the resources for any cover, along with 15 minute slots at break, lunch or in my PPA.  This, along with a process of flagging or filing emails as I read them, made a massive difference.

2. PPA Plans
Thanks to the honesty of another middle leader when I was applying, I was never under the illusion that a couple of hours taken from teaching would give me more time to do marking during the school day.  It means less: much less.

I made the plan early on to use time during the school day to focus on my new duties as a middle leader.  This means that time is protected to carry out learning walks in the department (by far my favourite part of the role); meet with staff for support or a catch-up; or work on the other new jobs I've taken on.

Obviously, this also means a change in how I plan my lessons- which brings me onto my next tip.

3. Planning For The Week
With all of the last-minute things that pop-up across the working week, having protected time to plan lessons at school was the easiest thing to move.  To be fair, this was something that I'd already started doing beforehand- mostly because I felt that I was chasing my tail sorting resources  if I left it too late.  So now, I plan all my lessons for a week on the Sunday morning before it starts.

It has to be said that a culture of sharing planning (within my department and on Twitter) makes this a lot easier.  For KS3 classes, it is easy to adapt and edit existing resources- this has made it easier to create my own resources for the new GCSE and A Level specifications as I've had more time to do so.

Planning everything on a Sunday also means that I can get my repro sorted early doors on a Monday- it's usually my first job of the week.  Yes, there is the odd occasion when I need to change the existing plan mid-week (especially when I find that a certain concept/skill needs extra work), but- again- the culture of sharing makes a huge difference here.

4. Manage the Marking
To give a little context, my school has a policy that students get feedback once a fortnight in Years 7-11 and once a week in Year 11.  I have no problem with this.  Yes, it can be onerous and I definitely had points where I felt I was drowning when I started there as an NQT.  What made the difference was advice I had on planning my marking and how I approached it pedagogically.

To start with, I plan my marking schedule over a half term.  This allows for no marking on progress evenings/open evenings without falling behind.  I mark a set of books each night, with KS5 books being spread out as require (with only 7 in a class, this is simple enough to do).  I also plan in 'blank' nights to give myself extra flexibility- as the plan is digital (see below), there is nothing to stop me changing it to fit my needs throughout the term.  It also means I can 'check off' my marking as I go- changing the black squares to green to show when I've marked.  As a compulsive list-maker, checking these off is definitely satisfying.  Most of all, this has helped me to protect time at weekends.  After a month of not marking at weekends in December (or over the Christmas break), I'm determined to reduce weekend marking as much as possible in the new year.

Template available to download here

The place I give marking in my students' learning has also been important in helping me manage the workload.  I use my marking schedule to plan when I'll set tasks that students will benefit from quality feedback on.  Likewise, I make changes to my marking schedule if I feel a class needs a different piece of work marked and move things around to make this work.

In other aspects of my planning, I make the most of activities that reduce the amount of 'marking for its own sake'.  This means making use of collaborative learning activities on sugar paper or A3 (which has a combination of other benefits to students' learning), planning in oral assessment of students' presentations/debate contributions and giving feedback in lesson time- which can be verbal, on a post-it or noted in a student's margin for them to refer back to.  Needless to say, peer/self assessment is also a valuable tool, as it can also help students to understand what they are being assessed on more clearly (especially for exam classes).

I'm hoping some of these tips will be useful for others- certainly they have made a massive difference to me, in managing my workload comfortably and creating a healthier work-life balance.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Teaching Poetry: Strategies I've Stolen

When it comes to teaching poetry, it is pretty much guaranteed that the majority of faces in your class will drop with disappointment.  The reasons can vary, though often it comes down a lack of confidence.

When I recently started tackling the new unseen poetry skills needed for the new AQA specification, I asked students to write their worries on a post-it.  Their responses were interesting; as they'd studied the anthology's 'Power and Conflict' collection in Year 9, most were happy that they could spot what methods the writer used in a poem.  However, they were still worried about what- in my opinion- is the most important part of studying poetry: why it is written.

Due to this, I decided that I needed to ensure that everything we did towards preparing for the unseen poetry exam should focus on moving away from the danger-zone of 'feature spotting'.  Instead, we've focused on building our own interpretations, and then using the writer's methods as supporting evidence rather than the main point.

With this in mind, here are a few of the strategies I've used (most of which have been lovingly 'borrowed' from wonderful and talented colleagues).

Using Art To Explore Poetry
Exploring the abstract meanings behind works of art has proven a useful way of opening students' minds to figurative meanings, so that they don't take poetic texts literally.  I've done this through quick starters on whiteboards (see below), as well as through a forum-based homework where students answer a question set by a previous student before posting a question for the next student.

Symbolism Through Emojis
It is surprising how much students are using symbolism in their own lives when they construct messages with emojis.  I've been building this into poetry, by using them in plenaries, to explain how a poet is feeling.  Likewise, emojis could be used to investigate structure and changes in tone throughout a poem.

Creating Personal Responses
Many students find it easier to verbalise their responses than to write them.  I gave my students the chance to demonstrate this by letting them choose their own poem and building their own interpretation, supported by analysis of key features.  Students then created a short presentation to convey their response, along with an exam question that might be given for their poem (thus building a good supply of practice questions too).  My students were also assessed on AO1 and AO2, with my feedback and peer feedback recorded for them to stick in their book and respond to.

Writing Poetry
As I am trialling Google Classroom with my Year 10 class, the next thing I want to do is for them to create their own collaborative poetry through a homework task.  Each student will create their own stanza, written from the viewpoint of a student being taught about poetry.  I'm hoping that this will provide an insight into their (hopefully growing) confidence about poetry along with giving them a chance to play with language themselves.  Afterwards, we'll be able to create a class response to the poem.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

My Top iPad Apps

Inspired by a recent post from @ICTEvangelist, I've decided to collate a list of my top iPad apps for the classroom that I've used since getting the device two years ago.  I've tried to focus on the free apps (with a couple of exceptions), which I hope will be useful for teachers who are borrowing an iPad from their school.  Many of these came from various tweets and blogs, and I apologise for not crediting everyone. However, most of them come from @ICTEvangelist, through his blog but also his session at Northern Rocks 2015 (so: thanks, Mark!).

Free Apps

Evernote by Evernote
This is a fantastic app for taking notes and organising them with tags, making it much easier to find old notes on a certain topic.  Though I appreciate that many would rather stick to a traditional notebook, this has the advantage of being able to add photos, videos and websites to the notes; it even includes a document scanner.

Nearpod by Nearpod LLC
This app is great for use with a set of student devices (either through a BYOD scheme or through a set available in school). It allows you to display slides on their device, as well as embedding activities such as quizzes, short answer questions and annotation activities.

Post-it® Plus by 3M Company
I don't think I've yet met a teacher who didn't use Post-its on a regular basis.  The free app takes pictures of the chaotic mess of sticky notes students leave on your board and create a digital version that's easy to save and refer back to.  I often email these out to students as a record of revision tasks.

Socrative Teacher/Student by Socrative, Inc
Socrative is a fantastic quiz app, especially as you can use it through a browser if you/students don't have a device with the apps to hand.  As it allows both short answer and multiple choice formats, it works for a number of subjects and collates the student responses either as an Excel spreadsheet (ideal to add to a mark book) or as a page for each student to stick into their books.

Simple yet effective, MOLDIV creates collages of pictures from the images in your photo library.  It works for a number of activities in the classroom, though my favourite has to be getting students to find four pictures that relate, in an abstract way, to a character/theme/topic.

ThingLink by Thinglink
Another fairly simple app at heart- ThingLink lets you make an image interactive by annotating with little red dots that bring up text, video or hyperlinks.  I've app smashed this with MOLDIV in the past, with students annotating each image with an explanation of their choice.

iMovie by Apple
The trailer creator is probably the quickest tool to use with iMovie: I've had students creating their own trailers to sum up their learning, though I've also used it to edit together video clips of trench warfare.  By using iMovie to add text over the top of this and add some haunting audio, it made for a more engaging introduction to the context of war poetry.

Padlet by Wallwisher, Inc.
I was first introduced to Padlet as a website (then called wallwisher) in my PGCE year.  Since then, they have added lots of improvements to help you create an interactive notice-board where students can post text, images, videos or hyperlinks. I often use this for homework activities, as students can access the padlet on any device with an internet browser.

Plickers by Plickers Inc.
Although technically an app for smart phones, Plickers works on iPads too and was presented by a colleague at Teachmeet for Hull and East Yorkshire. It allows students to answer multiple choice questions using individualised codes (meaning that students can't see what anyone else has answered). This is great for those educators who only have one device in the classroom.

LEGO® Movie Maker by LEGO Systems, Inc
Although it was designed to create stop-motion movies with Lego figures, this app is great for creating stop motion with any medium.  I've had students create movies to sum up learning using plasticine, newspaper cutouts and cuddly toys, as well as the traditional pen and paper. You could even put the videos on YouTube, so that students are producing for a worldwide audience.

Apps that cost
 I couldn't resist adding these onto the list, especially as some of them are reasonably priced.  However, where possible I've added some alternatives that are free/cheaper.

Explain Everything™ Interactive Whiteboard by Explain Everything sp. z o.o.
A great tool for creating instruction videos. I've used this to create flipped learning videos with a number of classes, though I've also had it installed on a set at school for students to create their own videos.  In the app, you can annotate, animate and add pictures, videos and audio narration to an instructional video.  If you're after an alternative, try Puppet Edu too (

This is an eBook creator that allows you to put video, hyperlinks, images and text together to form an interactive eBook on a certain topic.  Though I know of many teachers who have used apps like this to create instructional eBooks for students, I have also had students creating their own revision guides or class newspapers: as the projects can be easily merged together, it is easy to collaborate on a resource that everyone can share. 

Notability by Ginger Labs
I came across this app thanks to a discussion on Twitter with @ICTEvangelist and @lanclassrach. After finding out that another app was going, I needed an app that would allow me to take pictures of student work and then highlight and annotate it on the iPad (to be projected on the board).  The outcome for me was Notability, that offers this along with other functions.  However, Annotate ( and Paper by 53 ( offer similar functions and are also free.

iDoceo - teacher's assistant by Bert Sanchis
iDoceo is a great replacement for my teacher planner, as it offers the same features (like lesson planning space and mark books for my classes) with other features, such as a student summary page (which is ideal for parents' evenings); seating plans; random name picker; and space to upload resources for each class (such as pictures of student work). Though it is a bit more expensive than the average app, it soon pays for itself when you no longer need to buy a paper planner each year.