Learning Lunch – “Technology that’s not as hard as you think”

By Helen Wilson

Easy tech 1Today we held the first Learning Lunch of 2015 on “Easy IT”. I talked through some of the areas of technology which I have learnt how to use (from a “standing start” as those of you who know me or have read in one of my first blog posts – here) and which I find useful for both myself and my students. The powerpoint I used is here, or in the learning lunch resources menu on the home page. Staff were then given chance to choose one thing which they would like to have a go at using, and help was on hand from other teachers who had already become proficient in different areas. There were some new staff signed up to twitter; some informal training on blogging set up, and some introductions to the use of OneNote and Evernote – and being the start of a new year, many were keen to Be Persistent in trying to learn a new skill.

Be Persistent – The Ballot

By Helen Wilson

Be Persistent voteBack in September 2014 we set ourselves the task of raising awareness amongst our year 10 and 11 pupils of the need to Be Persistent. It was the beginning of what we saw as “Phase 2” of the Skills for Success Programme. As explained in this post, we launched the idea through assemblies and through the “envelope activity” which both pupils and staff took part in. As the term progressed, we talked about “Being Persistent” in lessons, persevering even when things are hard, being prepared to start over and try again and again to achieve a goal. We heard teachers in the staff room talking about the challenge they had set themselves in their envelopes; pupils were heard reminding each other to “stick at it” and “Be Persistent”. In form rooms, posters appeared celebrating the successes and achievements of pupils who had met personal goals.

Towards the end of the term, there were two things we wanted to do to continue to raise the profile of this important skill:

1. Open the envelopes

2. Reward those who had really shown what Being Persistent meant in some way over the term.

Pupils opened their Be Persistent envelope in the last week of term and tutors were given this guidance to help lead a short reflection as the envelopes were returned to their authors. The important idea was to let those who had met their goal feel that real sense of achievement which comes when you have to work hard at something, but also to encourage discussion of strategies for the future to help those who needed more encouragement to continue with persevering to achieve their goal.

As staff we realised that just simply rewarding pupils who had achieved something over the course of the term did not really fit the bill. We wanted to reward and acknowledge the pupils who had persevered, sometimes against the odds, even if they had not yet achieved what they were working towards. We felt that the people who would know best who had been really putting in the effort, were the pupils themselves. Hence we set up the Be Persistent Ballot at for year 10 and 11 pupils at the end of term.ballot 2

ballot 1We advertised the ballot through assemblies and posters; made ballot boxes and set up a polling station; gave each pupil their own personalised polling card; set a date for pupils to go and vote at break time and lunchtime; and then waited nervously – would they “get it” – the fact that they were the ones who knew and could tell us who had been persevering? We needn’t have worried – the turn out was 72% of both year groups – better than any recent UK general election. The comments made on the nomination forms were touching and showed how much the pupils really understood about persevering even when it’s hard. Certificates and rewards were given out to pupils with the highest numbers of nominations in end of year assemblies – to enthusiastic clapping and cheering, and all pupils who were nominated by at least one other member of their year group will receive certificates in the new year. Hopefully the process will have highlighted that the perseverance is as important as the goal achieved.

Learning to learn again

By Heather Duckworth (Languages)

mandarin symbolsIt’s been almost 7 years since my PGCE, so it’s been a while since I was in the position of being a learner, therefore it was with excitement and no small degree of trepidation that I signed up for the Mandarin evening class this autumn. As a language teacher I have got used to being the ‘expert’ in the room and I know that at times in the past I have lost patience with students who require an explanation of grammar rules again, or still can’t remember that vital piece of vocabulary.

The past 8 weeks have reminded me of what it is like to be lost in a sea of sound.  As a Mandarin learner I have had to come to terms with a wide variety of ‘initials’ and ‘finals’ which make up the pinyin system used to teach Mandarin using the roman alphabet.  A great many of these sounds are noises that have never come out of my mouth before, despite having mastered the delight of French multiple vowels!  After our first 2 hour lesson our faces ached and I dutifully spent the next week practising all my ‘initials and finals’ – delighting in the novelty of something new to learn.

Then life, children and work got in the way and I didn’t manage to get as much practice in as I would have liked. I missed a lesson due to illness and sat there a week later totally lost as the rest of the class happily chanted the numbers one to ten, and recognised the characters! The feeling of being ‘stupid and rubbish’ was horrendous and I felt like an idiot in front of the other adults and my Head of Department! This reminded me how much repetition and consolidation is required to enable things to stick and how hard it must be for students who have barriers to their learning, or have been absent.  We are fortunate at Beaumont that we can teach language lessons in 45 minute chunks and not mammoth two hour sessions. By 9 pm on a Tuesday I am washed out with the effort of listening and trying to copy an unfamiliar writing system, without even mentioning the tonal system which means I have to carefully look at which letter is being stressed and remember which symbol to use.

The experience of learning to learn again is having a very positive impact upon my teaching; my patience with differentiation and students who are struggling is increasing.  When I plan my activities I am able to refer back to my recent experiences and my sympathies are definitely with my students!

So what makes a good assembly?

miss shepherd assemblyBy Zoe Shepherd

I am starting my thirteenth year of teaching (unlucky for some). I have seen a lot of assemblies, some good, some bad and some a bit ugly. So before I started planning my own I thought it only right to think about what makes this traditional element of education effective.

As a Drama teacher, I believe there are crucial things such as volume, tone, pause and emphasis that cannot be ignored. You are trying to engage over 300 students for 20 minutes. If you do not think about how you will use your most effective teaching tool in this situation you are missing a trick. Public speaking and presentations are such an integral part of the workplace that we must show our students how to do it effectively. Even after a career as an actor I still rehearse in front of a mirror, I stop and go back to improve how I might deliver one of the vital lines I have composed in order to make my message clear.

Some of the best assemblies I have seen have a personal touch. Some Beaumont staff may remember Charles Cross and the pick and mix assembly or Andy Goodwin’s wife’s onesie. In my opinion this personal touch lets the students see that we are human. We are not robots or strange creatures that live in our classroom cupboards. In doing this we open a window and allow our students to see a part of us they do not normally see in the classroom. We make our audience feel special.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to be able to do an assembly about something I feel passionate about, working hard and not giving up when things get tough. Find a way to be passionate about what you are talking about in your assemblies, you will engage your audience and make them reflect as they are leaving if you do. Surely that is the point of the whole thing?

Be Persistent

20140520-221553-80153485.jpgSeptember 2014 sees the launch of Phase 2 of the Skills for Success Programme at Beaumont where we will be focusing attention on “Be Persistent” in our pupils’ learning. We want to help them see that by persevering with tasks and skills which they find difficult, they can go on to achieve great things. We will be giving assemblies on the idea of persevering, by using examples from people in the school community and from more famous people who pupils may be able to identify with. We will be giving pupils the chance to take part in the Be Persistent Envelope Task (write down something you feel less confident with and what you are going to persevere with this term, put it in an envelope and then we’ll take them in until Christmas when they can reflect on what they have achieved – staff are taking part too). Click here for the content of the cards we will be giving to pupils for this task and here for the tutor instructions to help run the task.

We are also keen for staff to promote the idea of Be Persistent in all lessons – as we do for all the Skills for Success skills – and have provided them with a tip sheet of ideas for simple things that can be done in every lesson with little or no extra planning. The sheet can be downloaded here.

The Skills for Success blog (see Skills for Success on the menu bar on the homepage, or by clicking here) is a growing source of videos which can be used in tutor time to help show what we mean by Be Persistent.

Skills for Success – Phase 2

By Helen Wilson

20140520-221553-80153485.jpgWe’ve long been proud of our Skills for Success programme, developed internally to help our pupils develop skills which will enable them to both learn well and achieve highly. In September, the cohort of pupils who have been experiencing the programme of integrated activities and teaching and learning techniques from their arrival at the school in year 7, will move into year 10. These pupils understand well the skills they need to develop in order to succeed both in their studies and beyond school life – they know what is meant by a “Quality Question”; they understand that just being in a lesson is not enough – they need to “Tune In”; they recognise the need to “Take Ownership”. We realised that we no longer have to help them understand the language and see what it means to them individually, although they still need activities to help them practise those skills both in Form Time and in lessons. However, we felt that we needed to move the programme on to PHASE TWO.

The area where we had not focused so far, which was on our original list of skills but needed to come after the BIG FIVE had been embedded into our school culture, was “BE PERSISTENT”. We will be integrating this idea and language into all activities for other year groups, and providing staff with ideas for how to help pupils with this skill in lesson time (if anyone has a useful idea for helping promote persistence in lessons, please let us know through the comments on the blog, or via twitter). But for year 10 and above, we will have some activities which will directly focus on the need to persevere when times are hard, on skills that are difficult, in areas where they feel less confident. We want to help address the issues raised by business leaders (in the words of James Dyson):

“But that’s the point about analysis and failure. Failure is so much more interesting because you learn from it. That’s what we should be teaching children at school, that being successful the first time, there’s nothing in it. There’s no interest, you learn nothing actually”  http://gu.com/p/3p2qb

In addition, the Beaumont Teaching and Learning blog is getting a sibling – the Beaumont Skills for Success blog. Click on the link to see some resources and latest news from the Skill for Success programme. Eventually there will be one site from which you can access both our blogs easily, and new posts will be tweeted from both blogs through @BeaumontTL

We’ll let you know when the new site is up and running, but in the meantime Look out for resources and developments as we move into Skills for Success – Phase 2. There are exciting times ahead.