This year as part of our new CPD provision we have a 10 minute Teach Meet once a month. This is by run by one teacher who shares their teaching practice with whoever attends, with a 5 minute Q and A at the end. The last session was on behaviour management with KS3 students.
Today our Teach Meet was run by the Head of Science and was focused around the setting of expectations and standards with 6th Formers within academic subjects. The Head of Science was quick to point out these methods worked in the context of the sciences and with the students they had.
The area that has always been an issue for her is work produced that was substandard – this doesn’t matter if it is a high or low ability student. Sloppy, untidy, late and not completed is not acceptable no matter what your ability. Work that is considered ‘substandard’ would not be looked at and the student must repeat it. This is made very clear at the beginning of Year 12 and continued all the way to the last exam in Year 13. There are posters all over science with these expectations on and also a handout that goes in the front of their file.
So what if work is substandard? Then it needs to be repeated and chased up. A reset of the deadline needs to be given. If this is missed it needs to be chased up and then a further sanction needs to be given. It’s time consuming and hard-work, but they feel in science this approach bears fruit.
Everyone in the department must buy into this if it is to fully work and therefore consistency is expected. The individual Heads of Biology, Chemistry and Physics insure this is consistent and followed through with the departments.
They have a set of standards sheet they they read through and they set expectations from first lesson. After they explain the rules they explain In 6th Form that previous reputations don’t count for anything and everyone starts a fresh. They have a chance to start from the beginning again with members of staff.
A key within the science department is that they don’t discipline students and affect the teaching of their lessons. If a student arrives with no equipment, they have spare and it is given out. If students arrive late it is noted, but no questions are asked. Anything like this is dealt with after the lesson, in the students free time and a sanction applied if necessary. Lesson disruption is kept to a minimum to ensure greatest teaching time possible. She explained it is annoying for them as teachers, and can lose break and lunchtimes with this approach, however she feels for most students it’s a battle for the first half of term. However incidents reduce quite drastically after the first 6 weeks and most students start meeting the expectations set once they understand they aren’t going to get away with it.
Interestingly they explain their teaching style, which she called traditional, to the students. There is hardly any independent learning or group work within our science department at A-Level. The science department make their approach clear to the students and explain why they do it. Their results speak for themselves so they do have something backing this up. They have felt that by doing this the students have a clear idea what they need to be doing in lessons, and how they going to be taught.
I questioned this and the response was ‘students want a safe pair of hands, they want to be able to trust their teacher knows what they are doing. There is a focus within the department of always developing subject knowledge. Having good subject knowledge says I’m the expert here, you can trust me. Science A-Level is not a debate, although we do make time for that, it is content driven. We make sure we have them best prepared for the exam, with no teaching gimmicks. Also traditional does not mean passive, there is a lot of questioning, one to one verbal feedback and progression at an individual pace. I’m not standing here telling you it’s how you should teach, I’m just telling you how we approach science in the 6th form with the experience it works in our context.’
There is regular testing of knowledge in all sciences, especially on concepts and definitions. Tests show prior knowledge, follow up if they understand and then later to see if they have remembered. All test are set at minimum target grades, and failure to achieve that results in some form of intervention. Once again this expectation is clearly communicated with students before they start science. The head of science feels this will become more important if science A-levels become linear. Without it students will then try to cram two years of revision just before the exam. Regular testing with consequences are, in her opinion, needed to prevent that.
Finally the atmosphere in an A-Level science classroom should be friendly but you shouldn’t be friends. This helps, along with deep subject knowledge and consistency helps with learning. You being friends with them will not. They will not produce excellent work for their friends will they? So why would you do that for you if you are their friend.
The key message was once you’ve set your expectations; follow up, be a little tough, don’t say ‘forget it’ and don’t play to what they want. Be calm, be insistent, be a terrier. Be clear about what you want from them. Record everything as it informs your teaching. In the end they will probably push at first but they need rules and regulations, especially to help them achieve what they are all capable of.
I have already brought regular testing of definitions and knowledge in as part of my teaching at A-Level PE and I’m waiting to see if this has any noticeable impact. The two key areas for me to take away from this Teach Meet for my own A-Level teaching is ‘friendly atmosphere, never a friend’ and ‘deeper subject knowledge’. Due to my position as a sports coach within school, this can lead to not having many behavioural issues due to the relationships I build on the sports field. What it has done though, with reflection this year, is how to maintain high standards within an academic classroom. I need to ensure that the relationship I have with the 1st XV Rugby is not brought into the classroom. Secondly it is quite clear after a layoff of two years my subject knowledge, especially in physiology, is not deep enough to explain complicated concepts in a easy and understandable manner for my students. Half term will be spent revising for the next half of term.
After the 10 minute talk had ended the Q and A session afterwards was very animated. Teachers from the humanity subjects questioned this approach and those from maths and sciences explained it was very similar in their subjects. This was the first time in 8 years at my school I have seen staff, in an open forum, talking about their own practice and challenging others. Personally this is what I think good teaching and learning is. Having a set of beliefs and values about teaching, being open with them and being challenged in a supportive manner. If after challenge and justification your beliefs still remain then that’s good, if not, you may have to move them and this is when a potential shift in your own practice occurs.
Have a good half term!