Monthly Archives: January 2014

Developing key vocabulary across the curriculum #LiteracyChat


Strategies to develop key vocabulary across the curriculum

Important considerations:

1)   Students must know / understand the key vocabulary – no good using if they don’t know the meaning

2)   Teaching words within sentences – essential to get context right

3)   One school suggests –


Subject areas:

1)   Literacy mats – key words, writing frames, paragraph plans



2)   Glossaries – at the start of the unit give the students a bank of the key words and ask them to fill in as they go through the unit.  Equally, at the start of a lesson show students key vocabulary and ask them to write a definition.  Ask students to return to this at the end of the lesson and add to their definitions based upon learning in lesson.

3)   Key words identified on every slide that is produced in your lesson

4)   Modelling vocabulary in talk before encouraging students to emulate in writing

5)   Repetition is key

6)   Use the phrase ‘How would a Historian / Biolgist etc…write or speak about this topic?’

7)   Importance of students seeing exciting words in texts before using them themselves.

8)   Students sit in ‘dictionary corner’.  Students then responsible for teaching keywords and testing peers.  In addition, vocabulary thiefs who wander around the classroom and nick fantastic words to display on the board.

9)   Spelling tests

10)               Using Twitter – 140 summaries – encourages precision with vocabulary

11)               Vocabulary as part of the writing process:

 ImageStretching the more able:

1)   Vocabulary fans


2)   Take-away words


3)   Vocabulary chart


4)   Opposition – banning certain words in writing


5)   Avoid using the word ‘very’








Less able

1)    A visualisation to accompany key word


Tutor time

1)   A cross curricular focus – word-searches, criss cross, crosswords using key vocabulary from across subject areas

2)   Matching key words with definitions – BINGO

3)   Games such as scrabble, articulate and Jenga.  Jenga – students have to pull our Jenga block and give definition of word to class.

4)   Call My Bluff – dictionary game where students find a word, learn its definition and make up 2 fake ones.


Whole-school approach

1)   Word of the week – focused on common errors

2)   Whiteboards on every door with key words on – possibly windows as well – constant exposure

3)   Key words in planners for all subjects




Weekly reflection log – My initial steps to metacognition and thinking about how we learn, what we learn and why

Every week now, I am trialing a reflection process with year 8.  This is done electronically through our planner live system.

Students have two tasks:

1) To reflect on the learning objectives for the week and how they felt they had met or achieved the learning objective.  This demonstrates to me a) how much they think have understood against the work produced and b) their understanding of the learning objective / key skills.

2) To identify two things they felt most proud of or that they thought they had the most success with and one area for improvement.  I want them to recognise their development over time and be positive about it.  


We are now on to our third week.  The students, initially, because it is new and they need training had mixed responses in terms of depth and quality so i am working on training them to be reflective and identify strengths and weaknesses in some depth.


I then shared this with the faculty and one amendment was offered – a target box down the bottom so that either the student or myself could go back to the target when we felt it had been met. 


Today I have added in a third column on the learning objective section so that I can respond to their reflections as well.  This is what the new reflection log looks like:



Sunday marking

Marking is your lesson plan.  

This is what I am constantly told and then I look at the pile of 150 odd books and wish I had this magic marking machine that would just pump the books through for me.  Don’t get me wrong I believe in marking but planning always takes the baton because, frankly, I don’t want to look as though I don’t know what I am doing in front of a large group of teenagers.

So today, I had a set of 30 year 11 books to mark.  They have been practising planning responses using SADOC.  This is a tried and tested method from my old school.

S – Spider leg – the main idea / point being made in the paragraph

A – Add detail – the three ideas that will feed into the main idea

D – Device – the linguistic / structural devices you will include within the paragraph (min 2)

O – order – the order in which this paragraph will appear – is it the first main paragraph?  2nd?  Third?

C – connective or adverbial – the word you are choosing to start your paragraph with.


Here is an example SADOC plan a student produced for a Writing to Inform task in which they had to write a letter to a foreign student, informing them about our school.



Then using the SADOC plan, they construct their written response.  I heavily annotate this response.  Yes, I have to annotate for literacy errors but other than that I annotate with absolutely everything that is good about the piece.  Here is an example:


However, having Ofsted in and knowing one of the areas I need to develop is differentiation, I decided to try and up this a level.  Whilst they were writing new paragraphs this week for a persuasive speech, I gave students a set of criteria.  These were differentiated according to the target grade of the student.  An example of a B grade sheet is below



The idea being that as they complete their work, they are ticking off the criteria they have met.  Then at the end of the lesson, students were asked to peer assess the work and go through the same process.  On this occasion they weren’t asked to make comments but in future I think I might get them to do this.  The students then had time to respond to the peer checking before I collected the work in ready to look at myself, this weekend.

Now it so happens that when I started marking these this afternoon, I found some stampers I ordered 3-4 years ago which i thought might come in great use as a visual way of showing students the skills they had met and not met.  So as I was reading through the paragraphs of work, I identified whether I felt that they had met the skill or not – citing examples if I thought they had and asking questions for reflection if I felt they had not or giving them an instruction to complete.  Then I decided whether i felt the student needed more work on a certain skill set or not and used the green and amber stamper to highlight this to the student.  The addition of this stamper means the student immediately can see the areas they need to develop.  In tomorrow’s lesson, they will use the starter to respond to the feedback and meet their improvement targets.



The reality of the week – Sunday morning planning.

I am determined to clear my head and that means organising myself and my time.  Therefore, one of the most useful tasks I can do is plan my week.

I teach 21 out of 30 lessons so these go in first with a brief idea of the lesson content.

I then add in the line management meetings.  There are approx four a week.

I then add in PPA time – in theory this should be four but in reality this can only be three due to no. of meetings.  A set of books takes more than one PPA slot so this can be tough going.

I then have two lessons left over – one for HOF stuff and one for Literacy stuff.

More and more students are asking for intervention work so if I do not have a meeting after school, time now needs to be dedicated to the students and now, with a full team, the tutor time slot is to be given over to further Year 11 intervention to ensure we get our CA in.

I will use this document throughout the week to add to the list of jobs I need to do / have done to keep track of how I spend my time.  It sounds pretty thorough but it really does help organise my thoughts.

The life of a teacher, HOF, literacy co-ordinator is a busy one.



Nurture 14 Week 3 – Moving forward

I have been miserable this week.  I blame the come down after Ofsted.  There is such a great anticipation for their arrival and it hangs over you like a black cloud that when they eventually turn up and go again, with relatively little impact, it feels like an anti-climax.  And whilst we know what we need to do, until it is visualised in a written report, it doesn’t feel concrete so you can end up feeling a little lost.  As well as exhausted.

In addition, as blogged last week, the impact that they do have can make you react in a variety of different ways.  We had, without doubt, a lovely inspector but I felt deeply frustrated by the ever-growing tick list that has become the observation process.

On top of this, I slipped and fell on ice this week.  It happened quickly, with no time to save myself and I fell hard resulting in three days of headaches and fuzziness.  A quick trip to the doctor confirmed I had whiplash and he had a good laugh at how the falling had started quite young.  Feeling ill though and teaching 6 period days are never good combinations.

So what have I learnt from this week?

1)      Look after your staff – staff needed recovery time this week.  After a week of the DFE and Ofsted, it was clear that everyone was shattered and needed a little time to gather themselves and put themselves back together.  They had found the process overwhelmingly supportive, but it didn’t mean that it hadn’t been exhausting for everyone and you could see this in their heads, in their bodies and in their thoughts – everyone was shattered. 

As a HOF it is important to recognise this in your staff and react.  When the going gets tough, sometimes as HOF you need to get going.  With two members of staff in tears as an outlay of the pressure they had felt, it was important that I supported and comforted but alleviated some of the pressure they were feeling.  I needed to let them have their recovery time, to plan lessons without an observer in mind and recognise that OK is good enough the week after such a gruelling week.

2)      Look after your self – you can spend so much time looking after others, that often you can forget yourself.  The process of Ofsted had been exhausting for me.  I was teaching all day on the Wednesday and all the possible times on the Thursday when they could drop by for a visit.  In addition, I was called to two meetings which I was determined to enter into with a certain spirit which also required an awful lot of energy from me.  I had stayed until 10.15pm both nights and worked until midnight at home, getting up at 5am to finish off the odd bits and bobs. 

It had been a great process and there were lots of positive things to take away but also some helpful developmental points for me and the faculty.  Absorbing this, the faculty’s reactions pre-, during and after and awaiting our result had been quite draining.  Although I felt I had given myself recovery time over the weekend, I didn’t feel as though I had recovered by Monday morning and so a spiral of exhaustion, pain (from falling over) and despondency started to seep in.

As a generally positive person and someone who attempts to keep spirits up, this can be quite difficult not only for myself to deal with but for others around me as well.  However, it is real and you do need to afford yourself that time.  Often, I work best, thinking things through by myself.  Why do I feel the way that I do?  What can be done about it?  How do I go about it?  And after 2-3 days of mulling this over, and being reminded of the good that is around me, I am back on form. 

3)      Time – People are in such a hurry nowadays in all aspects of their lives.  Sometimes, we can be in too much of a rush to sit down and think things through properly.  I am a thinker.  I believe in this more than anything else.   And I believe in this more than anything else at this present point, in my current job, in my current school, in our current situation.  Reactions are only good when thought about properly.  Initiatives are only good when thought about properly.  Ideas are good but putting them into place needs to be thought out properly. 

Now Ofsted have been and gone, we have some clear directives.  I love clarity.  But I am not going to rush this.  I am going to sit AND think AND read AND seek advice AND discuss AND try AND revise AND THEN launch to my faculty and take action. 

I have seen so many times in my career, not necessarily in my current school, people rush in with new initiatives because we need to tackle X or need to tackle y and they have had an amazing idea or two or three or four and I have watched as they drain the souls from the people they work with as new initiative upon new initiative upon new initiative is thrust towards them because all of these initiatives without doubt will be the answer to school improvement.

In fact, improvement takes times; it takes thought and it has to be done in small steps so that people buy into the vision and the direction you want to go in.  The time between one Ofsted visit and another is a beautiful thing because it is the time you can afford yourself to get things right.  I am going to give myself, my faculty the time to do this.  We will get better – not because we will rush to get better but because we will have thought carefully about how we get better.   

And with that I have ordered myself four new educational books, ‘Independent Thinking’ by Ian Gilbert (my educational hero), ‘Change’ by  Richard Gerver,  ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ by Ron Berger and ‘Trivium’ by Martin Robinson.  It is time to think.


I am Malala



Book number 1 of 2014 complete.

An interesting and desperately sad tale of a young girl’s fight for her right to education.

Much of the book is focused on daily life for Malala before the shooting and, as ever, it was incredibly interesting to learn about a different culture.  It is heartbreaking to know that there are still cultures where education is not a basic right and i fully admire Malala for fighting for what she truly believes in.  The courage her family has shown since the shooting is also commendable.  I have taken lines from the book and intend to display these within our English area to remind our students how lucky they are to have such a rich entitlement.

Reflections upon reflections 1/2

It is eerie that this week’s MLTChat is asking the question ‘How do you balance leadership and classroom responsibilities as a Middle Level Leader?’ as it is a question that is resonating with me quite significantly at the moment.  As a perfectionist and a person with the highest expectations of myself, trying to balance everything perfectly is seemingly impossible.


I love teaching and as someone who has been consistently graded as outstanding, thought I was pretty good at it (I am a good teacher) but now as I find myself the head of a faculty which needs to make improvement, the outstanding teacher in me seems to be slipping away and this, for me, has been heart breaking.

Yesterday I posted about the endless tick list that we are required to demonstrate in each lesson in order for all of our students to make significant progress and for us to get that good/outstanding grade. I spoke of how constricting this feels and how it only seems we are good/outstanding if we demonstrate all those things within a short 50 minute lesson. I spoke of the frustration I feel at being so guided that there seems very little freedom to plan in a way that I want to, to ensure that not only do my students make progress but that they also enjoy their learning as well. And then, with some wise words from my line manager, perhaps I have started to realise my frustration does not lie with what is required of us but more that I no longer have the time to dedicate to my teaching alone. I have other leadership things that I need to focus on.

And so this brings me back to square one. That despite teaching 21/30 lessons, my teaching has now become secondary because I need to lead. I can’t dedicate the time to the long list of Ofsted requirements for an outstanding lesson because I don’t have it. I am going to have to settle for good which is going to have to be good enough – for now. I am going to have to find it within myself to be accepting of this cap and not give myself such a hard time until the time when I have managed to stabilise my faculty and dedicate more time to my own classroom practice. One person once said to me that as Head of faculty, it was not up to her to be outstanding, it was up to her to make the rest of her team outstanding and this, it appears, seems to be true.

Nurture – week 2

After two terms with three staff down, the idea was that coming back in January would be just that little bit easier for me as I had appointed a full team of staff. How wrong can one be?

This week we have had visits from both the DFE and Ofsted.

I am not going to write about their visits per se as a lot of it is confidential but as a HOF it is quite an interesting process to reflect on.

It felt as though there was quite a significant juxtaposition during the process. Physically I was a mess – I was sick both mornings and I really couldn’t feel my legs Tuesday morning when I knew they were coming for me. Yet my state of mind was calm – I was ready, I was armed.

My love for the school and a lot of the people in it, including the students, meant that I was determined to be as prepared as I possibly could for any questions I was to face despite nerves.

I was called into two meetings and, in the first, I vividly remember interrupting the lead inspector and talking over him on two occasions as I listed what my faculty were doing to raise attainment and the impact it had already had. I was adamant he was going to listen to me and I was going to throw everything that I possibly could at him. I made notes so I did not leave anything out and, I believe, he came out feeling satisfied with me and my faculty.

The second meeting was a one on one meeting about marking. This felt more like a conversation and whilst I could confidently talk her through our processes, there were points for development and I needed to listen. The advice given was good. It didn’t feel that she was there to catch me out, as Ofsted can so often be presented as doing, but rather to see where we were with our marking and moderation processes and where else it could be taken in the future. I enjoyed our meeting although I wish I had had the time to sit down with her longer.

And then there was this pull between ensuring that I was ready and that the staff in my faculty were ready and that they were ok and calm. Yet when you know so much of an inspection is focused on teaching and learning, it would be unnatural not to feel worried. The faculty were brilliant though and cracked on with planning solid lessons with many in school until late on in the night.

However, as I reflect upon how Ofsted impacts upon a Middle Level Leader, I have come to realise that it isn’t the leadership part of the inspection or the job that concerns me the most, it is in fact the teaching. It doesn’t just concern me, it upsets me and makes me very sad about what our education system has become.

I remember the day when you could rock up to your classroom and you could teach freely – when you could be creative, have fun and laugh in the classroom. You could do projects that would run over several lessons. You had time to develop and deliver a curriculum that was creative, engaging and where students made progress because they enjoyed what they were doing.

Of course you can still smile and look as though you are enjoying teaching now BUT only if you are asking the right questions, differentiated all resources, modelled, marked all books and ensured the students have responded to feedback, used AFL and have all students on target or at least demonstrate that All students are making rapid progress. Of course, this all has to be demonstrated in 20 minutes as well. It is an exhausting ask and feels so utterly constraining and demoralising. It has made me realise that there is no creativity in planning lessons any more which, for me, used to be the fun part of the job because what has to be demonstrated with a lesson means you are left with very little time for anything else.

A year 8 student told me this week how happy he was he had me now because he was doing far more work than he had done with his previous teacher and he really felt he was making progress. I responded by telling him I was really keen to get everyone in the class a level 6 and now as I am writing this, I am realising how sad that truly is. What I really should want to know as his teacher is – is he happy? Does he enjoy English? Does he laugh? Is he inspired to read or write? Which author inspires him the most? When was the last time he wrote a creative piece for himself without worrying about sentence structure and punctuation? Instead, both of us, are guilty of falling into the trap of caring only about meeting government targets and demonstrating progress.

And yet- is it possible to deviate from such a system? Come Monday we will be back to learning walks, book scrutinies, success criteria, AFL and targets for improvement. I will teach my classes with assessments and progress in mind and I will lead the faculty with a determined focus on ensuring year 11 get as close to their target as they can. And then it leads me to reflect and ask – how many of you have planned tasks for the students in your class over the last week or so that has only one outcome – enjoyment and a love for your subject? No progress measures, no assessment, no targets for improvement. Pure, unadulterated enjoyment and love of a subject.

So, I guess, in conclusion, what Ofsted has taught me the most this week is that I wish I was the teacher I once was – the one who was most interested in developing the child rather than the target they are assigned.

And with that I am going to go and read a book for pleasure… something I haven’t done for myself for a long time.

Nurture #14 – Reflections on the first week

1) Three and a half new staff and a complete faculty.  They all turned up.  They all looked pretty happy leaving yesterday.  RESULT!  I can’t even begin to describe what a difference having a full team makes to my life.  I am responsible for a faculty that needs significant improvement in terms of results and standards and it has been incredibly, incredibly hard and, at times, quite lonely over the past few months.  Instead of driving forward change, I have had to deal with more and more problems arising – firefighting – and it has not enabled me to make the progress I have wanted to make, quickly enough.  Now, this week – to some extent – i feel invincible.  I have re-found the belief in myself, i no longer feel alone and i am, once again, feeling more confident about the difference that ‘we’ can make.  It is an incredible joy.

2) I couldn’t do this without the support of my headteacher who is absolutely fantastic.  Last term was very up and down but when he knew I was down, he would make that extra effort to come and have a chat with me to bolster my spirits.  This week he came to check I was ok on several occasions after school – to support, to reassure, to offer advice.  He talks to me quietly and calmly with no sense of panic but with an absolute determination for what he wants from me and the rest of the staff.  He says thank you.  I feel really lucky to have his support.

3) Dr Anthony Seldon shook my hand this week and told me how fantastic my presentation was (it wasn’t that brilliant to be honest), told me how highly valued and appreciated I was and also thanked me for my hard work.  That was all i needed.

4) And then the kids returned and my year 11s were superb during their Controlled Assessment.  The standard and improvement in their work is ridiculous!  I am so unbelievably proud of how far they have come and how well they are doing.  

5) I delegated.  Yes, you heard right.  I delegated and not once either.  I created line leads within the department so KS co-ordinators take responsibility for individuals, I asked KS co-ordinators to contribute the DEF, I delegated positive praise letters to be sent out, I delegated the initial booking of a trip, I delegated medium term planning…A HUGE step for me.

6) This meant I had more time for myself – I managed to get the positive praise letters done, I managed to get the year 11 display done – I managed to do jobs that had been on my to do lists for weeks. 

8) I led a meeting.  Not unusual.  But my tone was different.  I have wanted to be a good leader.  A leader that is liked by everyone.  I thought about this a lot over the Christmas break when I left feeling unsatisfied with the standards of the faculty.  I realised a good leader isn’t necessarily a popular one.   A good leader is someone who leads, who takes control and who has to present the hard line sometimes and that is what I did.  Sometimes it makes you unpopular.  I could tell people weren’t happy, they didn’t like not hearing the answers they wanted or the softer approach they had been used to but I was uncompromising and set the tone for the rest of the year.  

HOWEVER, I hope I set that tone with an understanding of the need to support the school’s drive and put the needs of the students first.  It has been emotionally challenging – my KS co-ordinators are the ones potentially who are going to have to soften blows, they are the ones staff will go to potentially when they are upset.  To some degree, I can no longer be everyone’s friend – I have to be the boss.

9) Because of my hard line and my steps towards delegation, i feel a sense of empowerment from my KS co-ordinators.  They have started the term with such positivity and enthusiasm which has already contributed to a significantly different feel within the faculty.  

10) Texting parents has been a sheer joy this week.  On some occasions it has been to communicate positive information but on other occasions it has been to inform them that homework hasn’t been done.  Irrespective of this, the power of the text is ridiculous.  As a result of this I have got 98% of my homework and my students are going to be better for that.

11) I am teaching KS3 once again and boy have I missed it.  I love KS3 – the fun you can have, the creativity – it is a sheer joy.  This week I have taught The Highwayman – a quick two lesson Af2/3 focus.  But getting to engage with great texts, producing focused work and seeing staggering progress – LOVE it.

12) Brilliant children.  I am not going to say too much on this but we have some truly wonderful, caring and compassionate children.  They have come and spoken with me this week and voiced their opinions and sometimes I look at them and it makes me swell with pride at how truly amazing some of them are – in fact, the majority of them are.  Their care for others is extraordinary.  I absolutely admire their resilience.

13)  A fantastic staff body – from the head to the SLT team (especially Kristian Still who is another saviour of mine) to the teachers to the support staff.  We are community and so supportive of one another.  It is a vibrant staffroom where everyone comes together to have a chat and a giggle.    I make sure that I always take lunch and it is a lovely time.

14) Drive – I can’t wait to see where we go this year.