Review: Engaging Learners

Engaging Learners – Andy Griffith and Mark Burns @OTeaching

“In an era when with teachers and the students it’s time to redress the balance so that students take over the responsibility for their learning. A class can be skilled and motivated to learn without a teacher always having to lead. Engaging learners in this way unpicks intrinsic motivation, the foundation that underpins productive learning environments and helps to develop independent learning.”

Chunked into 6 humorously written and easy to swallow segments, from asking the key question “Why aren’t these kids engaged?” to “I know how to get outstanding now!” This book takes the reader on a true learning journey about creating better, more engaged learners. The authors, are filled to the brim with case studies and examples (both positive and negative) which illustrate the difference these techniques can make in every classroom. They also apply their fool-proof thinking to the overall problem of engaging students.

I was tempted by this book following a session of CPD on Teaching Outstanding English for the new GCSE by Osiris. I am not exaggerating when I explain it has genuinely and completely changed my outlook on my practice and my practice itself. At first, I dubious about launching into the 200 odd pages, on top of the usual teaching, marking, planning cycle. However I set myself the challenge of just ensuring I read one chapter at a time, highlighter at the ready.

This was successful, until I reached the halfway point, then I threw caution to the wind and finished the book in one session tucked up on the sofa with the dogs. There are so many great ideas, tips and pearls of wisdom that I am struggling to decide what to include to whet your appetite.My copy is now dog-eared on probably every other page indicating something I have tried, want to try or will come back to when I get that magical minute of time to do so.

So I have jotted below one thing I have tried, one thing I will be trying, and one thing I need to explore further. I must stress, this is the tiniest tip of the biggest iceberg.

  1. Learning Grids – HOW had I not heard of these?! As soon as I read about them I was on twitter, the TES, trawling the net for ideas and examples. I now have a variety of English Language based ones for writing for purpose, a set of GCSE ones designed by myself to help revision skills and finally a full set of Creative Writing ones which were based on a Wild West one I found, and the rest have been illustrated, in an infantile manner, by me. I have used them successfully in the classroom to prompt creative writing. I gave each stun 3 ingredients from the grid, and 5 minutes writing time, then every 2 minutes for the following 6 I gave an extra ingredient to include. I use a dice app on my phone to pick the boxes, but have foam dice on the way from Amazon.
  2. Meta-Cognition Dice – I have made these up ready, but am yet to use them. I feel my students need a bit more training before working their way up to answering these questions. I aim to try with Y7 first next term to see how they fare.
  3. Class Mantras – I have realised as I progress through my RQT year, and first year in English, that there are lots of things I will do differently next year. One of these is training my students. I am coming across new ideas and approaches all the time and I am hoping by September I will be able to train class from the start. I have had small successes, for example, some students will now automatically cut across those asking me for help with a solution they can use to help themselves, as my default answer to “Miiiiissss…” is “How can you help yourself?” Also, students are starting to use the resources in front of them a lot more, for example my literacy folders are stuffed full of goodies to help improve their work, but I assumed that because they were on the tables, the students would use them! Boy, was I wrong, now I explicitly point out when it would be useful to look at them, and they are slowly starting to use them on their own, o ask if they can for certain tasks.

As you can imagine, I thoroughly recommend you add this to your collection. Even if you only take a few things, they will revolutionise the way you teach.

Rating: *****


Review: 100 Things Awesome Teachers Do

10o Things Awesome Teachers Do – William Emeny (@Maths_Master) Blog

“This book is more about getting excellent learning happening in your classroom day in, day out. The book is full of tried-and-tested ideas that teachers have learned both from academic research and The University of Life and Experience.”

 10 usefully titled sections such as “lesson planning, motivation, learning environment…etc” with each containing 10 ideas that are tried and tested by the author.

This book has been written with the best intentions, to provide real, applicable help to busy teachers which they can apply in the classroom the next day. Emeny himself, admits there are two ways of approaching the book, dipping in and out; or reading like a novel. I chose a mixture of both, skimming the book and dog-earing pages of use, which I returned to later. 

This book, according to Emeny, was written for when teachers feel stale and boring. I understand this is a common affliction in our profession – where it is all too easy to use the same bank of activities again and again… He advocates using the book for those occasions, promising that it will provide a new idea to try when your lessons need some jazzing up.

Emeny is clear about using the book to promote a culture of “outstanding teaching” which will remain valid throughout the inevitable changes of Ofsted criteria. His enthusiasm  for the profession is evident, and he clearly aims to be the best he can be as a teacher and wants this for others which is admirable.

In terms of value, this book has some good ideas. However, it is not reinventing the wheel, most of the ideas are ones I certainly heard of before, and I actually took very few of the 100 ideas from the book to my classroom. This is not a criticism as such, merely an observation, that I am keen to seek out new ideas and try them out. If I have come across this book a year ago, I suspect many of the ideas would have been new to me. 

I have included some of the ideas I found particularly inspiring below, with page references. Obviously for copyright reasons I cannot publish all the details below, but you can buy the book here in both paperback and digital versions. 

Idea 36, pp.58-9 – Mark backwards – this is pure genius! I have implemented this straight away.

Idea 65, p.91- Independent Learned Graffiti Wall – I LOVE this idea and have altered it to become a collaborative graffiti wall display where students volunteer a member of their table to contribute to the wall as a plenary or review task.

Idea 91, pp.126-9 – Relearning – The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve – this theory was brand new to me, and really made me think about how I approach teaching and revisiting topics.

These are just a few of the ideas I have started using in my classroom, and I am grateful to Emeny  for providing them in a such a neat little accessible package. However I do wish there were more of the groundbreaking ideas, and less of the same teaching ideas dressed up slightly differently as I suspect I personally won’t come back to book time and time again as the author intended.

Rating: ****