Creating the right classroom culture for the most effective learning! (Or what good teaching and learning looks like)

This is the blog I said I would write soon in my:  Reduce the marking you take home – do it in the classroom! Actionable feedback in the moment (or the glory of 75 minute lessons) blog.

It’s a blog about how I try to create a purposeful work environment which allows me to circulate the class and give effective feedback to students, while the rest of the class works in silence. It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s pretty mundane.

In my opinion, the most important things required to create a purposeful work environment are:

  1. Routine
  2. Consistency
  3. Crystal clear teacher explanation of what the students need to do, how they need to do it, and what success in the task looks like

*

My lessons are not “rock-star”. I make no apologies for that. I choose students having secure knowledge and successful outcomes over being a “fun” or even “nice”teacher. When my students walk into my classroom the routine is near enough always the same:

  1. Come in, sit down quietly, get your equipment out, complete the first activity – at KS3 this will be silent reading. At KS4, this will be either: silent reading, a recap quiz, or thinking about a key question/bit of knowledge that is on the board that will be invaluable to the lesson.
  2. I will introduce what we will be learning about today – usually framed around a key question. For example:

“Today we will be studying the poem Half-Caste and working out why the poet wrote the poem. We will be considering why the term Half-Caste is an offensive term when used to refer to people of mixed race.”

By the end of the lesson, this is my goal. For every student to be able to answer that question eloquently in a full sentence – ideally illustrating their answer with analysis of evidence from the poem. (Although, for some students being able to include the analysis of evidence may have to be the outcome of the second lesson on this poem. Initially, what is most important for me is that my students have understood this first objective securely before I move on and add in anymore complexity.)

3. I will then be the expert in the room and clearly explain everything that the students need to know to meet our classroom objective. If, as in the example above, we are studying a poem then I will go through the poem line by line with the students and annotate the poem on the board – insisting that the students annotate the poem too. I will use cold-call questioning to draw responses from the students as we work through the poem so that they are active participants in the learning process.

4. At this point in the lesson, I will re-introduce the question we are working towards and use questioning to get the students to begin to verbalise their answer. The questioning will go around the room with students improving on the previous answers given until we have a sufficiently detailed and eloquent answer.

5. Following this questioning, I will model how the students could begin their answer and give them clear instructions about what needs to be in the remainder of the answer for it to be a successful response. I ensure the students know this is a silent task and what the consequence is if they are not silent. I give them a clear time-frame for them to complete the work and then they begin.

6. I give the students a minute or so to get going and then I being to circulate. Because every student knows what to do and has what they need (the knowledge from the exposition parts of the lesson), because every student knows the expectation to work in silence and what will happen if they do not, they work. I circulate the room and praise and intervene as necessary:

Praise: “Well done for making clear what the writer thinks of the term Half-Caste”.

Intervention: “You need to add that this is an offensive term when being used to refer to people who are mixed race”.

And that’s it! I told you it wasn’t rocket science. I told you it was mundane. But if you’re not bored yet then I’ll tell you how the lesson would usually finish.

7. After the students have had the time to complete their responses, I would ask some students to read their work or display it to the class using a visualiser. I and/or the students would reflect on the strengths of the response and anything that could be improved. If there are improvements to be made to a specific student’s work then they will do it there and then, in that moment. All students are asked to compare the work being read or shown to their own work and, again, if students see something that is good that they have not included in their own answer then they add it – there and then, in that moment.

8. At the end of the lesson, the students are given instructions to pack up – always the same routine – any resources that have been used that are staying in the room to be returned, if books are being handed in then they are passed to the ends of the rows, all equipment is packed away and the students stand quietly behind their desks.

9. Time for more questioning. To finish the lesson, I will again use cold-call questioning and question the students about key learning from the lesson. If a student struggled with something in the lesson then they may be re-asked that question. The same key question will be put to several students in the group and always to the lowest attaining students. I need to know that all of my students have understood the key question before they leave the room. In the example of the Half-Caste poem that I taught yesterday this was:

“Why is it offensive to refer to someone who is mixed-race as Half-Caste?”

10. Finally, what will I do next lesson? Exactly the same thing. Exactly the same routine. And, in any re-cap towards the starts of lessons, I will re-ask the the key question(s )from the previous lesson.

So that’s it. Definitely not rocket science! And if you are not already running your lessons like this, give it a go.

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