30 Year Gold Star

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I guess it’s official. I got my 30 Year certificate from the DET on Tuesday at our end of year Christmas lunch. It is a funny sensation. It actually doesn’t feel that long and I still think I have a lot to learn. Every time I work with a new group of kids or a new member of staff or listen to my beginning teacher daughter I am reminded that I know very little. I am challenged to think in new ways about the job I do, and I keep having this thought “why didn’t I think of that?”.

I am taking a break from cleaning out my filing cabinet and folders at home. I have to do it now. It’s all over the spare bedroom and we have guests for Christmas! And yes I have found some things that are 30 years old. Am I still using them? No, but they do remind me of things I thought then and ways I taught that are probably embedded in my thinking now. It is quite exciting. It is also very therapeutic. I am chucking a lot. I want to get it down to ‘manageable’ and easy to find. I have discovered the best system anywhere, any time is a simple alphabetical system. Finally. It only took 30 years!

So how do I decide what to throw out? Our current syllabus and programme helps. Not much use keeping things that have been  superseded by more innovative thinking. No point keeping grammar sheets – there is a lot more around on the internet that is a lot more fun. Do I keep my personal notes on texts I have taught? Even if I do refer to them, I know I will make a new set of notes next time I teach that text anyway. And they will focus on completely different things because my frame of reference has changed.

Anything on Shakespeare seems worth keeping, and there is such a lot of it over the years! Great ideas for getting kids writing seems worth keeping too. Kids still need to be inspired to write, that hasn’t changed much. And poetry. Poems and ideas for teaching poetry. And there is a lot of that too! I must really like teaching poetry, because I can’t bear to part with a good poem.

Notes from 30 years of professional learning and conferences? Not much I want to keep. What ever I was excited about I used straight away, so the rest obviously didn’t inspire me that much. Thinking skills and pedagogy? Yep, still like trying out ways to challenge kids to think. Still interested in the craft of teaching and how kids learn.

I am procrastinating, I know. I need to get back in there and finish it. A few gems have turned up. A few years ago I did a presentation on “ten things I learnt this year” at Annual Conference. It must have been a good year. Looking back over those ten things I covered a lot of territory. Naturally it got me thinking about the things I learnt this year, so here’s my list:

1. How to set ‘a reasonable amount of homework’ – thanks to Edmodo. Set things that kids have to think hard about but don’t have to write a lot. Focus on the really important thinking they need to do and the really important skills they need to practice, like writing a well structured analysis paragraph with evidence. And do this every week, without fail.

2. How to teach kids to write better essays (I know, I have a million ways to teach essay writing and I am still experimenting!) Teach them how to write a well structured paragraph. Teach them how to write different kinds of paragraphs for different kinds of essay questions and different modules. Model it and make them do their own in the next lesson or homework task. Use the videos on “Building a PEE paragraph”  Give them a formula for writing the introduction and make them practice it until they can go beyond it.

3. Get kids to do some short writing at the beginning of every lesson. Link it to the current work, revision of last lesson, concepts for the next lesson, fun writing. Follow it up with sharing in lots of different ways. Give them a half sheet of paper to write on and collect it. You get a lot of insight into their learning and what they still need to learn.

4. Never forget the joy of performance, or the deep knowledge and understanding that comes from performance.

5. Plan lessons that only take one lesson.

6. Keep finding new ways to get kids engaged in making their thinking visible. They just loved ‘illuminated texts’!

7. There are only two rules for the classroom. Good manners and everyone participates.

8. Kids actually do like reading. Don’t stop.

9. Make connections. Plan units so that the texts are constantly referred to in exploring a ‘big question’. Choose the best texts, not just those that are available. Don’t try to teach everything about the text. Focus on the things they will actually need to know about  to do the assessment task or the exam. And make the kids do all the thinking.

10. If it is not working, try something else. Keep trying until you work out what works. Then keep doing that.

11. And …. there is nothing like a good game of jeopardy to keep them buzzing right to the end of last period Friday!

Now, back to the filing cabinet!

About lyntiernan

I teach kids. Mostly English but sometimes good manners, how to have fun learning, that you are never too old to learn something new, that we all make mistakes and what we do about mistakes is who we become, that the future is not some place we are going to but a place we are creating and... I like learning and adapting new technology in the classroom I'm good with my new IWB, websites and email but hopeless with mobile phones!

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