The Rising Tide….

This is a follow up post from Monday, where I wrote about how a change in planning, a shift in expectations, a lot of confidence work and a great deal of self-belief has transformed the learning that takes place in my classroom.

I have many “case studies”- I teach almost 500 students a week. I have gathered pages and pages of “evidence” and tried out many different ideas, tweaks and methods in order to improve my own teaching, but most importantly to improve the skills of my students.

Around three years ago I visited one of our local primary schools to see how work was differentiated there but also what students with low reading ages should be able to do. This was my focus, to help prepare more appropriate work for lower ability learners.

I’ve been back at work just over a year from maternity leave, and have tweaked, tweaked and tweaked my differentiation even more. Currently, I have almost gone full circle back to where I started, but with most students now completing the most challenging tasks rather than most students completing the mid level challenge task.

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This is work of one of my Y9 students in September. I teach in mixed ability forms in music. This particular student is a “set 3″ (out of 3) student in set lessons. As you can see he has not answered some questions, used limited vocabulary and is not particularly neat.

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This is the same student’s work in November, a different task but we use similar methods for listening to embed the processes and skills into each task so it becomes easier. Sentences with musical vocabulary are developing and in the venue answer, he has justified his choice, although no full sentences there.

This is work from the same student from last week. This is his first draft. He has been back at lunch times on Monday and Tuesday of this week to re-draft his work for my “excellence” wall.
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The only thing that has changed in this student is HIS belief. He believes he is capable to produce good work and has become more and motivated by his achievements.

Just to highlight once more- the next photo is of one of the most able students in the group. Neither student has instrumental lessons or any other musical input apart from one hour a week in KS3 music lessons.

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The hand written task from the first student is the same task as the student above has completed.

When talking to the first student when he (volunteered to) come back in his lunch time, I asked him what had changed to make him want to produce this work. After all, it has to come from them, I can’t physically write it for them. I can give them the tools but I can’t carve their work.

We looked through his book, to the first task. He was appalled. “That’s rubbish, I can’t believe I put so little effort in”. It did make him realise just how good his last piece of work was though, in comparison to his first one. He said he knew he could do it. That is the only difference. He also knew he had the skills and tools to do his best, and he knew if he had difficulties, he was confident enough to overcome them with the help of his newly found resilience, his peers and his ever growing skill base. He went on to say he had been trying harder BMX tricks recently, ones he thought would be too tricky.

“If I fall off my bike, I just try it again. It takes ages to get better but it’s worth trying because it will work one day”.

By expecting more from ALL of my students in ALL tasks has meant that ALL students have raised their game, improved their grades but in my eyes, most importantly improved their skills and confidence.

The rising tide WIL lift all ships. Fact.

13 weeks of growth….

I’ve been waiting to post this for weeks, but needed the climate to be right, the right pictures to go with the posts and most importantly the cycle of work I have been doing to be finished and completed to verify my thoughts and predictions and also to reflect on the term.

I started the new academic year full of gusto, full throttle and tackling the challenges that faced me in my new job, head on. One of my colleagues @BelmontTeach recommended I should read Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” and straight away, it made total sense.

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This, combined with Ron Berger’s “Ethic of Excellence” have totally changed my teaching this year.

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I began to “take off” with this work in November after changing my methods of lesson planning and delivery by planning for the top, most able and differentiating down, rather from the bottom upwards. Although each student had tasks that were appropriate, my shift in focus really has lifted all students and also increased motivation, particularly in students who were my “hard to reach” group.

I shared this strategy with my students and because of this I know they understand why I changed the focus. They know I believe in them and because of this, I know this is why I have seen the improvements in my department that have happened since.

The biggest improvements I have seen has been in student motivation. I believe in them and also in their ability. because of this they seem to be more resilient, more willing to try and less willing to be defeated easily. Don’t get me wrong, I still hear the odd “Miss, I can’t” but I have also developed strategies to combat this- ask a partner/ neighbour/ or repeat the demonstration again if it is a performance based task. Believe in yourself.

I have photographed examples of work which I consider to be “excellent” to display on my wall of excellence, which the caretaker kindly painted Belmont purple. Students are proud their work has been selected, and congratulate each other. It is good to do well!

I have books of evidence showing student journeys from September, which is one of my most powerful tools. Each little landmark a student makes- using vocabulary to explain using full sentences, to adding their own opinion, to justifying their examples and answers, is logged in their own books for anyone to see. For some students, this has been their lightbulb, when I show them work from September until now, they can see their achievements and see their improvements, which then motivates them to do better next time. They want to do well.

I have a series of posts for this week which I am so excited to share and they prove what I believe in. All students can achieve in the right climate.

Watch this space………..

Flying higher, like a plane.

The Aviators

I have used this video and music clip with my Y8 classes this week. I love the video but the music for me, makes it. I love the story it tells and the way the music makes you feel, think, absorbs the listener and connects. Some students were reduced to tears, “the music made me cry”.

“The music made me reflect on my achievements and successes.”
“As the planes got better, stronger and higher, the music grew stronger too.”
“I love this piece, it makes me feel every emotion.”

We are talking about mood music and how different pieces of music can make people feel different ways. I love teaching listening, especially at the moment when my students are so motivated to be good listeners.

I showed a Y7 class the same video as part of a started activity and one student put his hand up, his answer almost reduced ME to tears.

“Have you showed us this Miss, because we are the inventors of the plane? So we try and it is a bit wrong, then we try again and it gets better. Then we’ll keep doing it and we’ll be like the planes at the end, because you want us to always try our best and we do, so we will fly higher?” (Y7 student- Belmont Community School, 6th March 2014

We had a lovely visit to our department from our link governor this week. She commented that one of the student panel said about our department “It’s where you can be who you want to be, not who you should be” and this also almost reduced me to tears. I feel proud my students can articulate themselves to visitors and also be so precise about their feelings.

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I actually did have tears several times this week- I am becoming more and more of an emotional wreck at the moment- after asking SLT if I can host an alternative parent’s evening for Y7.

As a musician and a music teacher, I am so, so passionate about my subject and I know I can pass this, and have passed this onto my students. My Y7 classes are working at the highest standard I’ve EVER had, no lies here. I am so proud of them all, they are proud of themselves and each other. We held a celebration lesson this week in each Y7 class to congratulate each student who had made progress in this topic- The Beatles. Most students have made exceptional progress- more than a level higher than the end of the last topic. Many of them have reached or exceeded their end of year targets. I explained to the though, I don’t want them to get too concerned about numbers and levels, it was more about the skills they have developed. Some students can perform a melody and chords confidently on their own on the keyboards, some of them can write a detailed comparison between pieces of music, some can justify their confidence levels articulately, skills they have all developed since Christmas.

I want their parents to come and SEE what they can do, to see their books and to see their skills. SLT agreed I can do this and I actually can’t wait. I want the parents of my students to feel the pride that I do, to look through their child’s book and to say “Wow, look at his work, it’s amazing!” I want the students to perform their pieces they have learnt and for their parents to show them what they do in lesson. It will be so much more powerful than me telling them.

I had a bit of a flat week last week, a few dilemmas and decisions made that I was unsure of and combined with a busy week meant I didn’t feel at my best last week, but I know this week has top-trumped ALL weeks so far.

NURTURE update

I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my #nurture1314 goals so far.

1) Don’t be late with gifts- so far, so good!
2) Practise what I preach- I’m getting better at this, and more and more every day I think what would I do, am I leading by example, do I make them believe. I am starting to feel that I can push my comfort zone more and more and in turn, understand how my students feel when I push them from theirs.
3) Eat better- still the same, need to make more of an effort here.
4) Madame Koo cocktails- plans are afoot…
5) Attend as many teachmeets as I can- and be brave- Yes! Real progress on this one. Signed up for several and some to present too. This fits with number 2. I am developing confidence by doing this but I think this is also important for my students to see. We were discussing performance anxiety today and I shared my fears and “blips” with my Y10. They need to know I feel the same things as them, and that I’m also prepared to go through the same journey as them too.
6) Switch all devices off at bedtime…..errrrrr…
7) Gardening- weather has prevented much progress on this.
8) Fun days out- yes! Fab times rule Sundays!
9) Remain calm and organised- Yes. A few blips but I’m much much better at this and by being methodical then eases stressful situations. I think this is one of my biggest strengths at the moment.
10) Rehearse piano more- oops. Fail here. Need my books out of the attic. Maybe if I put them on the piano I will feel more inclined to rehearse.
11) Keep trying new teaching ideas- YES, in fact I gave a stack I want to try but there’s no time, I am working my way through them but once I try one new thing, four more come along the next day and I want to try them! I am currently tweaking ideas that work and developing them further to imbed them and make sure they are exactly how I want them.
12) Get back into running- I’ve entered the ballot for the Great North Run so hopefully I will get a place and this will mean I will need to train.
13) Smile no matter what- I am a smiler so this is easy!
14) Read- trying my best and making progress with this!

London Calling!

This week sees the departure of many of our PA students and staff to London for the annual theatre trip.

I’ve chosen this song above deliberately as it holds many memories for me, the lyrics are very significant in the current climate, especially after the day I’ve had. The people I’m referring to will know I mean them. Also, we are going to see “Wicked” in London.

I still remember my first visit to London. I was 13 years old and I went with my first ever brass band. We went to play at the Wembley Conference Centre, to compete in the 4th section of the National Brass Band Championships, a competition I’ve then gone onto play in many times in the Championship section finals, which are held at the Royal Albert Hall annually.

Anyway, my first trip to London. My friends and I were all given the day off school to attend the competition, quite an exciting event! No family members were coming, just the adults in the brass band. I can remember clearly so much about the trip. We stayed in a big hotel in Elephant and Castle, we were warned as kids not to go out the hotel, there were 4 of us sharing a room and it was like a big sleepover! I can’t even remember playing at the competition or what the results were but I do remember after we had played all of the adults disappeared to the pub. We were 13/14- what could we do?

We bought tube tickets and a map then off we went. Harrods. Piccadilly Circus. Hamleys. Oxford Street. Places we had heard about, seen on TV but had never seen. We managed between the four of us to get ourselves round the main sights, bought lovely presents for our families to take home then headed back to Elephant and Castle tube station. We even managed to get back to the hotel. Then it all went wrong!

The band adults met us at the reception. Some of them had been crying. The men were furious. As na├»ve children, coming from small villages in Fife, we were so clueless but had the skills to get ourselves round London. In the days before mobile phones, in the days of the IRA- early 1990′s. There had been bomb scares that weekend, and we had just “disappeared”. No-one was responsible for us, so no-one knew where we had gone. People had rang our parents to see if we had rang home. Not likely, we were too busy sightseeing! Parents were then worried, then inconsolable when the news had broken about bomb scares. I just remember at night all four of us sat in our room dreading the journey home. Parents were livid. Upset, relieved. None of the band adults spoke to us for the journey home.

I got a stern talking to by my dad, then he said something I will never forget. Although he was worried sick, he was also very proud we had managed to do it! That he was glad we saw parts of London the other band members didn’t see. BUT….rant rant rant…

I love visiting London, I am lucky I have one of my oldest friends based there and visit her frequently. One of my greatest achievements, running the London Marathon, performing in the RAH, spending summer days in Regent’s Park, buying a Beefeater from a stall outside Buckingham Palace for my Nana on my first trip, which still is displayed in her living room, I have so many memories of London. Good memories, amazing memories.

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I honestly can’t wait to get on that bus on Wednesday morning with 54 Y8-11 students. Many of them will be away from home for the first time. Many of them are visiting London for the first time. There is no way they will have the same kind of experience that I did on my first trip to London but I can’t wait to help them make memories that will last them a lifetime, just like mine.

Thanks to @JCoops00 for organising the trip! London here we come!

More reflections

This piece of music is beautiful. It grows. It makes you believe.

I had an amazing week at work last week. I know I won’t quite be able to put it into words but I need to try so I can unload, relax and move on to this week.

I have to say, I love Mondays. I have a lovely day on Monday. First lesson was a critique lesson with Y7 which was even more successful than I had hoped, and it also allowed someone who was absent the previous week to see what had been done as we discussed and showed work on the webcam. I chose students who had done well strategically. Students who needed a confidence boost beamed with pride when we discussed their work, students who had excelled and developed wanted to show their work on the webcam. This was a theme throughout the whole week. As the week passed, I began to see the bigger picture. They believe. Year 9 boys were my biggest believers. Biggest smilers, biggest gains. I can’t wait to display so many pieces of work as they fill me with pride, but most of all the students are proud of their work too. I can feel a tiny bit of what Ron Berger feels.

Tuesday involved me going to London for a course which gave me 6 hours of reading time not the train, a rare chance to sit still and listen to music, read, look out of the window and think about things. The course itself may not have been as beneficial as I had hoped but I still found the different day refreshing and interesting.

Wednesday came, first lesson again became an emotional roller coaster as Y9 began their critique and improvements, the effort was phenomenal. Takeaway homework was handed in, some outstanding film music work, hoping to display some on my blog once I have checked with students and parents. I could not have imagined some of the homework people would hand in, above and beyond my highest expectations, which are becoming higher all the time.

More praise on Wednesday for my highest achieving Y7 class then a lovely afternoon planning radio scripts for Y8 radio adverts. Such a lovely day.

Thursday followed the same pattern as Wednesday, just in a different order. The belief is growing, and by Friday I was giddy.

I had some excellent discussions with almost a third of Y9 (mostly boys) who I wanted to change their targets, move them higher, raise the bar even more. All agreed. They believe. The confidence I have in them is now beginning to make them realise they can do it. I believe. They believe.

I am finding the “targets” quite restrictive at the moment, especially in Y7 where I have students working at the highest standards I’ve ever had in Y7. Students love to know their targets, or is it that they are just used to knowing their targets? Target target target. I just want them to aim high, then higher. To try their best and to know they have. To know how to improve but to also be able to vocalise to others how they can improve too.

I had a conversation with @BelmontTeach in September when I was learning more about using data. Flight paths. How I expect students to progress in music. My flight path was steady but still challenging. One hour a week isn’t a lot of time but since changing my expectations and “lifting the lid” thanks to
Cherry Crooks presentation at a TeachMeet, then my flight paths are nul and void. Air traffic control would be having a nightmare. Planes taking off everywhere, at steep angles and at such a rapid pace.

My next step is to stop now. Embed the approaches I’ve used this half term into next half term to check it really does work. That the knowledge and skills are retained and built on, that there are no plane crashes or wobbles from the sky. Belief.

The very last day of my school week was the best. The callbacks for our musical, final coatings and then typing up the list of 116 students who will star in the musical this summer. 116. Belief. They believe. We also uncovered some stars of the future, one boy in particular. He believed in himself. I believe in him.

The Y11 Performing Arts class that my colleagues teach, performing in their exam piece, full of self confidence, belief and enthusiasm. They were so focused, so much more improved and their decided piece was excellent, I had a tear in my eye and was brimming with pride. So proud of them and so proud of my colleagues for extracting the best in these students. I cannot wait to discuss progress of some of these students in the forthcoming Raising Achievement Group.

Comfort Zone challenges for me this week- I attended a child’s birthday party yesterday. Our niece. I still feel sick thinking about it. I find these events frightening and almost panic but with the help of my husband, we managed to go and I managed to almost relax. I lasted the full 90 minutes without having to leave but good grief, 40 kids on a bouncy castle…..
This has been probably my biggest comfort zone challenge this year so far. Another party is on the horizon in a few weeks time so I need to prepare mentally for it. Today we painted in the house. Bad weather, snow, rain and gale force winds scuppered our fresh air plans so out came the paints. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought despite having a 3pm bath time and a quick steam of the floor. My little boy loved it, his happy little face made my paint-all-over-the-place induced panic disappear.
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So, I as I am sitting here typing this, I am just wondering how this week can top last week….we shall see!