Running: a British School in Nanjing

I have always been an advocate of running. Good for the soul and good for the heart. Not so good for the knees. It clears my mind and gives me breathing space away from 4G, Wifi, browsers and emails. It’s always been a key to a better work-life balance.

As part of my work with Dragonfly Training, I was invited to run two training days at The British School in Nanjing. My two year visa and an excellent track record, meant I was a good fit. We had lots of time to find out exactly what the school’s needs were, so we formulated a toolbox of practical ideas to improve, regenerate and revitalise teaching and learning. After a long journey, my first priority was to explore the school, share resources and connect with senior staff. I was able to spend time listening to the Head of Senior School, Heidi Witt-Williams and the Headteacher, Matthew Shephard, describe the unique context of their school. It was time well spent.

I just want to say how much of a pleasure it was to host Marcus here in Nanjing. I think it’s often overlooked how important it is that training is enjoyable and that trainers need to be engaging. Marcus was excellent; I only got to sit in a couple of hours of the two days but I felt inspired. – Matthew Shephard, Head, BSN

The two days were filled with practical suggestions for differentiation, assessment for learning, stretch and challenge and ways to create independent learners. The final session looked at how to use projects (particularly STEM projects from www.practicalaction.org/schools) to bring classrooms alive. Staff completed the Squashed Tomato Challenge, starting with a scavenger hunt for various items and then constructing a working model to show how to bring small amounts of tomatoes down a Nepalese hillside to markets in the valleys. Great fun, highly engaging and a fantastic way to finish the two days.

Day one started with a ‘Keynote’ presentation to the whole staff. It was called ‘Brilliant Brains’ and was really a way to get people thinking about how connections, brain development and memories are key factors in learning. I have learnt a great deal from a fellow trainer at Dragonfly, Dave Taylor and been lucky enough to share ideas about how kids learn best and what makes us better teachers. I was able to use some of these during the first session.

Making connections with real teachers really matters to me. I invest a huge amount of time and effort in creating a tailored course to suit the needs of individual schools. I want people to enjoy it, but most of all I want it to impact on their professional lives, making work more rewarding, fulfilling and ultimately more enjoyable. I want children to be engaged and nurtured, stretched and challenged rather than become passengers in a classroom full of uninspiring content and knowledge. I was inspired by the passion of the educators at the British School in Nanjing, their flexibility and willingness to adapt to new situations, new buildings and new challenges. I have a follow up chat with the Head in the next few days to see how things are progressing.

The Head, Matthew Shephard, has a calm and uncomplicated approach to school leadership. He promotes quality first teaching, supporting and encouraging his staff. He is surrounded by a highly experienced team of educators who promote and model excellent teaching and learning from Nursery up to Year 13. We discussed leadership styles, teaching and learning……. and running. I suggested a simple program to build up to 10k over the next few months. Good for the soul. Good for the heart. I look forward to joining him on a run in Nanjing the next time I visit.

For details on Dragonfly Training courses, give Mary Chapman a call on +44 (0)2920 711787 or email mary@dragonfly-training.co.uk

 

Differentiation and Beyond

Dragonfly Training offer practical courses designed for teachers across the world.

Teaching teachers. A piece of cake they said.

I spent a day with teachers from St. George’s English International School in Munich last week. A wide range of nationalities, skills, teaching backgrounds and experience and a whole host of previous training days under their belts. For the teachers, the new term promised a brand new school building, slightly out of the centre of Munich, but with so much to do and only so many hours in a day, the shiny windows, squeaky clean flooring and whistle-white walls would have to wait. It wasn’t ready. We were relocated to a local football club with a decent-sized function room.

Training teachers takes effort, patience, understanding and an unusual perspective. It took me a while to get over the fact that I wasn’t teaching and I wasn’t offering egg-sucking courses either. The fact that I had 22 years teaching experience didn’t really matter. What counted was my ideas, my take on teaching, knowing what works and finding the right way to connect with colleagues on many different levels. I consider myself to be emotionally intelligent. It is important to know what a bad training day looks and feels like. There have been a few. Listening to regurgitations of the ‘Haynes manual of teaching’ and wishing you were still on that beach. Painful. But a good training day can be inspirational, uplifting and fire you up for days, weeks and even years. I am fortunate enough to have attended lots of these. I have also worked with energizing colleagues and gained a great deal from them.

The teachers at St. George’s were definitely ready for a good day. Some were still figuring out where to live in their new town but all were ready to engage. After some warm up activities, we looked at three key pillars of good teaching and learning: Differentiation, Assessment for Learning and Feedback. Teachers tried some practical ways to differentiate for learners. We called it ‘personalization’. There are so many ways that learners can be challenged, stretched and engaged appropriately.

Here are some of our differentiation ideas:

  • Multi part tasks – split part one into three different tasks with different levels of complexity eg describe A) Romeo and Juliet main characters, B) family circumstances and C) the effect of family on their relationship. Then use all of these together to D) write a short summary of the main events of Romeo and Juliet and then E) write a 140 character tweet to summarize the story including spaces, hashtags, and emojis.
  • Providing roles – scribe, observer, listener, artist, designer, summarizer, timer etc. Kids love roles and respond differently to each job description. Rotate at will.
  • Scaffolding – provide support and structure in different guises. Simple skills developing into more complex skills. You can also use mind tools to help with creative thinking.
  • Framing questions – ‘from the viewpoint of ……., how did …….impact on …….’ creates opportunities for empathy and can also provide constraints within which a question can be answered.
  • Big questions – contextualizes the learning. This is important for all learners but especially EAL learners.
  • Real Issues – gets young people fired up about big issues and means they can see how learning becomes relevant to their world
  • Projects – learners can approach projects in so many different ways. Let them have an open-ended outcome and see what happens
  • Differentiation by learning needs – this could be dyslexia, EAL (English as an Additional Language), cognitive (processing), sight, hearing, behaviour, autism, Free School Meals, Gifted and Talented. Think about how you would need to differentiate for each of these.
  • By sequence – change the order of activities to suit the needs of different learners
  • By pace – change the timing of each activity to suit individuals but keep the pace up.
  • Use circus or stations – you can change the order, have certain stations for each group of learners or provide increasing complexity as you move around – this works well in science with different experiments for example.
  • By outcome – provide different levels of outcome (possibly colour them, grade them or give them different names such as ‘beginner’, ‘expert’, ‘ninja’)
  • By task – provide choices for learners eg hot, spicy, mild – better than easy, medium and difficult
  • By activity – watch something, listen to an audio file, talk to each other, write something, act out something – lots of ways to engage learners on different levels.
  • The ‘enable table’ – set up a table, space or wall display with extra, extension information.

There are many others (feel free to add yours in comments) but with a limited amount of time, we then considered how to assess pupils progress using a range of classroom techniques and strategies.

  • Asking questions (the right type of question) – these are the tools of your trade – get them right and you will find true wisdom and enlightenment!
  • Red, Orange, Green student response cards, to hold up, leave on the desk so that teachers can see who understands what.
  • Mini whiteboards – these have seen significant use in classrooms across the world. Great for checking on progress. Join them up in a line or make a ‘big picture’ with all of them on the floor or hold them up for a time lapse video.
  • Standing on a continuum – these are useful and get learners out of their seats – try ‘yes/no’, ‘agree/disagree’, ‘1-10’ or make up your own
  • Find your corner – label each corner A, B, C and D – pupils stand in each corner depending on the question
  • Hot responses – hot, spicy, mild – pupils choose an activity and difficulty, therefore, indicating their confidence
  • How many fingers – 1-10 confidence level or 1-5 depending on the question
  • Thumbs Up or Down – quick testing of confidence
  • Confidence Rating – use 1-4 rather than 1-5 as pupils will often plump for the middle one.
  • Sad face or smiley face – easy to use in books, whiteboards etc for self or peer assessment
  • Starting Point – by deciding on level of entry pupils indicate their confidence level and prior knowledge
  • No hands – means all pupils have to come up with a good answer and to help with this…
  • Random Name Generator – use http://www.classtools.net (with loads of other games and tools) or StickPick app (small cost).
  • Snowball fight – write/work on something – scrunch it up and all throw at the same time – good fun – open, add, edit, assess, scrunch and throw. Repeat. Use notes with annotations to formulate a final draft.
  • Snowballing – one person works on a task, pairs up, joins a third, a fourth and so on.
  • Pyramid – one pairs with another, two become four, become eight etc – good for class discussion

Feedback has most effect when it creates ‘cognitive conflict’ meaning that the student is puzzled they got it wrong, and starts to work out why, Hattie (2003)

We also had a play with Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Spiral, Socrative, Plickers and QR codes. Lots of digital ways to assess learning and find ways to move forwards. We also looked at how to support EAL learners in the classroom – often a significant factor in International Schools.

You can see some of the feedback on the course below. Teachers left with practical strategies that really work. Dragonfly Training pride themselves on making courses ‘hands-on’, based on current research and educational thinking and bespoke to a particular context for each school. Each course can be adapted to suit any number of teachers. They also work well for all-through schools. Get in touch if you would like more information. With huge thanks to those staff willing to share some feedback on camera. (You were great!)

This was a great team of teachers to work with. Full of enthusiasm and ready to take on new ideas and tweak some old ones. Have a look at their site here http://www.stgeorgesschool.de/munich

 

 

I also deliver courses on Google Suite – Apps for Education (Digital Pedagogy), Raising Boys’ Achievement, Active Learning, Science and STEM in Junior and Elementary Schools and Wellbeing. Just get in touch with Dragonfly HQ for more information.

Raising boys achievement

There are many barriers to learning for young lads. I have been digging a little deeper only to satisfy my own curiosity and remind myself that a classroom teacher has often got the odds stacked against them if they want achievement for all. Gary Wilson is a heavily-cited educationalist, known for his work on boys achievement. He reckons there are at least 30 different barriers to success for boys. These include early experiences, role models (or lack of strong male role models), poor emotional intelligence, reading without talking first, choice of teacher language and the way teachers interact with boys as opposed to girls. There is no quick fix. Boy-girl seating plans are a short term remedy often inappropriately deployed with little explanation. Single gender work has limited impact mainly because it is not sustainable. Gary Wilson talks about improving chances and preparedness for boys at the earliest opportunity. The work must begin in primary schools and a cross-phase approach is essential.

This sentiment was echoed when I spoke with a Primary Headteacher recently. He suggested something which he described as a little controversial. Put the best teachers with the most difficult boys. Outstanding teachers will ensure the gender gap does not widen. Once they reach secondary school, any gap can’t be closed. The damage has already been done. He then suggested greater sustainable links between primary and secondary schools. Not just taster days or special events but something that is regular, significant and appropriate.

“Boys need challenge; they need structure. They like to solve problems and need tasks to be active and engaging. Create opportunities to talk before writing, create time for reflection and make the work relevant.” – Gary Wilson – Oxford University Press – Project X

In my classroom, I have been using IntoScience (www.intoscience.com). I have noticed increased motivation and engagement from the boys in my Year 8 group (a tough boy-dominated group). This is not just the ‘lads’ but the quieter boys who respond well to working in pairs on some of the challenges and activities. Each task is clearly defined. There are ‘inquiry points’ on offer at each stage and plenty of challenge. They are also keen to follow up at home. The girls love it too!

My work with Primary schools has also meant I have been able to see Empiribox (www.empiribox.org) in action. This is great for boys achievement. Hands-on practical science with plenty of pops, whizzes, bubbles and smells. They get to use scientific language, ask questions and investigate their own ideas. It’s the perfect mix of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Useful starting point with some good ideas. Happy to hear more!

Music4Learning #6

“You wake up tomorrow and there’s no music. It’s all gone. Not even a note. “

How crazy and unimaginable would that be. Our brains respond so powerfully to music that there has to be a strong connection. The Sync Project is trying to gather individuals to verify the effects of music with tangible, hardcore research and evidence. There are many experts out there willing to throw their hand in to help pull a few strings. By invitation only, a group gathered to thrash out and explore some ideas at McGill University last month – the link is here. Take a look at what they are trying to achieve….

At I Can Teach, we believe that certain types of music are real Brain Food – the connection with the soul is undoubted but to help the brain’s engine room really kick into gear, there are beats that work. Using music at 50-80 beats per minute, often classical music, can generate an increase in alpha waves in the brain. This dramatically improves brain function and can increase memory capacity and retention. Pachelbel’s Cannon in D major is an ideal piece of music and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major is also highly influential. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is a delight to improve creative writing.

“Several of my Year 4 and Year 3 teachers are now regularly using I Can Teach music in their classrooms. There has been a significant impact on pupil concentration when listening to the brain food music while writing”. Rob Evans – Headteacher

The music is calming, reassuring and purposeful. The atmosphere is noticeably different and I know my students value the opportunity to pause, reflect and improve even if they wouldn’t confess to being a fan of classical music.

Music4Learning #5

“Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not.”

Wellbeing is underrated. So many people pay little attention to their own or others. Hardworking teachers and students crashing and burning their way through an academic week means there is little left for anyone else come the weekend. Teachers are victims of their own regime. The timetable creates a Pavlovian phenomenon of knowing exactly what you are doing and when. But this hamster wheel is where we lose the ‘why’ of teaching.

Let’s refocus on the ‘why’ then. Teaching is a passion. Don’t do it if it’s not. We nurture, guide and applaud young people. We push and pull, cajole and coax and equip brave young minds with resilience and tenacity. To survive this rollercoaster I need time to look after myself and my students. I need to know when I am pushing them too far. I use the music from I Can Teach to ‘chill out’. Generally, with no lyrics, the music allows me to refocus, to reflect and calm before the next onslaught. Try it before that ‘hard to teach’ class arrives. The effect is not short-lived. My favourite track in Chill Out has to be La Femme d’Argent by Air. You can almost feel the waves lapping around you and a gentle sea breeze keeping you nicely chilled. Follow this up with Homebase by dZihan and Kamien and you are in a different place – a different space. Northern Lights by Lux is delicious in its simplicity. You can melt away in this music.

So, you’ve tried the therapeutic self-awareness route and you are now confidently going to try it on that class of 8 year olds or 13 years olds that have bounced in after break. It works. It creates a calm, peaceful and purposeful atmosphere. It physically changes the chemical balance of hormones in the body. Calm teacher, calm class of learners. Greater focus means improved productivity and greater confidence. ‘Chill Out‘ does not mean ‘Doze Off’. There is an intrinsic purpose to this choice of music. It works.

ASAP Science: The Scientific Power of Music (2:00)

“More of the brain is involved in perception and response to music than to language or anything else.” – Oliver Sacks

Lastly, if you like the academic rigour behind all of this then check out Oliver Sacks – Tales of Music and the Brain. His site is here. Worth a good look.

Music4Learning #4

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T.E. Lawrence

Ever seen a bunch of 16 year olds dragging their knuckles, bringing last Wednesday’s clothes and smell with them, complaining of bright lights and too many things to do before sunset? Ever opened your classroom door to a sideways glance from a teenage girl who has scrunched the last bit of chew from a stick of gum and just about managed to string the words together: ‘Hope we’re doing something fun today!’? The joys of high school or secondary school bring tears to most teachers eyes – and for so many reasons. It is the age of consolidation. The voyage of self-discovery and the trials of adolescence.

My learners enter the classroom knowing there’s going to be some music at some point. Here’s how I use the Wake Up section on I Can Teach. The chemistry has to be right. Imbalance between the two hormones melatonin and serotonin can cause a delay in waking and difficulty getting to sleep. So there are times when music can help. He’s a Pirate by Klaus Badelt (from Pirates of The Caribbean) is a rousing bit of music. Use it to introduce a topic, a speaker or get people started on an activity.Can’t Stop Movin’ by Sonny J is just the ticket for a ‘moving’ activity but at the right volume sits just underneath constructive conversation. Choose carefully between tracks with lyrics and without. The temptation is to ‘hook’ into the lyrics and this can work to improve productivity, focus and concentration. The beats per minute is also important. Too fast and you lose the effect. Our brain is too busy interpreting and following. Watch this from Jessica Grahn (she’s a hip neurologist who knows her beats) to give you an idea of how it works….

The William Tell Overture by Rossini is a classic piece of music. Throw it into the classroom and watch students become productive, busy, sociable bees. Tidy up time never happened more efficiently. Use it as part of a routine and Pavlov’s bells start ringing – students will tidy up without even asking! There’s a good selection of beats, sounds and styles in Wake Up and they all work in different ways to achieve the same effect. Whether it’s early morning or early afternoon, there’s a place for some upbeat ‘wake up’ music. The results will speak for themselves…..

Music4Learning #3

“I look into the window of my mind; reflections of the fears I know I’ve left behind. I step out of the ordinary, I can feel my soul ascending, I’m on my way, can’t stop me now and you can do the same, yeah……what have you done today to make me feel proud?” – Heather Small

Music4Learning is all about learning.  It’s the complex connections that we make when we learn something new. Music is such a powerful addition to the process that it reinforces it in so many different ways. The TEDx talk by Jessica Grahn at Western University highlights the proven links between brain activity and music.

The opportunity to use music for reflection is so important in my classroom. I use the Think section in I Can Teach as a powerful tool when considering heavyweight topics such as world poverty, migrants’ struggles, pollution, natural disasters and the list goes on. I might use Reuters Images as a starting point – add the music in the background. It might be Elegy by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy or it might be Cahuita by Oystein Sevag and Lakki Patey – both incredibly powerful. How about an assembly or a lesson on James Mollison’s photo series on Where Children Sleep – I used Adagio for Strings in G Minor – Albinoni – alongside these photos. The connections in the brain are stronger and reinforced.

Much of the music in the Think section, contains lyrics designed to provoke thought. So why not use it to do exactly that. Use the lyrics for analysis in English and as a form of expression and theatre in Drama. Use it in Religious Studies to consider compassion and understanding. True Colours by Cindy Lauper is a familiar and well-used classic piece of contemporary music. What do the lyrics mean? How can we make society fairer and more understanding? These are real questions for real learners.

My students show a greater understanding of ‘big issues‘. They can articulate their feelings about homelessness and famine and pollution. They report on issues that affect them. This is not a ‘citizenship’ lesson or ‘personal and social education’. This is real learning and music is integral to their progress. They tackle new challenges with greater confidence because they have better self-esteem and understand their own issues in context with those of others around them. They are better at learning and metacognition and make great progress as a result.

Finally, try this: Ludovico Einaudi – Nuvole Bianche (White Clouds) running alongside ‘The Mountain’ – if you haven’t seen it – it’s worth a look.

Music4Learning #4 will be about using the Wake Up section of I Can Teach. It does exactly what it says.