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Thursday, 30 January 2020

Five tips for calming playground behaviour!

This week I have learned the importance of publishing blog posts using links that actually redirect to the blog - not the editor!  Whoops.  So an especially big thank-you to everyone who checked after I had fixed that issue and a ma-HOO-sive thanks to @nichola_wilkin who pointed it out to me.  I'll do better this week...  Also, I'm going to try and be a little briefer - ya'll have lives to live!

tips for calming playground behaviour!

This is a follow-up to last week's post where I shared my advice on how to stop playground behaviour before it even starts by teaching children about personal space and how to respect and protect it.  You can read that here if you missed it.  It's not essential to this week's post though.

This week, I am going to look at five ways to deal with playground behaviour after it has happened.

Bitmoji Image
Conflict exists because someone feels violated.
Talk, write, say it backwards.
Stick to the rule that was broken.
Symptoms are not causes.
Punishment doesn't always help.

We've all been there...

You're about to begin teaching and then BOOM! two children come in thoroughly displeased with each other.  If you're lucky, you'll have a synopsis of the problem from whoever was on duty; if you're unlucky, you'll have a longer synopsis from a third-party child.  Either way, your lesson is going to be delayed.

Or is it?

I am a fan of restorative justice, I think it is a great way to encourage children to think about the feelings of others and consider how their actions have consequences for people beyond themselves.  However, if done properly, it is a lengthy process; if rushed it can end up doing more harm than good.  So what's the quick-launch version? 

Don't deal with it.  

Well, not immediately anyway.  Remember, you are the teacher; you are in charge.  Not just of the two or so children concerned, but the rest of the class as well, and the rest of the class want to learn.  So let them.  Thank whoever gave you the synopsis (however useful it was or wasn't) and tell the children to take their seats because the lesson needs to begin (if the children concerned happen to be sitting next to each other, maybe move them farther apart for the next hour).  Tell the rest of the class to ignore the current situation; reassure them that it will be handled, and continue with the lesson.  The sooner you can regain stability in the room, the better.

Here's the thing - if you're going to retain the authority to resolve the issue, you have to be seen (psychologically at least) as being in control of the whole situation.  That means dealing with it when you are ready.  Do not let the children dictate how your time will be spent.    

When the lesson is up and running and the children are working independently, call the children involved over to your desk or to a quiet area.  Remind the children that they are only involved if they actually witnessed the event.  You are not interested in anyone who heard something or thinks they saw something.  I like to use this as an opportunity to remind children about my no gossiping rule (for the record, we agree in September that 'gossip' is anything you have repeated but can't prove or anything you are told but can't prove - I'll do a separate post on that). When they are there (2, 4, 18 of them) tell them very calmly that you will be listening to each of them but you can't do it all at the same time, so they will need to be patient.  You could ask if anyone wants to go first or you could just pick for yourself; it doesn't matter.

Tip #1
Conflict exists because someone feels violated.

'Violated' is a strong word, but it's true. As the person who is going to resolve the issue, you need to find out how those involved felt wronged. I do this with a simple question:

Are you mad, sad or glad?

Distilling the entire range of the human emotional gamut to just three options is incredibly helpful and I will be forever grateful to my amazing wife for introducing me to this wonderful phrase.

Most of the time, they will not be 'glad'. This leaves 'mad' or 'sad'. Whichever one they choose, ask them why they feel that way and write it down. Do this with all children involved. By now, you should have a pretty clear idea on who is at fault. It is not always straightforward as these things have usually escalated several steps away from a simple x did y to z. However, you'll have enough to go on.

Again, all of this is when you are ready; when you have time. The rest of the class come first so keep teaching as a priority. I'm not going to lie, it might mean dealing with things at lunchtime.

But, wait, what? I want my lunchtime!

I hear you...

Tip #2
Talk, write, say it backwards.

When the rest of the class is beavering away, give the children involved a piece of paper and have them write down what happened. Informing them that other teachers might have to read it if the issue is unresolved usually weeds out the rubberneckers as well as any superfluous details. I like to insist on bullet points.

Collect these in when they are done (or have the children leave in on your desk / designated area) then allow them to get on with the learning.

When you have time, read through all the statements. If this is going to take a while, let those involved know a rough time frame - you don't want them going home saying that nothing was done about this gross miscarriage of justice. Whatever your time estimate is, add an hour.

Ideally though, you can read through things very quickly, especially if they've bullet-pointed them, and you'll have a rough idea of what happened.
Here's the clever bit...

Get the children involved to stay in at lunchtime or break time the next day (I know, this does involve some time-loss on your part - let them know that). Some of the time the children will have decided that it really wasn't worth it after all and have decided to shake hands and forget about it. Brilliant. Tell them that you're keeping a record of it and send them on their way.

I know teachers who insist on calling them in anyway and having a whole chat about friendship and yaddah, yaddah. Why? What's the point? You wanted it resolved; it's resolved. Smile and move on.

However, if it is still a thing. Have them in and ask them to tell you what happened... backwards. Yup. Most of the time, if it is an event that actually happened, they will be able to recall it in reverse. If it's a made-up thing, they will struggle. This is not a hard-and-fast rule but it is fairly reliable. One thing to listen out for is if the child corrects themselves without prompting; that can be a sign of an honest child making sure they have mentioned everything.

Now let me share a secret with you; it might not be popular:

It doesn't matter. You weren't there. You can never prove things one way or the other. All you can do is collect enough evidence to strongly suggest a likely truth (unless someone confesses). And that's okay. You don't need to prove anything. You've already listened to the children. You're already easing that violation they felt. You've done it all in a non-accusatory, caring way.

Tip #3
Stick to the rule that was broken.

Most schools have their list of rules displayed pretty much everywhere. They are usually the same as well (be kind, be honest, be respectful - there may be others but they will essentially be repeats of those three). So all you do as the teacher, having heard everything, is ask the children which of the school rules has been broken.

Absolutely every behaviour can be boiled down to those three. Often it can be boiled down to a combination of be kind and be respectful. So you don't have to deal with whether or not little Johnny was punched or kicked or bitten or psychically attacked from afar - all those acts are unkind. So you deal with the unkindness. Most children will admit to generic unkindness or disrespect far more quickly than a specific one.

Often, this results in the children agreeing that they have both (or all) been unkind to each other and a resolution can be reached.

That resolution might be simply not to talk to or play with each other for a while. That's okay. I am not a believer that everyone should 'get over it and make friends.' That's not a useful life skill. Sometimes people don't like people. That's fine. We need to teach children that it is okay to disagree with someone else's ideological view of the world. But we should be able to tolerate it; to agree to disagree. Also, some children are going to be cross at the outcome. That's okay, too. Please never tell a child to 'sort their face out', 'get rid of that frown' or 'put a smile on that face.' They know how they feel, let them feel it.

What if there is no resolution?

Tip #4
Symptoms are not causes.

If the children can't reach a solution on their own, you should have enough to go on to establish who was more at fault. Inevitably you are going to face situations where you genuinely don't know who was to blame. So tell the children. Explain that you weren't there so it wouldn't be fair for you to make any accusations.

But keep an eye out. If the same child seems to be involved in multiple disruptions, alarm bells should be wringing. Especially if other teachers refer to them as a 'trouble-maker' or even 'oh, them, I might have known they'd be involved.' Ding ding ding ding!!! Repeated bad behaviour is nearly always a symptom of something deeper. The children who push back the most are generally the ones who need the biggest hugs (not literally, don't make yourself a safeguarding issue!).

It might not be appropriate for you to take these children to one side and start asking them about their homelife - although you could hold a 'circle time' afternoon where these issues are brought up as a social story and see what happens. It might be best for you to talk to the SENDCo (Special Needs, for anyone not in the UK) at your school and make sure that people are aware that something a little deeper might be at play.

I said I'd be briefer, didn't I?

Tip #5
Punishment doesn't always help.

It doesn't. I'm not advocating no discipline, nor am I saying that there shouldn't be consequences for actions; there totally should. But please stop and think about the punishments you dole out. They should fit the crime.

You can ask the child what punishment they think would be appropriate - they'll often surprise you with how harsh they are.  If you think they are going to be too lenient on themselves, ask how they would feel if they were the victim, what sort of punishment would they want to see?

The most effective method I have ever used, admittedly in Year 6 (grade 5) so there was a level of maturity to it, was to establish punitive measures as a whole class in September.  We'd go through the rules (whole school and in-class) and discuss which punishments would be appropriate.  Everyone agrees; everyone signs.  You can then trot them out whenever needed.  Be warned though, I have fallen foul of this - my TA and I were talking during a 'silent working' period and the children decided we had broken a class rule so we had to circle our name (see here, scroll down to Behaviour Chart - this is an early post, apologies for the formatting)!  

Be wary of a blanket 'you will miss your playtime' rule.  Often the children who misbehave are the very children who need to release their energy and frustrations.  Playtime is likely the only time they have to do that; denying it is creating more problems.  

For serious infractions, I have the children write a letter, not to the victim, to their own mother.  Or whichever primary caregiver has that role.  They have to start it with Dear mum, today I...  Suddenly they are confronted with their actions in a very real way.  I have seen the most stubborn child experience an epiphany and apologise so hard purely because they had to tell their mother.  They still had to write the letter but I told them that they should add the apology bit.

Finally, please think very carefully before outsourcing your punishments.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing children sat outside an adult's office during playtime.  It's  public shaming.  What are they learning?  I am a bad person.  I hate school.  It is okay to humiliate people.  Sorry if that sounds a bit social-justice-warrior but it's one of my triggers.  If you have decided a child needs to be punished then you should do the punishing. Just be aware that sometimes, it'll only make things worse. 

I have had great success by providing paper with people and thought or speech bubbled and letting the children write what they wish they had said or what they will say next time.

Anyway, I have gone on way too long and I promised to attempt brevity.  I'll work on it.
Thanks for reading this far - I'd love to know your thoughts and opinions on behaviour management.  I have more tips involving NLP and gentle hypnosis but I think I'll save those for a later post!

If you liked what you read, or found it helpful in anyway, please share this blog with your friends.  If you thought it was terrible, spam your enemies with it.  As always, please leave a comment either at the bottom or on Twitter, and take care of yourselves.  

Happy lunar new year in Vietnamese
I know, I'm a little late...
This week's challenge, audibly say hello to at least three people you wouldn't usually say hello to.

Carl Headley-Morris


Friday, 24 January 2020

How to be everywhere at once... sort of

So... Christmas was a month ago.  Anyone ready for Summer yet?  I was tempted to write this week's blog post all about technology in education, having recently visited BETT 2020 but then I scrolled through Twitter and noticed a thread about that old chestnut: things that happen in the playground and continue in the classroom.  And I not only have experience of that (don't we all?) but also a solution.  So that's what I'm doing this week. 

How to be EVERYWHERE at once...
sort of (pt 1)

 Bitmoji Image
Teach children how to monitor their own space
Teach them how to ask others to move back (politely)

It's half-past one, you've just given yourself indigestion from wolfing down an entire triple-pack meal deal sandwich in thirty seconds and you have scalded your tongue on the tea you had to consume almost immediately upon making.  It is the afternoon and your little cherubs are returning from the lunch break.

Thankfully, the gods have smiled and the weather has been just dry enough to enable them to run around and interact socially with other little cherubs and the result has been a delightful hour self-led learning and personal growth.

In they come, smiles aplenty.  Ah, the afternoon.  A time to be creative - maybe you'll even get the paints out tomorrow?  And then...

Sorry to bother you, sir, but these two have been fighting in the playground.

The wonderful and, frankly underpaid, lunchtime worker (who is now late for their intervention group because they're also one of three TAs left in the school) hands over two children who are still trying to gouge each other's eyes out.  

Cue the accusations of bullying, unfairness and how it was absolutely everyone else's fault.  Inevitably, four other children are roped in and by the time everyone should be silently reading (ha!), you have a full-blown Judge Rinder (for US visitors, read Judge Judy) situation and you find yourself wondering just how much arbitrage law pays.

One side note before I continue: I had this situation once (I mean, I've had it many times, I teach Year 6, but once specifically) where I was gifted with the following exchange:

Me: Did call him a dickhead?
Boy 1: Yes
Me: (Shocked at the honesty)Why? 
Boy 1: Because he's a dickhead.

I rather thought the case closed and the matter dealt with, given the 'victim' in question, alas, we had to go through the whole restorative justice approach and the whole afternoon was basically a wash-out.  As a point of order, I feel I should mention that I am not disparaging the Restorative Justice approach.  I actually think it's pretty good, it just takes so damn long.  And that brings me to my little nugget of experience that I want to share with you today.

Spaghetti Arms!  This is my dance space; that's yours.

I learned this technique/philosophy a decade ago and I have been using it ever since.  It is a fantastic way to really get the children to realise why they could be having problems in the playground.  It's interactive as well.

I would use some of your PSHCe time for this because it can take a while.  Especially at first.  Follow it up with a poster activity if you need to record evidence of the learning.  If they're good quality, print them off and display them around your school.  Citizenship!

Face the class and hold out your arm as if directing traffic to go left (or right, I'm not your dad), then do a bit of a slow 360 turn making a big show of the fact that the whole class is beyond your reach.  Ask the whole class if anyone feels uncomfortably close to you right now.  Depending on your class, they will either unanimously agree that everyone is fine or you will have a couple of jokers (see below for my advice on that). 

Inform the children that they are in your 'PUBLIC SPACE'.  Nobody should have a problem with people being in their public space.  If they do, seek help.  Write this on the board next to a (very bad, if you're me) drawing of a person with their arm held out.

Next, draw attention to the space between your fingertips and your elbow.   A delightful moment to teach/remind them what a cubit is.  I tended to throw in the fact that from their wrist to their elbow is equal to their foot size, and their nose is as long as the space from their index fingertip to the tip of their thumb when placed snugly side by side.  It's all apropos of nothing, but it helps to break any tension that might be building.  Plus, these drive-by tidbits are often the ones they remember.

Anyway, your cubit.  This is your 'PERSONAL SPACE'.  We don't like people in our personal space if we don't know them, don't like them, or haven't invited them.  In fact, you often hear of people 'invading' personal space.  No-one has ever used that verb in a positive way.  We don't like to be invaded.

This is the fun bit.  Ask for a volunteer.  Pick either the most cocky, annoying kid, or someone whom you know can take a bit of a joke.  This is going to get uncomfortable.  

For both of you.

Move the child so that they are standing in front you, facing you.  Hold out your arm and gently move them back so that they are in your public space.  Remind the children, or ask them, what that space is called.  We're all about AfL and overlearning.    Ask the child how they feel.  They will giggle, rub their face, check their friends and say 'fine.'

Tell them to plant their feet.  They are not allowed to move.  Reassure them that nothing bad is going to happen to them and that they are quite safe.

Then step forward so that they are in your personal space.  Demonstrate this by holding out your arm and showing that they are quite clearly between your fingertips and your elbow.  There will be a lot of giggling and noise.  Children find this fascinating and endlessly entertaining.  Do not tell them off; you want them fascinated by this.  If they are fascinated, they are learning and will want to apply it later on.  If the child moves (they probably will), reassure them and start over.  If they keep moving, use it to show the class that people don't like an invasion of personal space.

Also point out that, as much as the child was in your personal space, you were in theirs as well.  Really make it clear.  Some children don't get the inverse law.

Have the child tell the class how it felt and have the class think about a time when they were invaded and when they were the invader.  While this is happening, update the board.

Facing the class again, point out the area from your elbow to your armpit (note: I hate the word 'armpit', is there an uglier word in the Engish language?  Comments below please!).  It's useful to show all of these 'zones' from different angles.  One held out like a lower-case 't', and one held out in front like a zombie.

This is your 'INTIMATE SPACE' although I usually call it 'PRIVATE SPACE' because saying 'intimate space' in front of a bunch of 11-year-olds is just awkward.  

NOBODY likes their private space being invaded.  Ask the children whom they might let into their private space.  Responses will be almost exclusively family and close friends.  I've had children say that they are only comfortable sharing it with their mum.  No-one else.  

Remember when I said it was going to get uncomfortable?  Strap in.

Using the same child (you've developed a bond, use it), have them plant their feet again.  Even though they know what's coming, warn them.  The class will giggle uproariously.  There may even be a gasp or two.  The volunteer will cover their face, giggle, turn their body uncomfortably.  This is all normal, please don't tell them off for it.  

BEFORE YOU STEP FORWARDS face the class and tell them what you are going to do.  You are going to move the volunteer backwards without even touching them.  

Turn back to your cringing volunteer and walk into their private space.  Don't worry, they will move backwards.  I have not met a child, scratch that, a person yet who can stay still when their private space is being invaded.

Pause, quietly check that the volunteer is okay (if they're not, let them it down and choose someone else.  Most of the time, they're fine), and ask the class what happened.  They will happily tell you that the volunteer moved backwards.  Elicit the reason (private space invasion) and then delve.

I usually say that the volunteer is just being silly.  They know I'm not going to hurt them; they know nothing bad is going to happen, so they're just being silly, right?  Turn back to the volunteer and request that they plant their feet.  Continue to walk forwards.  The volunteer will back up.  Maybe not at first, they might be feeling brave, but they will move.  While you're walking, address the rest of the class and ask:

What will happen when the volunteer can't move back any more?

Then demonstrate it.  Back the volunteer against a wall.  Two things will happen:

1) YOU will feel intensely uncomfortable - they're in your private space, too, don't forget.  Share this with the class.

2) The volunteer will do anything to get away.  They will probably step to the side and weave past you.  For god's sake, let them!

A round of applause is always called for at this point.  I also allow the volunteer to step outside the room if they want to collect themselves a little bit.  Always double-check that they are okay after the lesson and remember to tell their parents about as early as possible.

What's the point?

This is a very visceral way of showing children why they get into arguments in the playground.  Well, one of the reasons, I'll get into the other reason next week (remind me).  It allows them to develop their empathy for others.  It also gives them a tool to avoid confrontation.

When the class has calmed down - again, let them have a giggle, it's an intense few minutes - ask them what can be done if someone is invading their space.  Record any sensible suggestions.  

If no-one mentioned it, tell the children that they are allowed to politely ask someone to take a step back.  Of course, not everyone listens to polite requests, so they will need a more pro-active way to do this.

Get your volunteer back up, if they are willing.  If not, grab anyone else.  Have them stand in your personal space (no more private space stuff, relax) and tell the class that there are two ways to get someone to leave your personal space.

Method 1: shout at them to get out of your face (I tend to use you're all up in my grill - ironically, of course) and (gently) push them out of your personal space.  Effective?  Yes.  Sensible?  No.  Ask what might this result in?  Go further and ask if any of the class have experienced this, from either perspective.  If so, how did it play out?

The light-bulb realisation at this point is always satisfying.  They suddenly realise either why they were so angry or what that had done to annoy somebody else.

So method 1 is a bit of a bust.

Method 2: Gently put your hand on their shoulder and move yourself back so that they are in a more conformable place for you.  You can even say sorry, you're a little too close for me, there we are.  Please, carry on, you were saying...?  

The children might ask if this is a little bit rude.  I tell them that I would rather someone politely let me know than roughly push me away.  Plus we get to talk a little bit about how you speak to someone.  This is great as very often these children get into trouble for how they've said something instead of what they actually said.  Don't get me started on that one.

Practise, practise, practise

The final step is to let them have a go at everything they have just seen.  You could argue that they can just practise it the next time they are in the playground, but I think it is important to rehearse it in a safe environment first.  Lots of encouragement; lots of praise.  Tell then that you do not expect to hear any complaints from playground staff about this class pushing and shoving others.  They now know how to deal with it sensibly.  Why not be ambassadors and, if they see children getting frustrated, teach them how to respect personal space (this works so well with upper Key Stage 2 children).

It won't resolve every issue and it won't get better overnight.  But keep reminding them (this is why those posters are so useful) and they will begin to chill out.  They will also begin to verbalise their emotions a little better, which makes dealing with incidents easier and resolving them faster.

Dealing with jokers:

My rule has always been: if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it back.  So when I got a child who said they were uncomfortable from the back row, I said that they should probably leave the room and go to see the SENCo because they had way bigger problems than could be dealt with here.  This is usually how I deal with class clowns but I manufacture very sarcastic children, so we all laugh it off and continue.  You might have a better / more sensitive way of dealing with things.  But don't underestimate the power of laughter, nor the importance of teaching children to laugh at themselves.

To be continued...

Obviously, this is only the beginning of dealing with playground issues but I feel like it's the one that has the most immediate results.  Next week I'll talk about getting to the roots of disagreements and fights quickly and effectively using MAD, SAD, GLAD and a little smattering of NLP.  Playground issues are never going to go away completely, but we can at least teach the children how to manage their emotions and then, just maybe, we'll be able to enjoy our indigestion and get the paints out.

Thanks for reading this far, if you have.  A special thank-you to everyone who shared this on Twitter, it really helps.  I mean, I don't get any revenue from this, but it's good for my self-esteem!  We've passed Blue Monday, so well done for that!  I would like to leave you with a challenge:

If you work in a school, at some point this week, I want you to visit a colleague and offer to help with their marking.  It could be as simple as suggesting they mark with you, just to be social.  It could be as impactful as taking a group or whole classful of books.  Obviously, it depends on how much work you have yourself, but if you can, do.  

If you don't work in a school, post something positive on Twitter using the hashtag: #1goodthing.  Have a great week, everybody!

Bitmoji Image

Carl Headley-Morris


Friday, 17 January 2020

About feedback...

When was the last time your school's marking policy was updated?  A school I worked at recently hadn't altered theirs since 2012!  This was probably why it was a) so outdated and heavily focused on secretarial editing, and b) didn't mention feedback anywhere.

It shouldn't be a shock, but it is feedback that improves children's understanding and overall work.  There are countless papers published about this fact; it's pretty much indisputable at this point, so why then do so many school leaders still insist that physical marking is maintained rigorously throughout workbooks?

My post this week is about how to incorporate effective feedback practices into everyday learning.  This will not only give the children the skills they need to improve their work on the fly, but will also reduce the amount of time you spend marking by removing the need to write the same comment over and over.

This is how I do feedback.

Bitmoji Image

Have clear guidelines for success
Children check work in pairs working as editor and author.
Refuse to mark anything that hasn't first been checked by an editor.
Parallel editing

I was first introduced to parallel editing a few years ago and I haven't stopped using or recommending it.  Like all effective techniques, it takes time to teach it to the children, but the time used establishing the routine is more than made up for in the long run, trust me.

Here's how it works.  First, either buddy-up your children (I used to have learning partners which were assigned randomly every second week but you do you) or be willing to have children travel around your room when they have finished their work.

When two children have finished, the pair up and decide who will be the author and who will be the editor.  They will swap roles, so this step is fairly arbitrary.  The important thing is that the author is the only person with a pen.  They put their open books on top of each other with the author's on top.  

I'll start with the editor's role:
The editor then reads through the work.  If it is a long piece of work, they can choose to read one paragraph (see previous blog posts about this sort of marking).  Acting as an editor, they first check for any obvious mistakes and points them out to the author.

Next, using the success criteria that should have been agreed on before the writing was begun, they check that those elements are present.  If they are only marking one paragraph, not every element will necessarily be there but this is where the dialogue comes in. They get to ask the author if they have included, say, a subordinate clause. 

Finally, as an editor, they have the chance to suggest improvements to word choices, sentence construction, paragraphing or syntax.  This can be their own opinion.  Maybe they don't like a verb choice; they feel that something more specific could have been used.  Maybe they think a sentence is too long; too short; or even superfluous.  They get to say this as a suggestion.

So what does the author do?
The author retains the power (and the pen).  At any time, they can disagree with the editor (in perfect scenarios, this will spark a discussion about what makes a 'good' piece of writing).  Obviously, they will want to correct basic spelling and grammar errors, which are often easily overlooked when self-editing (as many of the posts in this blog will testify!) but when it comes to sentence structure or word choice, therein lies the debate.  And it is wonderful to see pairs of children discussing their work in a very subjective way - suggesting improvements; defending artistic choices; taking risks.

As suggested above, if the piece is longer and only sections are being edited in this way, the author has the chance to point out elements of the success criteria that might not be present.  However, this might also lead them to decide to alter their work so that they are really showing their understanding of the lesson's aim.

To close the session, the author needs to write 'edited by [editor's name].  The reason I say get the author to do this is because they need to be the only one with the pen.  I've tried it with the editor writing that they edited the work, but then they can't resist physically editing the work and that takes the power away from the author.

Then what?

They swap.  I've found that giving themselves a 30-second break is effective, just to reset their brains and take on their new roles.  The most important thing is that the pen is swapped.
Why can't they just check each other's work?

Because what we're aiming for here is collaborative feedback and improvement.  The work they present to you, the teacher, should be the best that they can produce - there is no point in handing in mediocre work.  It is really difficult to check your own work (your brain autocorrects too much).  Children are all self-obsessed and they like to be in charge (forgive my sweeping statements - you know it's true!).  If they simply swap books, they will always be more interested in what the other person is doing to their work.  By focussing on one book at a time, with one child being the 'star' and one being the 'boss', you satisfy all the egos and end up with great feedback.

Wait, doesn't this take a lot of time?

Yes.  It can.  But it is a learning process.  By that, I mean, obviously the initial teaching of it but also the continued learning when it is established.  This kind of dialectic, didactic learning is so helpful and it is a genuine skill they will take with them through their lives.  This is future-proofing your class!  So it is worth it.  Timetable it in.  

But... I still have to mark it, so...?

Yes, as the teacher you will still have to mark it.  But all the secretarial stuff will have been covered, and 'next steps' will have been suggested and worked on already.  As a teacher, you're pretty much left with quality control.  Especially if you follow my 3-step hand-in procedure...

Step 1:
Child hands in their work
Me: Is this the absolute best you can make it?
If yes,
Me: The work you hand me now is you saying I cannot do any better, this is my absolute best work.  You're positive?
If yes,
Me: You won't get it back once you've handed it in.  That's it.  That's the work I'll grade/judge/mark/base my opinion of you on (delete as appropriate).
If yes, take the book/work.

If no (to any step), give the book back (or throw it on the floor - I have done this; it works well) and say pointedly:

'What are you doing?  Why would you waste my time with anything less than your best work*?  Bring me your best and I will help you make it better.  Anything else is useless to you.'
This might sound harsh, but tone of voice goes a long way to soften it.  Plus, you'll be surprised how quickly children learn to check their work, have other people edit it, go back and re-check it for further improvements... they end up handing in work that they, and you, can truly be proud of.

Obviously, this does not exist in a bubble.  As well as introducing the concept, you will need to model what being a good, effective editor looks like.  Also, I have written this with English written work in mind, but it is just as applicable to maths work, science, art, anything that the children have written and for which there are agreed success criteria.

It's how I got level 6 writers (back in the day).  It's how I get Greater-Depth writers today.  It works.  I promise!

Thanks for reading - I know you're busy!  Also, if you were one of the 6 people who read my ill-fated Cats in the classroom post, a special thank-you.  It clearly wasn't a popular choice of topic!  I have taken that feedback on board.

Have a fantastic weekend, whatever you do. Please don't take any marking home.  If it can't be done in school then there is too much of it.  Get the kids to do some of it (I set up a lunchtime marking club - so useful!).  If you teach younger children, invite some older kids in to mark.  All it takes is a few rules on the board and an answer sheet - that's your maths done.  Honestly, they are so eager to help and be seen as 'grown-up'.  Five kids, six books each.  Have them make three piles when they're done (confident, need help, no clue) and quality check every fifth book.  All maths books marked in one lunchtime!

I'm rambling.  Give yourself a big hug and smile at strangers - see who smiles back.

Carl Headley-Morris

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*If you haven't read or heard (I recommend hearing it here) Taylor Mali's fantastic poem, What Teacher's Make then you absolutely owe it to yourself and your class to check it out.  


Update on resources for home-learning!

Hello everyone!  I hope we are all okay and healthy.  If you, or anyone you know, is affected by COVID-19 then you have my sympathies and I...