I first visited Michaela in the summer of 2016 after year 11 and year 13 had gone on exam leave and I wanted to use some of the gained time to see how some other schools were approaching some of the same challenges my school has. I’m not going to write about how amazing I found it as others have done so at length and much better than I could (see @Samfr and @Doug_Lemov for just two examples). Instead I thought I would write about what I had seen and read and experienced and how it has changed my teaching practice: how I am “imitating the action of the tiger”.
I first became aware of something similar to knowledge organisers through Twitter, a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ version, I think, and looked to include it in the new schemes of work we were creating for the new English units being written at the time. The first versions were more like fact sheets, were far too wordy and I wasn’t really clear how I wanted students to use them. As a reference tool, something to make pretty with highlighters (and then ignore!), a checklist for staff?
After my visit to Michaela and with the help of @jo_facer who kindly looked at and gave me feedback on a few early drafts, I developed something I was happy with and will post later in the week.
I chose year 7 because I wanted to embed these terms very early and also so that year 7 would know nothing different. Throughout the year I had numerous conversations about ‘inverting the pyramid’ of throwing all resources into year 11 intervention, only having to do the same thing again and again and again, and focusing on year 7 was one of the strategies to break this paradigm.
Generally they’ve been used effectively across the faculty and I know my year 7 lower ability group take pride in knowing what verisimilitude means and what the difference between anaphoric and cataphoric reference is. They still need more practice applying these terms and not looking for ‘one size fits all’ analysis, but they now know these techniques exist which is the first step to being able to apply them.
A few students have struggled learning the words so for those students I have recently given them an A5 exercise book (we had some spare!) as a practice book to formally practice look-say-cover-write-check as per Michaela homework. One student who was convinced he could learn them has gone from 2/10 to 5/10 to 8/10 in just one week and four nights of 15-20 minutes of study.
It has probably been the most successful and impactful homework that I have set in my career to date!
In January 2016, years 7-10 were all working on non-fiction for AQA English Language Paper 2 and while I was happy with the texts we had chosen and the tasks set, the amount of recopying we had to do drove me insane! Not only from the waste of money but, more importantly, the waste of learning time with so many loose pieces of paper. Seeing the fabulous ‘Julius Caesar’ booklet at Michaela made me change my approach.
Again with year 7 only to begin with, I devised a booklet to support imaginative writing. This is something that is not imitating the action of the tiger as Michaela don’t do writing units per se, but integrate writing skills through their study of literature. (Although this is something that they are looking at developing.) We would then follow this booklet with one that looked at prose extracts (vaguely linked to AQA English Language Paper 1).
While I’m happy in general with how the first two went there are a couple areas that didn’t go as well as planned. Firstly, I included good examples of several genres in the imaginative writing unit for students to imitate before moving on to structural elements of a story. We never finished this because of when we had to complete our first assessment and it was a bit too much like a reading unit…which was then followed by a reading unit! This isn’t necessarily bad, and students did make links between the extracts and the booklets, but I’m going to look to combine the two booklets into one for next year.
Secondly, I created the first two booklets on my own so while I was enthusiastic about the texts I had chosen, other faculty members were less keen on some of them and I’m pretty sure this came across in some of the lessons that were delivered.
For our next unit, everyone contributed a poem on society in the same format as the earlier two booklets and I modified the knowledge organiser to fit with what those poems required. Funnily enough the outcome turned out to mostly be a reprise of the old AQA Different Cultures anthology, but welcoming ‘Two Scavengers…’ back into the classroom has been like meeting up with an old friend from uni who hasn’t changed a bit.
Apart from students’ results, my number one target for this year is to try and do something about my faculty’s workload. I’ll come back to Comparative Judgement another time, but I’ve been trialling ‘Giving Feedback the Michaela Way’, also being influenced by the work of @bennewmark and @MrThorntonTeach.
My plan is to demonstrate that my class have made at least as good, if not better, progress than other classes BUT in the extra time I have added significantly more value than the ‘hornet’ of extended written feedback would. Interestingly @learning_spy blogged exactly this suggestion this week! I’ll know by the middle of next week if I’ve achieved this and then my plan is to extend it to other English teachers who teach the same half of year 7 that I do and see if it works for them too. One of the teachers thinks it’s a great idea; one takes a huge amount of pride in their written feedback and prefers ‘deep’ marking; the third teacher is struggling with workload and is willing to try anything that may help!
In a couple more months, if the trial continues to be successful then I want to widen it to the whole faculty, leading to a change in the whole school marking policy for next September.
So, three ways in which I have been influenced and as I read ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ more and more ideas are occurring to me, which I’ll come back to in later blogs. But there’s one other way I’ve been influenced and you’re currently reading it!
I’ve always been a bit nervous sharing my ideas outside of my school after a quite unpleasant online experience in my training year, but no longer! So until we meet “once more”, take care, “dear friends”.