Nine resolutions for the classroom

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

After the long autumn slog, the spring term offers teachers a chance to focus on developing their teaching practice. Adam Riches gives us his nine classroom resolutions for the new year

With the Christmas merriment behind us, along with the longest term of the year, January offers an (almost) fresh start for teachers.

As the terms reduce in length and the exam season slowly starts to get into full swing, schools begin to emerge from the fog of winter and teachers can rediscover their energy and – dare I say it – enthusiasm.

January is a great time to reflect on your practice. Your classes are settled, you have them in routines and you are well underway with teaching the content on the syllabus. These factors give scope for a few new year teaching resolutions. Here are nine things I am going to be experimenting with, developing and making sure I do this year.

Reviewing

It isn’t until recently that I have realised the true power of recapping and reviewing. I’ve always seen it as good practice to revisit material, but this year I am giving reviewing taught material a significant chunk of time.

I think that as teachers we don’t often realise how quickly students forget things. The concept of forgetting information isn’t irreversible and I plan to have a phase in every lesson that uses recall skills.

Cramming revision into a month in the spring term isn’t good for anyone and let’s face it, saying, “I’ve got too much content to cover so I don’t have time to recap,” just doesn’t make sense. Recap, review, revisit = winning.

Live modelling

I have always been a big fan of live modelling. It is a powerful tool that shows your students that you can respond to the questions you are setting in real time.

Yes, having a slide on a PowerPoint is a lot quicker (and potentially neater) but it doesn’t pack the same punch. The other thing I love about live modelling is that you can vocalise your thought process as you are writing.

This quite often makes clear the way in which students can approach questions and adds that missing piece to the puzzle. When time is pushed and you are tired, practice like live modelling can fade into the background – this year, I’m going to be keeping it as a staple in lessons.

Independent practice

Naturally, I am a hand-holder. I like to make sure my students can do things before I fully let go. I don’t know what it is, it seems to be innately programmed into my brain. I have recently been recording my lessons with some new gadgets we have at school and something I have picked up on immediately is that I am (too) quick to help. I know it’s my job to help, but I have noticed that I am making it too easy at times. I am not encouraging enough independent thinking. This year, I’m going to make a real effort to take a step back and I plan to reflect on how I help students.

Time with your team

When time gets tight at school, we can be guilty of barricading ourselves in our classrooms or (if you’re lucky/unlucky enough to have one) our offices. The thing is, time with your team is so important. It might be the opportunity to vent, to laugh or to share good practice – regardless, having a bit of time with like-minded colleagues can give you that opportunity to escape the pressure cooker for just a few minutes.

Getting into other lessons

Watching other teachers teach is an absolute privilege. Seeing others in action can give you new ideas, spark your enthusiasm or allow you to overcome issues you have in your own teaching.

This year, I’m going to make a real effort to get into other subjects around my school. I love seeing how different students learn in lessons other than my own.
It is often really insightful to see colleagues teaching students who you find difficult. Once again, it allows for a professional discussion that may not otherwise arise. I will wholeheartedly say that some of the best practice I implemented last year was shamelessly magpied from others.

Desirable difficulty

A concept that has been bouncing around a lot lately is that of desirable difficulty. Pitching lessons right is about planning and preparation, as well as knowing your classes and their needs. Getting the pitch of a lesson right is an art in itself, but the trick for me has always been getting the tasks right first.

I aim for around 80 per cent success from each individual. That’s not 80 per cent of the class succeeding, I mean I want each individual to have 80 per cent of the learning down from each task. Pitching like this means there is always a level of challenge, but at the same time there is a motivational amount of success evident. Ensuring that I get the pitch of my lessons spot on is one of my big resolutions for this year.

Taking time for literacy

Naturally as an English teacher I spend a lot of time teaching students about words, but I don’t feel that I take enough time to explicitly reference literacy skills.
After reading Alex Quigley’s book, Closing the Vocabulary Gap (2018), I am full of new ideas about how and why it is so important to make those explicit links to reading and writing skills. I think I have got a bit caught up in assuming that students understand the intricacies of their own language, but a lot of the time they don’t.

Read more

There is so much amazing research being done at the moment and there is a real buzz around the educational community with regard to new books being published in very specific fields. Now more than ever, I think it is a good idea to engage and apply the ideas put forward in the literature.

We live in an age that is fuelled by social media and again, there has never been so much information at teachers’ fingertips. I want to make sure that I read more blogs, more books and more articles to help me keep my teaching cutting edge (starting with SecEd of course!).

Work/life balance

A constant battle that most teachers can relate to is the fight between work and free time. I always start the academic year with the best intentions. I decide which days I am going to knock off when the bell goes and I plan to work only on certain evenings. However, the reality of teaching is that even the best laid plans don’t always come into fruition. As the load builds, pressure is ramped up and you quickly make concessions with regard to your free time.

It is a real balancing act but I am going to make sure that I reaffirm my free time rota this term. The way I see it is that the more organised I am the more likely I am to keep my work at work and my own time separate. So, what are your resolutions going to be for 2019?


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