Diary of an NQT: Going into ‘tell mode’


As exams approach, our diarist fears she is relying too much on ‘tell mode’ and so is focusing on introducing more independent and personalised learning

I have recently been questioning my ability as a teacher. I find myself standing in lessons thinking: “I am in “tell mode”, how do I make this learning more independent?”

I wonder if this feeling of inadequacy is as a consequence of the responsibility of teaching combined with the necessary pace to maintain a “good to outstanding” performance.

At the same time, I am very reflective as a person and usually view my own performance as lacking. I think that I expect radical things and profound progress in every lesson and I am not sure if this is likely or even realistic.

I know activities that build in independence and assessment for learning are always the most successful. However, I have not found a method of planning these quickly enough. Often, creating the resources that are required (either created from scratch or by tweaking existing materials) is time-intensive and the enthusiasm I carry for my role is often hit by these time restraints.

I am pushing myself to build in ‘DIRT’ (Directed Individual Response Time) to lessons, but this will only be quality time if pupils are clear on what good looks like, having clear instructions, objectives and models. Also, in order to engage in a meaningful dialogue, it is essential that their books are marked and up-to-date.

Recently, I gave pupils back an assessment essay with the marks I awarded, accompanied by the marking criteria, for them to identify and record why they got the mark, as well as identifying three points on how to improve for next time.

However, it did not go as successfully as I had envisaged in my head. Pupils were vague in understanding why I had not written all over their essays in red, highlighting the gaps or errors.

I think I needed to scaffold the process by familiarising pupils with the criteria. But once again I find myself wrestling with not wanting to tell them what to do. To me, a sheet of thresholds and mark bands does seem fairly self-explanatory – is my issue perhaps in the time I allow for things to be done? Or am I doing myself a disservice, do they understand and apply themselves more than I recognise?

I wonder if this reflection and questioning of my ability is “normal” for an NQT. I wonder whether this causes my tendency towards the tight reigns I maintain in the classroom. However, the consequence of this is ending up with impersonal learning experiences. 

I think it is my need to know/be aware of what a pupil understands and is recording in their exercise book that leads to this tendency of learning not being personalised enough.

The key question is: how do I promote, more regularly, independent learning? I am now embarking on revision lessons with my year 11 class. I have sought advice, as I didn’t know where to start. I have created a “home run to GCSE” plan, mapping out what needs to be covered and when – however these are headlines, not the detailed content. 

But how do you condense a five-month topic/unit into two weeks’ worth of revision and make it powerful and memorable, without going into “tell mode”?

I start the programme tomorrow so I’ll keep you posted. I have gone back through the content to try and create four headlines, one for each lesson – for example, changing roles within the family, diversity of family forms – in an effort to use these umbrella terms to capture all of the unit’s content. 

I need to give pupils the freedom to create/find answers for themselves, having materials to access for all abilities. This will truly be a test of how independent I can make my lessons, as I am certain that “tell mode” will not aid their application and success in the exam hall.

  • SecEd’s NQT diarist this year is a teacher of sociology and philosophy from a school in the South of England.



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