NQT Special: Pupils on what makes for effective teaching

Written by: Sean Harris | Published:
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If you’re a new teacher, you will receive a wealth of advice from various experts – but what do the students themselves think? School leader Sean Harris asked some of his students to offer their view on what makes their lessons effective, and then signposts NQTs to further reading and ideas

If you are starting your NQT year in September, what are you expecting in your first year of teaching? Whatever your expectations, this will be a character-defining year that you will continue to look back on. For all of you, it will be an academic year filled with strengths, mistakes and learning. In this article, a group of students at my school, Norham High School in North Shields, share their top five tips for teachers, and I then recommend useful resources to help you get through your first year and become a great teacher.

Plan our lessons

“You know which teachers plan lessons well, they care about what they are teaching and know what is going to happen in the lesson.” Luke (year 9)

The pupils say...

The lesson should get us thinking from the moment we walk in. Have a big question, a game or a puzzle that will make us think about what we are going to be discussing or learning about for the next hour.

If you don’t prepare lessons, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that you don’t know what you are teaching and you don’t know what is meant to be happening next. Carefully planned lessons mean we don’t get distracted, because you have put time into what you want us to learn. Please don’t rely on textbooks. You can make it so much more interesting and engaging for us.

The teachers say...

  • Read Doug Lemov’s Teach like a Champion (2015). Lemov’s selection of strategies, including lesson-planning, are taken from what he and his colleagues refer to as “champion educators”.
  • Lemov states that a “Do Now” activity should: “1. preview the day’s lesson (you are reading The Jacket, and the Do Now asks students to write three sentences about what they’d do if they thought someone stole their little brother’s favourite jacket) or 2. review a recent lesson (you want your pupils to practise all of the standards they’ve mastered recently so they don’t forget them).”
  • Topics and concepts should become “sticky”, suggests Lemov. We need to use songs, poems, catchphrases and props to help make the learning memorable.

Don’t be confrontational

“If a teacher gets confrontational, it just makes you disrespect them more. They shouldn’t have to shout to get your attention.” Shannon (year 10)

The pupils say...

Sometimes teachers forget that we are young people. We all make mistakes in the classroom and there will be times when we get it wrong. Our school has changed a lot because teachers don’t argue with us anymore, and they don’t get aggressive. When you are calm and talk to us like human beings it makes us listen. When a teacher takes the time to do this at the end of a lesson or during a break or lunch time then it shows that they are trying to get something important across to us.

The teachers say...

  • Read Bill Rogers’ book, Classroom Behaviour (2011).
  • Rogers shares how teaching staff can become less aggressive and forceful in their tone, using real-life stories to illustrate the strategies given.
  • Rogers highlights the importance of Partial Agreement in the classroom. It’s essential for dodging and resolving conflict. Don’t try to have the last word, or assert your importance or authority in a situation when a pupil disputes the call or judgement that you have made.

Mark our books regularly

“Mrs Parry marks my books all the time. It shows that she is really interested in what I have done and really cares about my work.” Gary (year 9)

The pupils say...

Mark our books at least once every two weeks. When we have done an assessment, mark it quickly so that we know what to do to improve our work. In our school, teachers write in green pen and then we respond in red pen. This makes it really clear what we need to do to improve our work.

The red pen makes it easier for us to show that we have done this and we have evidence of improving our work. If a teacher doesn’t mark the book regularly then you stop caring about little things, like how you set out your work or scribbling out mistakes. You start paying less attention to them in the classroom.

The teachers say...

  • Read John Hattie’s research into meta-cognition, marking and feedback (www.visible-learning.org).
  • Hattie reminds practitioners that feedback is not only differentiated in the way that it is given, but is also differentially received; two children might receive the same piece of feedback differently.
  • Feedback should be clear. If you encourage peer feedback, you must give students support to make it accurate and specific.

Set the right example in our classroom

“When a teacher sits down the whole time, you can tell that they can’t be bothered. The ones that walk around and check on the pupils are the ones that care.” Daniel (year 9)

The pupils say...

When you are not happy with the amount of work that we have done or if someone is distracted from their learning then you need to make it clear. Use our names instead of using words like “guys” or “everyone”. This shows that you want certain people in the classroom to do something.

A teacher who is doing what they expect of us gets our respect. For example, if you ask someone to not check their phone and then you are doing it, it makes us think that you don’t expect to behave in the same way. It makes you look inconsistent.

The teachers say...

  • Promote activities and even take part in activities that instil within children the moral values and ethos that you want to establish as a staff team.
  • For example, at Norham High School, a group of teachers and support staff took part in an event called “Sleep Easy” organised by YMCA North Tyneside to promote awareness of youth homelessness and the issues faced by homeless young people in the local community. The teachers, working closely with the YMCA, raised over £5,000 by sleeping out for one night on the streets of their local community. It demonstrated to pupils that we, as adults, expect to live up to our school’s core values such as compassion and respect.

Make it personal

“If a teacher rings home or gives you praise then it makes you stop and think.” Lewis (year 9)

The pupils say...

We like it when teachers send a postcard home telling our parents or carers when we have done something right.
At the same time, when a teacher calls home to tell a family member that your behaviour was out of line, this makes you think again before you do it next time. It shows that the teacher is prepared to think about you and your behaviour outside of the classroom.

It’s the same with marking books, reports and parents’ evenings. When you are telling us how to improve then it needs to be personal. Don’t give us the same target that everybody else in the class has been given. Don’t tell us just to “speak more” in lessons. Make it clear to us and use our names again. This makes us take notice of what we need to do. It also means we can do it without constantly asking the teacher what they mean.

The teachers say...

  • Read Geoff Petty’s research, Evidence Based Teaching (2006). A free additional chapter to his book can be downloaded (www.geoffpetty.com).
  • Petty reminds teachers of the need to “catch” pupils doing something right. He writes: “Keep an eye on them, and when you notice they are doing something right, even by accident, comment on this positively in private: ‘Well done, you’ve made a start.’ Many students who misbehave are attention seekers, and if they earn attention for behaving well, they are less likely to steal attention by misbehaving.”
  • Sean Harris is a Future Leader and assistant head of Norham High school in North Shields. He takes no credit for the article – a group of his pupils came up with advice for NQTs themselves and the article was their idea. All of the pupils are currently studying GCSEs at Norham High. The Future Leaders Trust offers leadership development programmes for current and aspiring senior leaders in challenging schools. Visit www.future-leaders.org.uk/programmes

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd's NQT Special Edition on June 30, 2016. Published with support from the NASUWT, the Special Edition features eight pages of best practice and advisory articles aimed at NQTs as they come to the end of their first year of teaching, and trainee teachers as they prepare for NQT life in September. Download a free pdf of the Special Edition, via our Supplements page at www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements or directly via http://bit.ly/290nqhD


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