Saturday, 31 May 2014

Can I be that little bit better at......being an NQT mentor

In my personal opinion, one of the most rewarding aspects of a teachers career is becoming an NQT mentor.  I have been in this privileged position for a number of years now.  Each year you learn something new as you help support a new member of the profession in their initial year.  No two NQT's are the same and it takes genuine thought to tailor the provision you provide.  The role, like many, has great responsibility.  It requires you to demonstrate a number of characteristics and approaches.  With your NQT you share days of successes, days when things click, days when things don't click, days when they question if they're in the right job, and days of difficult conversations.  You need to have the ability to strike the right balance and provide multiple roles at once.

Looking back to my experience as an NQT I was lucky enough to have a mentor who had such a balance.  They had the drive to push and challenge me.  The experience to direct me.  The confidence to give me a good ticking off when I wasn't performing.  In fact there were days when even I questioned what I was doing as a teacher.  There were times when we didn't see eye to eye, but the majority of the days were ones where I felt truly supported.

The role does create times when as a mentor you really need to reflect and learn.  Even after a number of years there are still times I feel that I could have, or should have, done something different.  Something that would have helped my NQT refine their practice.  In fact even with all my experience, I am still a million miles away from where I think I should be.  And so with this thought, I collaborated with my current NQT to pull out some key things we feel could help make us be that little bit better as an NQT mentor.

Regular drop ins with feedback

At times the regular or scheduled observations can seem too intermittent.  Weeks can pass before we see our NQT's and in that time things can change immensely.  There may be areas of success that we can reinforce and develop into habits.  Alternatively there may be times when our NQT's are struggling and support is needed.  We have to remain mindful that sometimes our NQT's won't come to us if they are struggling.  If we don't know then how can we act?  Keeping the fluency of observations through short informal drop ins can help immensely.  It allows us to keep the finger on the pulse and allow us to have a more structured dialogue.  We know what is happening therefore we can talk about what is happening.  We can set a variety of objectives throughout the year which are meaningful and relevant because we understand.  The main feature though is that these are informal (unless agreed otherwise) so that we see our NQT's in as natural an environment as possible.  These shouldn't feel pressurised and shouldn't impose on observation guidelines.  They are there to support.

Make the meetings count

Time is very precious and our NQT's benefit from it more than usual.  Many of us have scheduled meetings every week or fortnight.  It is imperative that these meetings have a purpose and action is taken.  Talk about what really matters.  Whether this is about improving behaviour, developing questioning techniques, refining planning or applying feedback methods, this time is valuable and so crucial for NQT's.  Spend as much of the time as possible reflecting on how they have been developing and then look at how to move forward.  Almost every setback has a solution so spend time learning from mistakes.  If things are going well, use this time to stretch them and focus on the next element of pedagogy that will develop their teaching.   How you use this time is bespoke to your personal situation.  But remember that this contact time could be the vital cog in helping your NQT develop in the direction they wish to go.

Tell them what they don't know

NQT's are fantastic at asking questions but this is usually based around areas they have some knowledge about.  As an NQT mentor it is your responsibility to help them find out the things they haven't even thought about.  Use your knowledge and experience to make them see the bigger picture.  I remember when I was entering my teaching career.  I would openly admit that I was quite naive.  Compare that to where I am now and there is a wealth of information, systems. strategies, knowledge and experience that I didn't even consider.  A lot of it I didn't even realise existed.  As a mentor it is up to us to ask timely questions to make NQT's think about things they hadn't considered.  You did 'x' but what would happen if you did 'y'?  Where are you planning to go next and will this help them achieve 'z'?  If you had added 'a' to your lesson after your first activity, what would you think would have happened?  Help NQT's see beyond where they currently are.  Share you experience and knowledge.  Don't impose but instead challenge.  Allow your NQT's to develop their own style and personality but under your guidance.  You play a bigger role than you think.

Remember the basics

There are so many times that we observe, we analyse, we feedback, we set targets.......yet this is usually based around the fundamentals of teaching.  Whether this is behaviour management, planning, questioning or 'rapid and sustained progess' (don't get me started!).  Sometimes though our NQT's need help with the basic systems within a school environment.  What does a good Year 8 report look like?  How do you access KS3 assessment data?  What do you do with it once you've found it?  How do you add detentions to the school system?  What is the feedback policy?  These are the things that happen throughout the term but are easily bypassed as we focus on meeting the various teaching and learning standards.  Don't forget these.  Instead make them a priority as things like following behaviour policies and setting detentions can be invaluable to NQT's as they seek to develop their relationships with classes.

Shared observations

It is very easy, normally due to time restrictions, to say "Why don't you go and observe Tim teach his Maths lessons.  He's really good".  The problem though is that NQT's can go to these lessons and not know what to actually observe.  There is so much going on, so many dynamics, so many subtle practices and interventions that NQT's can struggle to pick them out.  Where possible (and I know time plays a huge part) try and go with your mentees to observe a lesson.  Give a live commentary and explain what you see.  Ask questions to your NQT as you go on.  What have they noticed.  A key thing we found was that the experience of the mentor and being able to discuss and then apply it to NQT's own practice was invaluable.  Find the time.  Cover managers, line managers and even Heads of Departments should be able to free you up to help observe lessons with your mentee and make the experience more useful.

Plant seeds

This is personally from our NQT experience, but one of the most valuable things they have found is the sharing of ideas which has made them go away and think about their own practice.  At times, as a more experienced member of staff, we forget how much we have picked up.  Things become second nature and our teaching style becomes habit.  Discussions about teaching and learning came high up in things our NQT's liked the most.  They loved drawing from our insight, knowledge and experience.  Don't force your own preferred style on them but instead ask questions and direct them to possibilities.  There may be times when a firmer hand is required, but having a conversation that makes an NQT walk away and think about what they could do next is so powerful.  Reflection is such an important part of the profession.  Direct them, link to others, share resources, provide reading, give examples and network around the school.  Help plant the seeds so our NQT's can go away and try, adapt, refine, evaluate and develop.

Help them grow

The continued support you offer as they refine their practice is important.  Being available for a quick chat about things they are trying can be helpful (and it doesn't have to be formal).  If they are working on one of their targets they may just want to bounce ideas around.  Work with them and help map out the next few lessons, weeks or months.  Set short term targets and have measures to tick off when they get there.  Along with areas you have identified, talk to them and find out what areas they would like to develop professionally.  What mechanisms can you put in place to help them get where they want to and need to go?  They really value independence to go forward but the role you play in supporting them to get there is key.

Be prepared to prune if needed

There will be times when you may need to have difficult conversations.  The important factor here is to know your NQT.  As I was training my mentor knew I could take a tough talking to as I would be motivated to respond.  This approach wouldn't work for everyone and may actually do more harm than good.  The thing to remember is that there may be a time that you need to be assertive.  Talk things through, explain the issue/concern, plan steps to go forward and at all costs be reasonable and professional.

Know the standards

Throughout the year there will be so many times that evidence for a standard could have been collected, only for us to miss it during the hustle and bustle of day to day teaching.  Having an eye on the standards and knowing them will help you direct your NQT to things they are doing but might not have thought of.  Our experience helps us identify evidence that may not be apparent to them.  Collecting evidence can be a bit retrospective if we are not careful.  I remember the mad few nights (as an NQT) trying to tick off standards I knew I had achieved but couldn't readily find evidence for.  Use your meeting time to quickly reference standards and keep up to date.  Little and often does the trick and makes the final signing off a smooth process.

The standards shouldn't also dictate what we do.  It shouldn't be a robotic process.  In one 'not so good' example, I have seen written lesson observation feedback simply being a list of standards.  I'm not sure how helpful this is at all.

Finally, don't see standards as the end product.  I value them as a benchmark but try to go beyond them whenever possible.  Expand and raise the bar where you can but ensure you don't overwhelm your NQT.  

Target setting which works

Target set together every time.  Use observations and drop ins to form the basis of your targets as they are the clearest bits of evidence you collect.  Have discussions about practice and areas of development.  If you have seen that the level of feedback wasn't great in a number of lessons, spend time to discuss it and form a target around it.  Map out steps to improve.  Direct them towards resources.  Break larger targets down into manageable chunks.  Set a time frame so that you can see an improvement.  As you have noticed a lot of these points come under setting good old SMART targets.  The process of using the SMART method makes the process of target setting clear and manageable.

One important point raised by my NQT was having these targets very focused and specific.  Together, as a target area, we looked at stretch and challenge for all.  Instead of saying that every student in his classes must be catered for, we identified a group of four to focus on in each.  A few weeks down the line and after trialing some ideas he felt confident he could do this.  We then identified another group of four students and began the process again.  The process helped him to gradually develop good habits rather than overwhelm him.  He could spend time focusing improving his practice for a target group (more able, FSM, PP, less able....) which he could then replicate elsewhere.

Be approachable and give time

As a mentor you are probably the 'go to' person for your NQT.   The regular meetings you have are a great opportunity to discuss their progress.  However, on a day to day basis issues may arise.  A lesson may not have gone so well.  A student may be causing problems.  The photocopier might not be working.  Their plan may not be challenging enough.  As a mentor you need to make sure you are approachable.  To an extent, let your NQT know that they can catch you throughout the day to ask you anything.  I would rather they felt confident about going into each day than unduly worrying.  The quick 2 minute chat in the staff room, office or classroom can be so valuable.

Be professional

You are their mentor and not simply a friend.  Developing a positive relationship is needed if the year is going to be a success but be sure that you remain professional.  It's fine to grab a beer now and again or to socialise but be aware there may be times that you need to have difficult conversations or tackle issues in their practice.  Keep that in mind.  Also, if you yourself are not a role model then it may be difficult to expect them to make changes or respect your opinion.

Know the school you work in

Your school and the teachers within it are a great resource.  I guarantee you could probably list a few teachers in your head who are great with 'challenging' classes, who give really good feedback in lessons, who are fantastic at getting students to develop their written responses.....  Know the strengths of the teachers around you and set up times for you and your NQT to observe them.  Stretch outside of your department area as well.  Seeing teaching and learning in a different setting can really help you pull out similarities, differences and core strategies being used.

Coach or guide?

I have been extremely lucky to have worked with Neil Suggett whilst learning the process of coaching.  When working with any teacher across the school I always have this method underpinning how I have discussions.  It allows the individual to unpick their practise and work out future steps themselves.  You simply ask questions to keep the process moving.  Coaching with NQT's can also be equally effective but you do need to be wary that they might not yet have the knowledge base to form their own development.  They may need you to share your knowledge and experiences to help inform decisions.  This is where maybe guiding them more directly would initially be beneficial.

And finally...

This list is not exhaustive.  It doesn't even cover all of the basics.  What is does though (we hope) is pick up on things we sometimes might forget.  One statement from my NQT summarised these points overall was this:

"All of these really revolve around one thing which is sharing ideas, knowledge and practice by discussions and observations.  That would be the most valuable thing I have taken from this year and how I have adapted my teaching based on others"

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Can I be that little bit better at.....designing a better GCSE curriculum? Part 1

I've been a GCSE teacher for a number of years now.  In that time I have seen the curriculum we deliver evolve into various forms that serve our students as best as possible at that particular time.  If I remember back to the first few years of my teaching where I was under the guidance of a very good former Head of Department, we had the whole two years mapped out into organised blocks which easily kept me up to date and on track.  At any point in the course I could readily tell you where we were and what was coming up.  The structure was regimented and ensured we reached the end of the course fully prepped for the exam.  There were some draw backs though.  Every lesson was accompanied with a worksheet which students filled in.  It wasn't that inspiring but did ensure that the theory element remained a strength of the department.

Over the years the curriculum changed.  The department began to move away from the worksheets and began using exercise books.  There was more freedom in the classroom for teachers to teach how they felt best supported their students.  We still remained on track and on target but not for the reasons you may think.  During this transition something had gone missing.  We no longer had a curriculum overview.  We seem to have forgotten to design schemes of work.  The experienced teachers in the department simply used their expertise and excellent team ethic to collaborate and deliver lessons in an order, working around deadlines and ensuring we fulfilled the course requirements to as high a standard as possible.  We still had a rough plan and knew what we needed to teach and in what order but nothing was formally written down.

The aim
Now don't get me wrong, we know this wasn't ideal but it just seemed to work.  The theory element of our results has always been above national average and our students seemed to succeed.  However, over the last year we have worked hard to address the oversight and implement a new structure.  Working with the amazing Fran Bennett (seriously, she is an exceptional teacher and colleague!) we have tried to design a curriculum for our GCSE course that builds upon the great practice going on so far.  The aim of this process was to design a curriculum that both promoted a very high standard of learning, as well as ensuring students remembered this knowledge over time.  

Leading into this I had been reading more and more into the field of cognitive science/psychology.  What I read built upon previous work I had come across in my own education (Anderson, Schmidt, Thorndike etc).  As part of the core foundation to the new curriculum, we would look to implement elements of research into our planning.  These would notably come from the work of Curran, Willingham and Bjork.  Could we design a curriculum in such a way that students could retain their learning for longer and also reduce the need for intervention in the mad rush that is exam season?

We also looked very hard at what matters in our subject and identified areas that should be a priority.  Taking into account what the specification and exam requires is one point, but we also looked at other components that could truly benefit learning.  We didn't want the curriculum to be too rigid and monotonous.  Instead we wanted it rich with information, meaning and context.  We looked to use articles, case studies, real world experts and so on.  The principles needed to be tight but the day to day use of them needed to allow teachers freedom.  The structure and logistics of the curriculum are also built on some key fundamental principles revolving around improved levels of writing, refined feedback opportunities, and enhanced levels of challenge.  All of these were based on previous ideas, practice, experience and research, and allowed us to raise the level of our subject much higher.

With all of these things in mind, could we be a little bit better at designing a better GCSE curriculum than we previously had?

The bigger picture - The curriculum overview
It would be wise to point out that at this stage the overview is a work in progress.  We decided to focus solely on redesigning our Year 9 to Year 10 theory course (omitting Year 11 for the time being).  This was due purely to the fact that we needed to be able to plan, run and then evaluate the impact of our ideas before rolling it out further.  If it was having a negative effect on outcomes then we would still have Year 11 to amend it.  We also wanted to make the course manageable and by designing it slowly and carefully we would ensure that what we were putting into play would be consistent.

As I stated earlier, we have been looking at particular components of effective teaching over the year.  The process forced us to undertake a lot of reading of research articles and focus more on evidenced based practice.  There were a number of findings that I will explain over a few posts that really challenged our thinking and pushed us into some fantastic discussions.  In this post I will talk about how we went about implementing five key findings from the world of cognitive science/psychology into our curriculum design.

Implementing cognitive science principles
Experience over the years has shown me that when students reach the end of our course they seem to have forgotten chunks of it.  Gaps in their knowledge emerge and worry starts to set in.  It seems that although we taught them the specific content knowledge they need for each topic, it has somehow become very hard for them to access it.  All of the results, data and anecdotal evidence at that particular time seemed to have indicated that students knew that information a year ago.  The problem is that a year down the line and this is no longer the case.  So is this performance or learning?

The way we taught our GCSE course meant that students performed very well during immediate questioning, discussions or testing.  What didn't seem to happen though is the ability to remember this information later on in the year, or possibly towards the end of the course.  Now there are obviously some students who seem to understand and remember everything, but there is still a strong majority who forget information that we were certain was concrete.  Some would remember things when prompted, but there were still a number who had forgotten things taught nearly two years before.

After a lot of reading of research articles and publications (summarised here), we were not surprised to find that although a lot of our teaching was effective in the short term, there were a number of 'tweaks' that we could make to ensure learning lasted over time.  We began to analyse what we could realistically implement into our first trial of this new curriculum.  Discussions focused around the ideas of 'Desirable Difficulties' from Bjork and general cognitive science principles from Willingham.  So what did we do?  What were the cognitive science/psychology principles we looked at designing our curriculum around?

1 - Ordering our units

A number of researchers have stated the point that knowing things makes it easier to learn new things (apologies for the oversimplification of this).  In designing our new curriculum we built upon work that had been done previously in the department and ensured the order of units made sense.  We aimed to logistically place units in an order that built upon the previous units’ information.  For example, in Unit 4 we study ‘Physical and Mental Demands of Performance’.  The unit covers topics focusing around the various physiological systems in the body, as well as some psychological factors as well.  As an example, during this topic, when students learn about the aerobic/anaerobic energy systems, they can draw upon previous knowledge to help them.  Unit 1 information can help them understand why each individuals system may vary due to age, physique and so on.  Unit 2 can help them see why different types of athletes may have time to train or even monitor these systems.  Unit 3 may help understand the various training methods that are required to improve either the aerobic or anaerobic system.  The stream of knowledge links.

The aim we tried to incorporate was to build upon prior knowledge so logically ordering what is taught first so it snowballs and draws upon old information.  Building upon prior knowledge and learnt information makes learning new topics easier.  This is down to the fact that new knowledge being processed in the working memory retrieves and builds upon the older information in the long term memory to form new connections. 

The ordering also allowed us to tell the story of sport and create a bigger picture.  Obviously sport is a very complex domain with a number of interlinking points but we can at least structure the learning so that it follows an order and makes more sense to students.  The curriculum began with individuals, followed by how they are perceived, how they raise their performance to succeed and finally what physiological changes happen during this.  This makes it much easier for students to process this information in a methodical way (and potentially helping reduce the impact on the working memory and cognitive overload).

2 - Interleaving 

I won’t go into detail about the theory of interleaving as I have written about it here.  It is sufficient to say that cognitive scientists like Willingham and Bjork both agree that if students are to remember a particular piece of information, they will need to revisit it numerous times throughout the course.  Traditionally we had followed a method that is referred to as blocking.  We would select a unit, teach it, test for understanding and then move onto the next unit.  This provided us an accurate account of what students knew at that point.  What we had done though is compartmentalised learning.  We had isolated groups of topics into blocks.  In the short term, student performance looked good.  In the long term, the result of this is that due to our GCSE starting in May during Year 9, students in Year 11 struggled to remember back to information from two years ago.  We had not consciously made attempts to recap topics from earlier points of the course.  Therefore we can’t be surprised when students forget things.  Now obviously the more experienced teachers could make these references when needed, but this was on an ad hoc basis and we needed to ensure this was done with more thought.

Bjork proposes interleaving as one of the desirable difficulties that may overcome this.  The idea is that topics are repeated throughout the course so students are forced to constantly retrieve information.  In its most effective form it may include regularly switching topics and revisiting them repeatedly throughout learning.  An example might be spending time teaching diet in sport, then next lesson focusing on physique, then focusing on gender and then coming back to diet and so forth.  This also allows students to identify links between topics and compare information.

In reality though, when we looked at designing the curriculum this way we found it extremely difficult.   I mapped out (using a spread sheet) all of the topics that we taught, and then attempted to break up their order so they became constantly repeated.  I also tried to space them effectively so that forgetting came into play.  Working with this system became very confusing and meant that we would run out of curriculum time very quickly.  It is definitely something I will be working on next year within individual units.  Instead, we have tried hard to tie topics back into new learning so that students have to retrieve that knowledge and in return increase storage/retrieval strength.  For instance, in Unit 4 during the Circulatory system lesson, we have mapped it out that teachers tie in the Unit 2 topic of ICT in sport looking at measuring heart rate and training zones.  These opportunities are no longer left to chance and are mapped throughout the entire course.  We now have students retrieving various topics at relevant times throughout the course.

A look at Unit 2 and how it interleaves topics from Unit 1

I know it's not mathematically accurate and the spacing gaps aren't as precise as we would like, but it's hard in reality to transfer the best principles from research into practice.

3 – Spacing it out

You may have noticed in the point above that I have mentioned spacing.  I explain more about spacing here but it is basically revisiting information at spaced out times throughout a given period.  As Bjork explains:
"It is common sense that when we want to learn information, we study that information multiple times.  The schedules by which we space repetitions can make a huge difference, however, in how well we learn and retain information we study.  The spacing effect is the finding that information that is presented repeatedly over spaced intervals is learned much better than information that is repeated without intervals (i.e., massed presentation)"

Bjork also explains that the gaps between revisiting this information is also very important.  He suggests that each time we revisit it, the subsequent gap before the next time should increase, and then increase again and so on.  The aim it to allow students to almost forget the information.  When they come to retrieve it again the strength of it in your long term memory increases.

Ebbinghaus, 1885 - Note the increasing gaps between reviews and the decreased rate of forgetting.

As I have explained through the process of interleaving, it was really hard to space topics with the idea of increasing the spacing between retrieval.  How do I know when students are about to forget something so I can then refer to it?  With the spread sheet in hand I again tried to map out increasing gaps over the year.  Again I found that we would run out of curriculum time in only a few terms.  Instead we decided to group topics together in their units rather than individually.  We also used the natural roll out of the curriculum to increase spacing.  For instance, in Unit 1 we mapped out times you would recover Unit 1 topics.  When you get to Unit 2, you would have to revisit Unit 1 and Unit 2 information.  When you go all of the way to Unit 4, you would have to cover Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3 information again.  Because there are more units to revisit, the gap between covering them again increases as well.

4 – Testing that is low stakes but high impact

Traditionally I have not been a great lover of testing.  It would be an option when needed but I didn’t see the full benefit that it has on learning.  Through the various readings we found that the use of tests actually is a key factor in helping information to be stored in the memory.  The process of having to retrieve information through a form of testing makes it more recallable in the future.  We also found that frequent testing has more beneficial effects than subsequent restudying of a topic.  In fact Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that in one study, students remembered 61% of information from repeated retesting, compared to 40% from repeated study.

What we didn't want to do though is create lessons of monotony with lessons crammed with exam question after exam question.  Instead we created opportunities and methods of testing throughout the curriculum with various levels of pressure.  We therefore designed these four opportunities:

Note how in Unit 3 and 4 there are designated times for Unit recap tests.

Low stakes testing - In the testing column on the overview we spaced out (with increasing gaps) times when we ask our teachers to test old topics.  These tests are low stakes tests but force students to retrieve information.  We created a list of ideas including ‘Write down as many things as you can about topic x’ or ‘Challenge your partner, who can remember the most keywords from Unit Y’ to ‘Mindmap/Spider diagram all the links between topic A and B’.  The guidance we gave teachers is that these tests must be done in the allocated lessons and must last no longer than 5-10 minutes.  They can be done as bell work, a starter activity or even at the end of a lesson.  Providing answers should be quick and would be better if they could be done simply on one Power Point slide.  Students are now used to them as a sportsmen/women, enjoy the challenge and friendly competition.

Unit tests – Originally with our blocking of units, we would follow up learning with an end of unit test.  That test would purely focus on information from what has just been taught.  So in a Unit 4 test you would only see questions on topics from Unit 4.  This year we are including any question from any previously taught unit.  So in a Unit 3 test, you will now see questions from Unit 1, 2 and 3.  Teachers can formatively gather a sense of how well that unit has been learnt throughout lessons, but now also summatively see how they are doing within the full course.  Doing this allowed us to get students to retrieve old information and again increase its strength.

Multiple choice – Bjork’s work made reference to the benefits of multiple choice questions as a way of building up memory strength.  We now use an increased number of multiple choice questions throughout the curriculum.  In lessons we use hinge questions as one method on a regular basis.  We do this because if they are carefully crafted, the process that students take to work out correct and incorrect responses helps improve retention.  What we do with these though is follow up responses.  It could be easy for a student to simply indicate an answer with no thought.  We therefore create discussions or opportunities for students to verbalise their answer, even if it is incorrect.

Pre-tests – Based on Bjork’s work we now run pre-tests at the very start of each unit.  These take the form of multiple choice and last no longer than 10 minutes so curriculum time lost is very minimal.  The process provides cues and is thought to improve subsequent learning.  It also helps teachers gain a very quick insight into students prior understanding.

5 – Problem solving

In the first chapter in ‘Why Don’t Students Like School? Willingham explains that the brain spends a lot of this time helping us not to think.  Instead it prefers to do things automatically.  But, Willingham states that it does like to solve problems.  It is naturally curious.  It doesn't necessarily mean questions but we found this quite effective for us.  We therefore ensured that during each unit we mapped out larger driving questions.  For instance, in Unit 3, students were presented with the thought:
 “What factors do athletes need to focus on in order to reach and maintain a suitable fitness level for their sport?”

This was shared in the first lesson and everything that we subsequently learned built up a stronger ability to answer that question.  The question also allows us to tell a story about particular aspects of sport and make the various connections between topics.

To finish

What we haven’t done is created a robotic curriculum design.  We aren't constricted by what we have read or learnt.  The field of cognitive science is still not totally certain about all of its claims.  What we have simply done is taken the opportunity to use research to embed 5 simple principles that may help improve longer term retention of information.  Many of these changes are at the overview level so don’t put pressure on teachers to teach differently or in a set way.  It has simply allowed us to logistically map out key points throughout the year which we can focus on building memory strength.  There are no tips or tricks being used in lessons (unless staff wish to do so).  Instead we are using cognitive approaches to work hand in hand with learning to make it longer lasting.

In the next post I will look at how we designed our curriculum to improve levels of writing, the impact of feedback and the levels of stretch and challenge (with an A level twist!).

Friday, 14 March 2014

Can I be that little bit better at.....improving the quality of students writing in my lessons?

Last month I wrote a guest blog post for Subject Support (which can be found here).  It looked at ways that as a PE teacher I can improve the quality of students written work in theory lessons.  Since then I have had a number of very unrelated conversations about this topic and worked with a number of colleagues on this same problem.  Although I am not a specialist in this field, I am still a huge advocate that I have as much of a duty to develop students reading, writing and general literacy skills as any other colleague.  Simply because I am a PE teacher should not be an excuse or reason why I should see this as the work of other departments (more often than not the English Department).  I feel it unfair that I should feel the benefit of their hard work and do nothing with my students to help support, reinforce or move students competence in this skill forward.  At our school we have a number of whole school literacy strategies that, as individual teachers or departments, we should be following to help develop students literacy.  This is a positive set of strategies and ones which are designed to raise standards.  They work and provide clarity for staff and students.  There is the worry though within my own thoughts that if we are not careful, ensuring we are incorporating such strategies, we make the process a bit of a 'bolt on'.

For a long time (since the Literacy in PE project found here) I have always thought that improving the standards of literacy within students should be something at the heart of teaching.  As a colleague of mine once said (and undoubtedly borrowed from elsewhere), "We are all teachers of English".  And he is right!  Almost everything I do in my theory lessons involves students either verbalising their ideas in a coherent manner or providing a written response to a task, question, problem or challenge.  Using sources, articles and various texts of varying complexities and varying length is also part and parcel of what I do.  With this much need for students to clearly communicate or interpret literature, I have ample opportunity to drive the standards of literacy forward within my teaching without the need to run for a whole school writing mat or PEED poster.  Now there are clearly limits to my expertise (as you will probably spot in the various grammar mistakes in this post!).  I am not even on the same scale as English teachers or literacy coordinators.  What I am able to do though is make how I design my lessons have a coherent message that literacy, particularly written responses, is of huge importance and something that I will strive my hardest to develop over time.  So with this specific focus in mind, can I be that little bit better at developing the quality of students writing in my lessons?  Hopefully the following ways might just be the first step in doing that.

Demonstrating great writing

Articles and texts

I am a huge fan of introducing various depths of reading in lesson.  I find the traditional use of texts books a great starting point for information, but ultimately find them limiting on what they offer in terms a broader spectrum of writing.  As a PE teacher I actively seek out various newspaper/media articles, scientific articles, extracts from books or even the odd research paper.  The amount of literature that is freely available for my subject is extremely vast and very rewarding.  Using, for instance, a scientific paper explaining how the use of carbon fibre as a material for making track bikes in cycling is a much richer source of information than using the generic text book.  The use of specific or key terminology is much more beneficial and models a much higher level of academic writing which I ultimately hope my students can aspire to reproduce.  As a teacher it is vital that students are exposed to such vocabulary so that they can then develop confidence in using them in the future.  They also contextualise the content that I am delivering and allow students to make meaning of some very technical information.  Articles are a fantastic way to stimulate discussion with students and can be unpicked very easily with the class.  Looking at how sentence structure and various tones are used can be as important to highlight with students as the content itself.  Choosing the correct text for students is incredibly important though.  Using tools such as the Google Reading Level Filter (see here) can help select user friendly material that is pitched at the various reading levels.  Taking the time to search, read and share such materials is excellent time well spent and has the potential to reward students writing immensely.  

Examples of excellence

If you have never read Ron Berger's 'An ethic of excellence' I would urge you to do so.  The book is an absolute gem of a read and clearly explains various steps to help develop the quality of students work.  Throughout the book Ron talks about his use of exemplar material with his current students.  The vast majority of this work is produced by students from earlier years.  The remaining materials are sourced from the field of work in which his class are studying (an actual scientific paper if his students are producing work within a science topic).  Ron uses these high quality exemplars as examples of excellence.  He uses them for many reasons but the one that resonates with me the most is how he uses them to help his students develop their writing.  Analysing these excellent pieces of work with his class allows them to be opened up to a world of high quality writing.  By sharing them with his class he is exposing them to a level of literacy and a variety of styles that they might not have ever seen before.  It's this level of inspiration that can help provide clarity for students when embarking on extended writing tasks.  The process of sourcing these examples is relatively easy and one that I encourage all of us to do.  Scan your students books and pick out brilliant pieces of work.  Look through assessment tasks and find high quality answers.  Revisit homework's or projects from previous years and pick out the best that students have submitted.  If not, look to industry to find relevant exemplars which can be used with students and provide sufficient challenge which they can aspire to.  If we aren't sharing high quality writing, do students actually know what it looks like?


Using the various texts, examples of excellence or your own written responses, we can model particular styles of writing or structure that would help our students.  Modelling work allows our classes to visualise and understand the high standard of work that we expect.  It can give students that clear example of what we are aiming for.  Models also provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate excellent structure, vocabulary use, styles of writing and use of grammar (among other things).  As a teacher I aim to model work as much as possible.  Using the white board to project an example or simply sharing copies as handouts allows me to talk through what makes this particular pieces of writing high quality.  The exemplar can also be a great tool and allow students to discuss, analyse and even rewrite some of its sections.  The model itself then becomes 'live' and evolves.  Where it is applicable, I also use a camera (or visualiser) to quickly take photos of students work as it happens.  Displaying this on the screen with students allows me to show high quality work being produced by one of their peers.  Doug Lemov talks about a similar technique called 'Show call' which involves a teacher randomly selecting students work to model via a visualiser during lessons.  The process shows how work is achievable and increases the quality as any piece of work can be selected.  Finally, some of the best models I have seen have been those produced by teachers themselves.  I'll talk more about this later in the next paragraph.

...deconstructing examples....

Although modelling work can be an extremely effective tool, it can also be seen as a step too far for a number of our students.  Occasionally students see these models and fear that this level of work is unobtainable.  They worry that the progression from their own style to this is too big a jump.  This is where a teacher can use their skill to deconstruct it with students and scaffold the process of achieving writing of this level.  At the lesson planning phase think about the model you will be sharing.  What stages did the writer take to get it to this level?  How did they plan this piece of writing?  What key features enable the writer to produce work of this standard?  How would you go about trying to emulate this quality?  Why did they use terminology or vocabulary the way they did?  How big a step is it between your classes current writing the model exemplar?   The key is to look at the model through the eyes of a student you teach.  If the answers to the various questions above result in too many problems or too high a level of challenge, it may require you to rethink your model.  Once the model is suitably challenging, the process of deconstructing it is very helpful.  Show them the process of how writing of this level was achieved.  Break down various sections of the text and build them back up.  Construct examples with your class on the board using the various stages so students see how the process works in action.  These phases of a lesson can produce the biggest lightbulb moments.  If you are brave enough, answer the question yourself in lesson.  Gather students around and show them what your thought process and technique was to construct your opening sentence, or your second paragraph, or your conclusion......  The list of options is endless.  Having such a live demonstration unwinding right there in front of them is a perfect opportunity for developing standards.  The process after that is how to scaffold.

...and scaffolding work

In my eyes, scaffolding should be used up unto the point where the writer is ready to be set free.  The use of writing frames, PEED, success criteria and other techniques are a great to get the process initiated.  When scaffolding how to answer long answer questions (8 marks) in my lesson, I will frequently use IDEA as a way to structure their writing.  The process, supported by modelling and deconstructing examples, allows students to begin their writing.  It allows them to have a plan and thought process behind how they tackle the answer.  It also encourages students to think and plan in a way that they might not have initially thought of.  In a cognitive science role, it minimises cognitive overload and allows students to map out their thinking.  It makes the initial process clear.  The goal though is not to have the scaffold left on forever.  Nor is it to make the process of writing 'easy'.  My aim is to allow students to become competent enough before finally releasing them to create writing that is fluent, academic and rich in character.

Developing specific terminology

Many of the students that I teach in GCSE PE can clearly verbalise what they are thinking. The detail in their answers and explanation of meaning is really quite good when spoken to me.  They may waffle on or taper off but their ideas are generally sound.  Unfortunately a number of students I work with find it difficult to get this on paper in a coherent manner.  They struggle to produce academic writing and frequently use generic language or write how they speak.  As a GCSE subject we need to work hard with students to develop their vocabulary and use of specific terminology.  We then need to introduce them to a breadth of subject specific words that help develop the strength of their writing.  Apart from the various use of texts and modelling outlined above, how can I begin to do this?

Planning to introduce key terms with meanings throughout lessons or scheme

Some students have a limited range of vocabulary compared to peers and this gap can continue to grow throughout life.  Specifically identifying key words and technical terminology that is not only shared but explained and then used in context can be a simple way to increase the range of word use.  In our department we identify key vocabulary throughout the course and ensure that these are shared with students.

Keeping a glossary of terminology 

A simple idea in which a spare few pages at the back of an exercise book can be transformed into glossary of key words.  The key though is to ensure meaning is understood.  Too many times I have seen students misinterpret a word and confuse its meaning in written responses.  Once this glossary is populated, we then need to ensure students use them.

Focusing on these key words

Sharing them and even getting students to write new vocabulary in a glossary or similar format is fine.  As the teacher we need to not think of that as a job done but more importantly design opportunities for students to focus on using key words.  This can come in the form of specifying words that ‘must be included in your sentences’ or even as simple as underlining/highlight these new words in use.  The more frequently that students use this academic vocabulary the better.  The aim is for this level of language to become habit and for students to use it wherever suitable to support their written work.

Expanding general vocabulary 

Bringing in new subject specific terminology is high on most teachers’ minds (especially in subjects like PE or Science) but do we sometimes focus on this subject specific element and forget standard vocabulary?  Working with students to create ‘alternate words’ or synonyms for general language is very important and should be encouraged by us all.  Making lists that students can select from can be a great way to expand their range of vocabulary.  Simple things such as instead of using a word like ‘happened’, students select from a list including ‘transpired, occurred, ensued, materialised’.  Many teachers have shared examples using paint colour cards or 'juicy words' which students are encouraged to use.

Vocabulary Upgrade 

A great idea borrowed from @TeacherTweaks where students check their work before submission and look to upgrade the depth of vocabulary they have used.  A teacher may prompt students to improve 5 words used in a particular piece of writing.  Students may look to replace generic words with specific terminology or even expand general vocabulary as explained above.  The process can also be done in pairs or even through a wider forum such as gallery critique.

Redundant words

When working with journalists last year on a PE project, they were excellent at informing students to focus on 'redundant words'.  In their industry column inch space is extremely valuable.  When going through the editing phase, journalists will cut out words that simply aren't needed.  Many of these are common words such as 'the' or 'that' or 'and'.  Getting students to work similarly when writing is a great way to cut out the random waffling that occasionally takes pace.  After students have written out their answers/essays, have them re-read it and spot opportunities to take the word count down.  Can they restructure a long sentence into something move succinct by removing redundant words and reordering the order? 

Constructing sentences

Once students have begun to develop their vocabulary it is essential that they can use them in a coherent manner.  Constructing sentences for some can be a challenge in itself.  Our subject requires students to explain their understanding of specific topics very clearly. It also requires them to support their understanding with application and meaning.  We also have numerous definitions and key words that are required to be defined before contextualised within a sporting example.  Before the level of modelling and deconstructing working examples, are there any methods I can use to get students to begin to formulate high quality sentences?

Sentence starters – with a difference!

For a while now I have been very adverse to sentence starters.  I always felt the ‘generic’ ones that were shared around were too flat and uninspiring.  Essentially they provide a starting point for developing written responses, but I always felt they lacked challenge or freedom to be creative.  Do they really make students think about what they are writing?  Doug Lemov completely reversed my thinking with his post 'At First Glance: A Sentence Starter Adds Unexpected Rigor to Writing'.  In the post, Doug explains that taking the time to create challenging yet thought provoking sentence starters such as 'At first glance....' is a simple but powerful tool.  The unusual three word prompt, chosen specifically to challenge students, allowed them to articulate some very high responses.  What is the topic you are covering?  What response do you want students to write?  Can you create an interesting three word starter?

Four part process– defining words and creating beautiful sentences

Getting students to define and then craft beautiful sentences is a great skill.  There are a number of fantastic methods to help students structure and support students in the process.  One way that I have found incredibly effective is the four part process borrowed from Lee Donaghy (who in turn borrowed it from Helen Handford).  The process is excellent for defining a key term, idea or piece of terminology.  It forces students to take this point and create a structured sentence from it, incorporating the definition and meaning.  Students pick out the information being defined.  They then select a verb or process that will help link it to the definition.  The important element of the meaning is then added so that a full sentence can be read across the framework.  The process isn’t just finished there though.  The teacher models how to redraft it, constantly refining it so that the sentence becomes more academic in nature.  The process of co-planning and coaching the students helps them understand the requirements needed to build this definition into a response of very high quality.

Live writing

As I mentioned earlier, this involves the process of the teacher taking examples of writing as it happens in the lesson.  This can come from either students or from the teacher.  As students begin to compose their sentences, the teacher can take examples of these and share them with the rest of the class.  Through discussion, analysis and feedback, the sentence can be restructured and improved in front of the class.  The process involves all students via the co-construction of new writing.  It also clearly demonstrates the process of writing excellent sentences.

Excellent sentences

Share examples of sentences that answer a particular question or essay title.  Ask students (either individually or in pairs/groups) to rework these sentences until they are refined enough to become high quality.  Discuss the process of the redrafting and get students to explain why they changed the various components that they did.  The teacher could specify exactly what the students should focus on whilst reworking them (use of key terminology, redundant words etc) or simply allow them the freedom to adapt them independently.

Extended writing

There has become an increasing need for students within GCSE PE to produce extended writing.  The various 8 mark questions within the AQA paper require students to pool together a variety of topics or pieces of information and relate them back to a scenario character.  This requirement happens twice within the exam and requires a lot of thought from students.  Even if this wasn't the case, helping students develop their extended writing is such an important skill to learn.  As non specialists, are there ways in which we can support and teach students how to write longer pieces of work?

Make extended writing the norm

Our GCSE curriculum model has a strong core literacy strand.  As the terms go on, we ask our students to develop their writing piece by piece.  When they get into the third unit we ask focus on exposing our students to as many opportunities for writing longer pieces as possible.  The use of 6-8 mark questions within lessons or even open ended driving questions allows us to create opportunities for focused writing to take place.  The use of higher mark questions can also be an excellent tool for driving content and checking student understanding.

I.D.E.A – Writing longer responses

In the past, many of the students who answered long answer questions in our subject simply listed 6-8 points and believed this sufficient.  The requirements of the exam actually asks students to refine their ideas into a few points and explain them in detail.  It involves students seeing connections between various topics and comparing, analysing, evaluating and explaining relationships between them.  Writing frames can be incredibly beneficial to help structure this process.  Many people are familiar with PEED, but we use IDEA instead.  The process asks students to following the following steps:

I – Identify – The piece of information or aspect that they would like to talk about.
D – Define/Describe – State the definition or describe the thing you are focusing on.
E - Explain – In your own words, demonstrate that you understand the meaning.
A – Apply - Relate it to an example or put it into context.

Students plan out their written response using the framework as a guide.  When you combine the four elements, it produces the basis of a well thought out paragraph.  For longer answer questions (like the AQA GCSE PE 8 mark questions), this process can be repeated a number of times to explore different points. 
It is important to stress though that IDEA is the beginning of developing improved written responses.  After students have sufficient skill in various techniques, the framework should be removed to allow students more creative freedom in their writing.

So where now?

This is just the beginning and hopefully a step away from having literacy as a bolt on to our subject.  What we feel is that literacy is now a core component of our subject and the need for students to write has become common place.  We are still a million miles off and developing our own understanding of writing is high up on our priorities.  There are still elements of grammar, sentence structures and advanced things like nominalisation which are well above my understanding.  They are however areas that we are working hard to develop in order to make the way we support our students writing that little bit better.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Can I be that little better at….knowing what high quality work looks like?

There are times when you catch up with a colleague in school and have a conversation that completely spins your thinking on its head.  Last week I had such a conversation with a fellow teacher.  There were a few emails about effective methods of feedback going back and forth between two colleagues.  Somewhere in the dialogue I was cc’d in to share my thoughts.  I did what was easiest and said I’d pop along to their classroom and have a chat.  I showed one of the teachers a few ideas and we spent a little time looking at how I have been using feedback questions.  I talked about how the method causes students to think and hopefully help close the gap between where they currently are and where they should be.  The method creates a dialogue between staff and students and is as easy to provide as simple comments.  I then explained that feedback should be evenly distributed to all students.  If not, those who have made a number of mistakes have far more comments/scribbles on their work than those that do not.  This can cause students to believe that if there’s a lot of feedback, my work must be wrong.  Instead I put forward the point that even the best pieces of work should receive equal amounts of feedback as we look to stretch and extend.  My colleague agreed.  Then he said something I had not yet thought of. 

“You and I could probably quickly and easily think of feedback to push work further and further, but does every teacher in every department know what high level work, answers and knowledge looks like?  What about PGCE/ITT/NQT students?  Do they have the experience to be able to extend every student?  Do they actually know what an A* paragraph or essay actually looks like?  You would assume that because we all have degrees we could, but I know from my own experience that in the first few years of my teaching, what I was probably doing in cases like this wasn’t that great”.

Within an instant a wash of memories came flooding back.  He was right.  When I remember back to my first few years of teaching, my ability to stretch and challenge was nowhere near as good as it is now.  I knew the topics I was teaching to an extent but could I really push those who were at the top even further.  Could I extend those students who seemed to have mastered the topic I was teaching them?  At the time these students either scared me or stumped me. 

If I was also being honest, did I actually know what high level work consisted of?  Do I even know now?  Am I able to offer the correct advice to make work actually great or is the guidance I give simply my own perceptions which may ultimately be incorrect?  Do we inadvertently teach them the wrong things when work gets to a certain level? 

When a student produces what in my eyes is a fantastic piece of work, would my colleagues (or even the exam board) agree?  If two students produced what seemed on the surface to be a very high level work, could I accurately distinguish why one piece was better than the other and what I could do to move it forward still?

Another point that passed through my mind was as a teacher, do we spend more time giving feedback to correct misconceptions?  What sorts of comments do we give those in the class who have suitably mastered the content we have provided?  Do we breeze past excellent pieces of work with a few ticks and a complimentary ‘well done’?  Is an A* piece of student work the end of the road where we can happily tick off ‘another student who will pass the course’ and not provide anything constructive in terms of advice?  Would we even know what to say to make it better?

My colleague also talked about the feeling of isolation in our rooms as we teach lesson after lesson.  Back in his early years he felt unsupported by his Head of Department and therefore muddled along himself, realising now that he was probably doing things wrong.  Did he at that stage know the depth of knowledge in his subject well enough to be able to guide students through to excellence?  Did he know how far he was expected to teach?  On his own with minimal guidance, did he know what a high standard in all aspects of his subject was?  No one had ever told him so he wasn't so sure.

All of these considerations had been ones that I probably had on a daily basis.  As the years pass on the experience and understanding of our subject probably covers over some of these as we learn what we should actually be doing.   Some of these probably still surface from time to time though.  I know I still have moments where a student asks me for advice on an excellent piece of writing and I have to take a minute.  And even then I worry that my advice would be nothing compared to say, an English teacher, for example.
So even now as what might be deemed as an experienced teacher, am I certain that I have the knowledge to know what a high standard of work looks like in every topic I teach?  Have I fallen into the monotony of teaching what is required to pass the course?  And do I have the ability to stretch even the most able students in my class?  Can I be that little bit better at knowing what high quality work looks like?

Examples of excellence – students
In the spirit of Ron Berger, keeping copies of excellent work from past students can be an absolute goldmine for future lessons.  We all know when we have come across a beautifully written piece of work that meets the highest criteria.  At this time, instead of filing away for moderation or assessment, keep a copy to use with other students.  These pieces of work can be used in many ways during lessons ranging from modelling, scaffolding and critiquing.  Demonstrating the depth of knowledge and necessary skills to produce work of this high standard can be an excellent teaching opportunity.  It sets the aspirational level and requirements needed to reach it.

Examples of excellence – teachers and experts
How many times as teachers have we attempted to complete one of the tasks we set our students?  Ultimately I know that time amongst other things rarely allows us the opportunity to do so.  Using student examples therefore bridges this gap and creates a resource.  The problem here though is that students themselves are not as ‘expert’ in the subject as we are.  Their knowledge isn't as in depth as ours so the level of work they are producing reaches a peak.  Finding time or even an opportunity to complete the task ourselves provides an example of excellence that (I hope!) goes beyond the level required.  I know of teachers who actually do the same task as students in class at the same time.  Brilliant!  This higher standard of work again can be used in a multitude of ways in lessons to further stretch and challenge the work students will attempt.  And it doesn't have to end there.  In fact I think we can go further still and actually look for real experts.  If attempting to write a newspaper article, isn't it possible to gather a bank of actual articles from real journalists that cover a range of writing styles.  Just as used in ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, these pieces of work can be unpicked and help students go well beyond the limits of subject specific criteria.  We can use these to see what actual great work looks like. 

Teach beyond the curriculum
There are times when the curriculum or exams feel like they mould what and how we teach.  Worrying about meeting the ‘required course content’ set out by governing bodies or exam boards means that we sometimes focus on what is in front of us.  The numerous conversations I have heard where a teacher tells a student ‘You don’t need to know that, that’s college stuff’ do have elements of sense.  If grades and performance are ultimately how we are being judged by, why risk going off of the beaten track to teach something extra.  But surely we should be looking beyond our curriculum at relevant times.  Being aware of what the A/S or A level syllabus contains is a starting point.  What is the leap between GCSE and beyond and can we reach out and grab elements of it in our lessons?  Knowing what the higher level courses contain can help us understand the level of ‘great work’ students in our subject should be producing.  Can we go further still and pull in richer examples from the world of work?  Are there various sectors that tie into your subject that could push the learning further?  It is a brave thing to look at the curriculum as baseline of what should be covered, something which is seen as the minimum requirement.  It is a brave thing to use that as the foundation which can be built upon further to create a great curriculum which ultimately leads to great work.

Examiners’ report
Readily available after exams are the various qualification providers and provide a wealth of information.  They summarise the quality of answers from the previous examination which can help teachers work out what is missing from a high quality piece of work (at least in the examiners eyes).  The reports show various misconceptions and provide guidance of how to improve.  As a starting point for looking at what at least a full mark answer looks like, this can provide an excellent insight.

Collaboratively planning
There are too many times that teachers can feel isolated in their classroom.  With 5 period days, responding to emails, marking, assessments and so on, some teachers rarely find time to leave their four walls.  But if we are looking to see what a high quality standard of work looks like, using colleagues can be an essential resource.  When planning a task, think about what the outcome will be.  Using a colleague to unpick the criteria to meet this outcome can help immensely.  Collaborating to work out the set standard and truly identify what an excellent standard really looks like can be invaluable.  Having that extra piece of experience and knowledge can help you understand the requirements of what great work really looks like.

Dedicated departmental time
How often in departmental meetings do you spend actually looking at what high quality work in the current or upcoming topics is.  Do you spend time as a team working out what an A* (and even beyond) piece of work in this unit will be?  Do you bring along previous pieces of work from last year’s students and collaboratively critique it so all staff know what level we are aiming for?   Do you answer some of the higher level questions or tasks as a team, taking note of what content is essential to meet it?  Do you collaboratively analyse the various materials like the syllabus and examiners’ report to see how to develop students work further?  Meetings like these in the run up to new units can be a life line to both new and experienced teachers.  Are you confident that everyone in the department is knowledgeable, and fully supported, to know what high quality student work should look like?

Subject specific reading
I have probably spent the majority of my time this year reading about general teaching and learning and less about my subject.  Although in the pedagogical sense I haven’t plateaued, have I allowed my subject specific knowledge to do so?  Keeping up to date on your subject should be essential.  What are the new developments?  What has changed?  What new literature could be used with students?  How have businesses, jobs and the real world developed in your subject?  Keeping up to date in our areas of expertise is essential in helping us incorporate stronger and more challenging learning in our subject.

Cross moderation
Whether this is a set annual process as a department or a more flexible opportunity between colleagues, comparing and cross referencing students work can be incredibly helpful.  How easy can it be to pop to another teacher’s room with a couple of students books to quickly analyse?  Or even compare marking or assessment of a piece of work?  On paper it seems very easy.  In reality it means finding time.  But I believe it is time well spent.  Many schools create the culture where doors are open and observers welcomed.  But how about creating a culture where we can openly analyse the work of each other’s classes.  There is always a sense of nervousness and worry that pride/reputation may be at stake.  What if the work my students are producing is not as good as a colleague?  This shouldn’t be the case though.  If we can have people analyse what we as teachers do in a judgemental way in observations, surely the supportive analysis of your students’ books by a colleague should be a welcome opportunity.