#TLAB 13 – Rebooting my teaching: Stealing ideas from primary schools and shaking up my secondary classroom

On 16th March I was lucky enough to be the excellent Teaching, Learning and Assessment conference organised by Nick Dennis at Berkhamsted school. Much to my bemusement, not only was I asked to run a session, but several people actually came along! You can see the Prezi embedded below (or click here), but I thought I’d provide a brief overview as well.


I briefly talked through my background into teaching and the reasons for the time I’d spend volunteering with yr 6 at one of the local primary schools. I also posed a couple of questions for the audience to get them chatting, thinking and sharing some ideas. In this case:

If you could go anywhere to reinvigorate your teaching, where would it be?

What will you do on Monday morning (or sooner) to make that happen? 

We had some great feedback, from international visits, to people reestablishing links with industry.


5 things I (re)learned

Relearned, because I think all of these things I knew when I started teaching, but the day to day grind, and the general secondary school culture had meant I’d either forgotten or ignored them.


1. Space

I reflected on the way in which space is used more flexibly in primary, and how everything is arranged for group work rather than facing the front. I linked to some of the work done by Bianca Hewes based on the work of David Thornburg around the concepts of learning spaces as campfires, watering holes and caves. I mentioned that I would love to have individual desks, rather than double desks, which would make the potential for a flexible space even greater.

What did I change?
All my desks got arranged into groups. I try (although don’t always succeed) to move the tables around depending on the class and the activity.


2. Generating Questions

One of the things that struck me about the class I visited was the way in which their questions relating to various current topics were on permanent display around the classroom (in fact, the use of display was something else I changed as a result of my visit). The classroom was driven by their questions, rather than those imposed on them (much like Tait Coles had been mentioning in his excellent session on Punk Learning)

What did I change?
I started to encourage more student questions to be at the heart of activities, including building on a unit developed by others in the department where students have to develop questions about everyday life in a particular historic period and then go and find and present their answers. I also tried to incorporate KWL grids more and use activities like the excellent ‘Shall we join the Chartists‘ from Ian Dawson

Quick plug – There are loads of great ideas for this in Hywel Roberts’ book ‘Oops’

3. Responsibility

I was blown away by how much responsibility students were given in year 6, and how little we take note of that when they arrive in yr 7. I know they’ve gone from the top of the school to the bottom, and they need to learn a new set of norm and values, but I do think this is one area where we need to trust our students more.

What did I change?
Be willing to try more adventurous projects with students. With open-ended projects if the students asked the question ‘can I…?’ I do my very best to make sure the answer is ‘yes, of course!’

 4. Cross Curricular

I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of the first things I’d change about secondary schools is the way that the curriculum is divided up into desrete little boxes and then we ring a bell every hour to move students to a new one.

Now, I’m not in charge, and there’s nothing I can really do about this, but I can do two things within my room…

What did I change?
Make sure that plenary questions from time to time focus on the links with other lessons and other topics. I also regularly ask students what they’re doing with other teachers, both in terms of topics and more importantly in activities so I can steal the best ones!

 5. Flexibility

Another big structural difference between Primary and Secondary is the flexibility they seem to have over time. While I don’t have that (when the bell goes, it’s all over), I have been interested in using technology to try and bring some of that flexibility in.

What did I change?

More use of Edmodo to provide links and reminders to students

Use of Google Apps for students to create shared documents and presentations – this allows me to monitor and feedback in a more timely manner than if the first time I see it is when it arrives in my classroom on a bit of paper


I then threw out another question to the audience – What have you forgotten about how you want(ed) your classroom to be?


Project Based Learning

For part three of the workshop I introduced the audience to the ingredients of Project Based Learning (as defined by BIE) and gave some examples of how I’d tried to bring those into my classroom.

Projects included:

Students turning my classroom into a museum

* Turning over part of the A Level Syllabus to groups of students to teach. The key part of this project was that they had to do their presentations twice, getting peer feedback after the first go.

* Having year 8s build a website on Stuart History so they could explore an area of interest to them.

* The open projects, where students can investigate any topic they want to within a given historical period, and present their findings any way they want


More questions: How could you use PBL to structure a unit of work?


Finally, given that many of the previous keynote speakers had tried to find an analogy for teaching, I threw in mine – a magpie. For me, the power both of the day, and of what I’ve been able to do over the last few years is picking the best ideas from other people and adapting them to my classroom and the learners there. In that spirit, I threw over three more ideas that I suggested people went to investigate:

Close the gap

SOLO Taxonomy 

Marginal Gains

Finally, inspired by Juliette Heppell at TMBett, we ended with a snowball fight – everyone wrote down one idea that they’d picked up from the day along with their twitter id if they had one, and lobbed it across the room. This meant they even if my session hadn’t been of much use, they left with one more idea and hopefully a contact to follow it up with!

I’m very grateful to everyone who came, and hope it was of some use to you.


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