Low-level bad behaviour is the worst type of negative behaviour.

I have been thinking about this for a while now and understand that low-level behaviour can be left unchallenged in many schools due to higher priority behaviour. There are usually ‘big hitters’ in schools who are classed as the ‘naughty’ students or there are classes whose behaviour is way worse than other classes and so these are often the focus for teachers on the ground and those above analysing the data.

The problem I have is that this often leaves the masses unnoticed and low-level behaviour has been rife in all of the schools I have worked in so far.

Examples of low-level behaviour are things like:

  • Talking underneath the teacher
  • Not following instructions the first time
  • Saying ‘no’ to staff
  • Not completing homework
  • Messy/incomplete classwork

You will always have students who dominate the class. This may be things like arguing with staff or refusing to complete classwork and they generally exhibit this behaviour in a number of lessons for a number of staff. They will sometimes be on report or be having their behaviour monitored by Heads of Year and tutors. They will probably have been involved in parental meetings between the school to try and ‘turn the student around’. Whilst these students should be a focus for a school, I think it means that often everybody else gets away with much more than they should. I also think these students mean we sometimes expect less of everybody else because we are just glad they are not doing the ‘bigger’ things.

My biggest pet-hate is failure to hand in homework but I also find that incomplete classwork is more common than I assume when I stand at the front and wander around monitoring classwork.

I know that systems within school don’t always support the teacher and if you are pedantic like me and want behaviour entirely under control it can be hard if you don’t have the correct channels to use.

I have been thinking then if I had to narrow down techniques and strategies with behaviour to five ones that should help with individual classroom management, what would they be? I have devised a little table with the things that I think help to minimise this low-level disruption even when the bigger system of the school doesn’t necessarily challenge it.

behaviour-1behaviour-2behaviour-3behaviour-4bheaviour-5

In many of these boxes, I have referred to consistency across all staff and whilst I appreciate this is the ideal, it is unlikely in most schools to be the case. I think that carrying out these actions yourself, in your own classroom also has a huge impact on your day to day dealings with low-level behaviour.

I am not saying that these will completely resolve all the problems when it comes to classroom behaviour, no man is an island after all, but I think it can help to make small changes in a school where you feel you are drowning in behaviour issues but don’t necessarily know how to tackle it for the best.

New Spec RE GCSE

After having a large amount of time off to have my son, I have returned to the world of work in a new school a bit closer to home.

I have been helping a colleague to plan the new GCSE spec ready for teaching next half term. He has taught the Christianity unit so far and with his excellent knowledge of Christian Theology, this has been successful. He can see the knowledge of the students coming on leaps and bounds in comparison with the old wishy washy spec.

I have been helping to plan the Hinduism side of the GCSE and I must say I am so much happier with the new spec than the old. I have had to actually go away and research and read up in order to create lessons on Hinduism (it isn’t a topic I studied at University) and this fact alone has impressed me as it means that if I have to use my brain, then they have to use theirs.

I welcome knowledge in Religious Education. I think we have lacked knowledge in our curriculum for a long time and I know that the popularity of the subject sometimes falls down to the ‘exciting’ topics studied but it is often at the expense of depth in their learning. We had a hub meeting in the area recently and other heads of department do not welcome the changes in the same way.

I think when it comes to planning the new GCSE (which I’m sure many people have done by now) there has to be a positive approach or else the students will think negatively of it too.

I posted last year about the KS3 curriculum I developed and how it was all knowledge based and barely touched on the variety of religions in favour of studying 2-3 in more depth. I feel this feeds into the new GCSE spec and I think that more time given to studying the history, texts and tradition is only a good thing. I know students will struggle more but that’s because the old questions were not actually challenging and also I think most teachers would admit that they came up with formulas and cheats in order to get their students the grades. If I didn’t have FARM in my first few years of teaching, I think I would have cried. There is no doing that with the new spec, you have to teach knowledge and you have to challenge the students more than they have been before in RE.

I want to follow up this blog post with examples of how to attach teaching without the ‘cheats’. Stay tuned.

 

 

Making our RE curriculum more academic!

One of the perks of this year has been that I have had complete autonomy over the RE curriculum. Also, with no GCSE/A-Level to focus on, I’ve had the time to completely focus on the often forgotten KS3 curriculum.

My agenda at the start of the year was to create an entirely academic style of RE that was both engaging to students but held credibility in the world of academia. In the beginning, my lesson planning was a little bit off as I had moved from a school with higher ability students to a school where the intake was generally lower and lots of the students were new to English.

I almost gave up thinking that my curriculum was too hard for these students but I did not. The results were amazing.

Since starting teaching I have wanted to plan my own curriculum and try out the more traditional style of theology that I encountered at university. I was fed up of teaching RE with no religion in it. With what little knowledge we have of the new GCSE, I knew that ‘religion’ needed a stronger role in the curriculum if these students are to have a chance of understanding it in the future (probably with only 1 lesson a week still!)

I made some tough decisions that I’m sure would be criticised by some RE teachers as I cut breadth of knowledge for depth and I worked chronologically, focussing on the main religions the students would need to know for GCSE. I would probably also be criticised by teachers who think it would not be ‘engaging’ to study these topics but I beg to differ. I also kept some of the lessons/units that did not necessarily harness the theological side of RE but that I felt were important to raise the importance of RE in my school (not all schools would need this necessarily).

 

Below is an outline of the curriculum I went for.

Year 7 

Term 1+2 – Introduction to RE*

A focus on what Religion is and introducing key terms such as ‘Abrahamic’ and ‘Indian’ and why the world religions are categorised this way. Also introduced to ultimate questions and why religions deal with these.

*This would probably be the scheme I’d cut if I was in a school where RE was already appreciated. I did question whether it was worth doing and I think after teaching it, this really hooked the year 7’s and allowed me to take them into the theological route I planned without question. Also, with my school being a start up school I really needed that baseline knowledge to pursue the rest of the curriculum.

Term 3+4 – Study of the Old Testament

We started at the beginning, Genesis. We looked at the story of creation IN the ACTUAL BIBLE. We then continued on to the Fall of Mankind and asked questions such as who was actually to blame for the fall of man – Eve, Adam, God, The Devil. Whilst studying the text, the religious views were interwoven and students engaged with the Christian, Muslim and Jewish perspectives of this story.

In the next half term we moved on to look at the Prophets. Abraham (Isaac), Moses and Esther. The question I wanted the students to engage with throughout the whole unit was ‘is the Old Testament still relevant today?’ At all times,  the students were invited to question the relevance of the text within the religions and also within modern secular society. They absolutely loved Esther.

This scheme taught me that the students can engage with the difficult religious literature if it is differentiated appropriately. I also found that my students who were lower ability in Literacy or New to English really progressed in reading and writing when reading the Bible. Also, KS3 children love a story and the OT stories are always exciting to them!

Term 5+6 – Judaism (Ancient vs Modern)

Moving chronologically through the Abrahamic religions and beginning with the Old Testament meant that it gave me the opportunity to explore Judaism. In my experience of teaching Judaism, it is one of the religions that the students misunderstand the most. We’d already covered the founding Fathers in the Old Testament so this allowed me to tie in the Judaism of the Biblical tradition quite neatly for the students.

This meant that for the next term of study, they will be able to look at Judaism as a religion in modern British society and effectively compare with the ancient traditions and have theological literature to back up their discoveries.

 

Year 8 

Term 1+2 – Study of the New Testament

This, for me, was the most exciting of the schemes I created. Students began with a look at how the New Testament was formed. They studied the Synoptic Problem and questioned the authenticity of the Gospel writers using arguments I had only discovered at degree level. They analysed how Jesus and society was represented in each of the Synoptic Gospels and looked at the different styles the Gospel writers used.

In the second half of the unit, we focussed a little more on Jesus. Using the Biblical literature we looked at the characteristics of Jesus and some of the main events in his life. With the understanding of the difference between the Gospels, the students were really able to grapple with the problem of who the ‘real’ Jesus might have been historically. The question they focussed on for this unit was ‘Who was Jesus?’

Term 3+4 – Introduction to Islam*

Again, moving chronologically through the Abrahamic religions, I decided to try and introduce the students to a more academically rigorous Islam than the ‘shock-factor’ Islam that is sometimes taught in school.

Accepting that RE was a study of religious literature, the students engaged in exegesis of the Qur’an. However, their knowledge of Islam was a little less than Christianity and so basic fundamentals of the religion such as who Muhammad actually was and what society was like during that time did take over primarily for the first half term.

Once the students had built up a knowledge of God and Muhammad in Islam, they understood the Qur’an better and were able to engage with the Qur’an on some of the fundamental beliefs such as the 5 Pillars and the importance of the Ummah.

*I believe there was so much more to be done with the scheme and if I were to teach again, I would focus a lot more on fundamental beliefs linking with religious literature. However, being RE, we really struggled for time in this half term with year 8 going on lots of trips etc and missing too much RE to do this scheme justice!

Term 5+6 – Indian Religions

My initial plan for these terms was entirely different as I assumed there would be a year 9 RE curriculum but once my school made it clear that the students would begin their GCSE at the start of year 9, I thought it would have been more important to cover some parts of the other world religions, particularly as some of the understanding of topics such as death on the GCSE requires some knowledge of reincarnation and so on.

I am not entirely happy with my attempt to squeeze Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism into one unit; however, I am unsure as to whether this would actually be beneficial to them for GCSE and would probably revise this for future teaching.

I argued for termly assessments in RE so that actual progress could be shown rather than me wasting lessons assessing every 2-3 lessons when they couldn’t realistically show progress in that time. The results in the level of writing that was being produced was amazing. Like I said at the start, my intake were lower than average on entry and I had students dealing with genuinely difficult questions and producing coherent answers that demonstrated they had clearly understood these academically difficult concepts. The data was + in RE throughout the whole year (until I left for maternity) and when completing my SEF for the department (myself essentially) I was genuinely pleased with the strengths in my little department.

Obviously, there would be much to work on for next year and more specifically there needed to be more tailored lessons for the EAL students who should have been able to access these concepts equally with the English speaking students. I am proud of what I had created for my first year of being in control of the RE curriculum. I didn’t have to manage any people and taught all of this myself so it was a lot easier than if I had to try to get other teacher’s to understand my brain but I believe that with a little focus on KS3 and developing that academically rich and rigorous curriculum you can achieve great things in RE.

My students even petitioned the VP to ask for double lessons of RE instead of just one! I’ve never had that level of interest with ‘sexy’ RE!!

I am more than happy to share my plans/lessons with anyone who wishes to look at them also.

 

 

 

 

Non-Specialist Teaching… it’s dangerous!

I haven’t blogged for a while and I’ve now finished work to have my baby. I’m sorry people, the blogs that have been in my head for a while are probably all going to come together!

First of all, I want to discuss the dangers of non-specialist teaching. This time around I was the non-specialist teaching History and Geography and I was the only teacher, teaching the whole school RE.

I have not particularly enjoyed teaching this year and I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I have taught more non-specialist subjects than RE. My RE curriculum was always well thought out and planned and I could differentiate for my classes because I have clear knowledge and experience in RE to allow me to do this. It was never a concern to me on a week to week basis as I was confident in my abilities in this area and could manipulate the curriculum I had planned in whichever direction was necessary.

However, I relied on someone else’s planning for History and Geography. It was sold to me as I wouldn’t need to worry because all the lessons were planned. I’d already been hired before I found out my timetable would actually be non-specialist heavy so it was too late to say no.

In the beginning, I taught the lessons as they were. I have a little more knowledge in History than Geography and also we had a Historian in school so I could use her if I was desperate. Geography on the other hand was a cause of great stress. The lessons were weak and with no Geographer on site, it meant that I became solely responsible for re-planning the lessons I had been given and making them relevant to our kids and then re-planning again specifically for my own classes.

I had a mixture of sets and year groups, top and bottom, year 7 and 8. This meant that I couldn’t just think in terms of one or two classes. I was planning Geography lessons to stretch the top year 8’s and then planning completely different Geography lessons for the set of EAL students who were very new to English, all with no knowledge of Geography! I had great needs in my classes that are hard to plan for full stop. Planning a subject I had no idea about was a disaster.

I made some great mistakes such as drawing graphs incorrectly and then having to back track and re-teach it correctly. Silly mistakes, based on the fact I had misunderstood someone else’s lesson plans.

When assessment and data entry comes around, there’s a stark realisation that you’re not just doing a ‘favour’ or ‘filling this hole until someone qualified comes along’. You are actually responsible for this curriculum. I put my effort into those lessons because of the children but I did not necessarily do them the justice they deserved. I planned lessons I thought were adequate for Geography but I am an RE specialist with not even as little as a Geography GCSE to aid me.

Differentiating non-specialist assessments was difficult too as you need knowledge of how to grade in those subjects as well as knowledge of the content and this was another massive glitch in my teaching this year. They say that you can teach ‘anything’ when you’re a teacher and whilst I know I did teach something in those lessons, the level of expertise and craft that one applies to their own subject was inherently missing. This was clearly obvious.

In lots of schools, non-specialists teach RE and we think that they’ll be okay because they’re teaching lessons we’ve planned and thought out. We have to put up with it or face having no teacher’s at all in RE sometimes! But without that background knowledge, it can all go to shambles in the classroom. Or without that knowledge when planning for specific needs such as G&T or new to English it can become a bit of a joke. Also, without confidence in that subject the children can take advantage. I had to say ‘I’m sorry I’m not a Geographer I’ll look that up and get back to you…’ too many times this year.

Schools have to fill the gaps, I understand that, but surely at this level in education it’s important for the children not to have non-specialists teaching outside of their comfort zone. It’s also important for GCSE as the foundations are laid at KS3 and without them, teaching GCSE is going to be so much harder than necessary.

If I was ever to manage non-specialists in RE, I would offer so much more support with planning than I initially would have thought necessary. Although, ideally I would say we should be teaching where our expertise lies.

 

Why behaviour is a problem in our schools…

I read on Twitter recently that one user was upset that somebody had claimed that behaviour needed sorting in the country and they didn’t agree because it’s “not the case for the whole country.” Whilst I am sure there are schools where the children are polite, well-mannered and well-behaved, it doesn’t take away the fact that there are plenty of schools where they are not and that there are teachers having to put up with abuse from children every day. Without something being done nationally, this is unlikely to change for those teachers as it is clear that the schools themselves cannot get a grip on this type of behaviour.

The NHS have a no-tolerance policy. If you verbally or physically abuse staff, you are refused medical treatment (or these are the signs that are all over my doctors surgery anyway). Why is is not the same in education? I understand it is more complicated to do it with education, but why is there not a zero-tolerance policy in some schools?

I understand we have to manage behaviour as practitioners. I understand the school has a behaviour policy that we are to follow. However, I have yet to see one that works just because it exists. My other half is currently at a school with a very tight behaviour system and he feels like a new person. He is one of the lucky few working in one of those schools.

I would say that our school policy is tight on paper. However, the students disregard it because they can and because they don’t know any better and it is not enforced by everyone so there are gaps.

I am currently pregnant. Everytime I am involved in confrontation from a child for something they haven’t done – like not bring in their homework – it causes me stress. This stress is affecting my unborn baby. So why can’t I have a zero-tolerance policy? Because the school system means I have to allow the child 4 opportunities to get it right before I can remove them from my room. That is 4 occasions where I am dealing with stressful situations. Usually, 4 occasions where a child is shouting, arguing or refusing to do what I’ve asked.

The students do it because they can. I am not going to raise my voice, nor am I going to argue with them. I am pregnant, my priority is my unborn child and keeping my classroom at minimal stress levels.
I would say I am quite a strong behaviour manager, I am very strict and follow the policies and have high expectations. But I still have problems with behaviour from children whom no member of staff can control – not even the senior leaders.

I was recently asked by a middle leader at our school to grade where I thought our school behaviour was. I replied I think it is a 3, requires improvement. My reasoning behind this is that there are a lot of ‘big’ names who misbehave and because of the time and attention they take up, the low-level disruptors and those who are far from perfect but not as bad as the ‘big’ names get away with it. He said ‘I think it’s a 2, because of the area we’re in.’ How is this acceptable? So, because I am not in a leafy suburb I can’t have the same expectations? I am expected to tolerate it because I don’t work in a ‘nice’ area according to some.

I expect to be able to teach without being consistently spoken over. I expect to sanction as necessary without arguments from children. I expect to be able to talk to a child about them not achieving and them take responsibility for that and say yes Miss, I am in the wrong and I need to step up.

It is tiring, day after day to fight these battles with children who do want to achieve but somehow think that it is not their responsibility to get themselves there.
I am speaking about a minority and I know there are plenty of lovely children in these schools too. Unfortunately, I think they are also fed up of them and fed up of having disrupted lessons and stressed wound-up teachers.

I am on the side of this debate that says something definitely needs to be done.

Time is a wonderful thing… but we don’t have any in RE!

It’s the start of a new term and that usually means new topics. I love new topics, it makes me feel like there is lots of time stretched out in front of me for me to get my little kiddiewinks to understand some deep theological concepts.

I always get that ‘fresh’ feeling with a new topic like this is the one we will do justice to.

However, what also comes with a new term is an analysis of last half term’s assessment results. I didn’t conduct an assessment in RE last half term as it was the Christmas term and when it came to assessment week I realised the majority of my classes had only had 3-4 RE lessons. That’s correct, 3-4!!! This was due to various things such as trips and christmas activities, christmas lunch and so on. I am not a Grinch and didn’t stop any of these things from happening, but in hindsight I probably should have. So, what did they learn in that half term? How much could they possibly have progressed in 3 lessons? Not very far is the answer and suddenly that dream of covering deep theological topics has disappeared, gaps have been left open and I have to move on in the new term or we won’t have covered anything by the end of the year!

After chatting to Johnny Porter from Michaela quite a bit last year, I decided my curriculum would go for depth rather than breadth. This was a wise decision with the number of lessons I get weekly as it meant I could allow students to really develop religious literacy rather than moving them onto a new religion to develop the same skills (which was not many) as before. So I chose to study just 3 topics a year (1 per term rather than half term) and I chose to include the topics that often get left out. I felt this was the best decision for creating a strong foundational knowledge of at least 2 religions before the students reach GCSE.

So I am now in January and looking back on my 1st half term of study, I can honestly say that they did learn a great deal. I have pupils who are lower ability on entry than most other schools and yet they could explain to me why the Synoptic Problem is a problem. I was over the moon; but, they barely progressed in the 2nd half term and all of that was out of my control.

I feel sad. I know some would argue that I should have scrapped moving on and stuck with it, but due to school plans and assessments and exams and a child’s attention span, I just didn’t have that luxury.

I also teach History and Geography this year and they have two lessons a week. What a difference it makes! The students are more engaged, yet they have the same teacher (me) for these subjects as RE and they retain information better.

I feel like I am fighting a losing battle in RE. I really believe in the importance of our subject. I have put my heart and soul into developing a deep curriculum which allowed them to explore more within a religion rather than doing whimsical studies that are too quick for anyone to learn anything. But the time issue comes up again – how much can one really do with one 50 minute lesson a week? How much can I really do if I have seen my pupils 3 times in a half term?

It’s put me off putting in all this effort if I’m honest. I could roll out three rubbish lessons and it wouldn’t make a difference to the epic ones I planned originally.

I am not saying I will stop creating decent lessons and a healthy curriculum, but it does make me wonder about whether or not anyone really takes our subject seriously except for us teachers.

Why I am leaving ‘Save RE’

Save RE is not a productive forum for discussion. Save RE is a battleground. I have only actually ventured onto it a few times because I find the majority of things that go on there are not actually helpful or relevant to the kind of RE that I am striving to teach (academically rigorous, NO FLUFF!).

However, on the occasions that I have shown my face and made a comment or two, I have kept it in my usual blunt style and don’t tip-toe around what I am trying to say. Obviously this annoys people, but what I always seem to get is comments like “well you’re obviously a rubbish teacher then…”

Save RE should not be a ‘my horse is bigger than your horse’ forum. It is there to be a positive support to those teachers who are maybe the only one in their department (like myself) and who want support or even just a nod that they are doing the right thing. It is there to discuss the political drama surrounding RE law and the new specs and a place for people to muddle through and make sense of all the government nonsense.

But it is not. It is a place where people attack each other based on their teaching? I am no angel in this scenario, I do make very clear my opinions on matters and I express them in a way which may make others feel daft for having other opinions. Having had a taste of my own medicine, I would probably reconsider how I speak on there now because it’s not nice when you’re panicking about notifications from Facebook because you’re embroiled in an argument with someone. That is not how Save RE should make us feel.

I want to show you some examples of what I mean. Naming and shaming, without the naming.

Yesterday there was a thread about the new specs being ‘too traditional’. Personally, I welcome this as I have always hated the kind of RE that the exam boards have previously had us teach. So I commented. The reply is below:

FB 1 - edit

I don’t understand where my teaching came into that. “Sorry you have not been [teaching academic RE] Rebecca.” How would this person know what I teach? I am possibly the world’s biggest advocate for an academic RE. So why did this person make such a snide comment?

Besides the point, whether I am being academically rigorous or not, the Edexcel spec had organ transplants and Bruce Almighty on it. So why did the person responding feel the need to put me down in that moment? I am the only RE teacher in my school and if I wasn’t so cocky and sure that what I am doing is good RE, I may have gone away from that with my tail between my legs thinking ‘OMG I’m a failure’.

The person could simply have said something like “there is room in the GCSE specs to add academia, here is an example of what I have been doing…” I, maybe, (probably not) would have gone wow, please share, I would love to use some of your fantastic tools to help add some rigour into my classes. But instead they chose to put me down, even though they have never seen me teach.

I did give said person a piece of my mind though (obviously!). I just couldn’t stop myself…

FB 2

May I suggest that we don’t put each other down? This happens enough in schools from power mad managers who have nothing better to do. Everyone will teach differently, everyone will have different time constraints and different pressures. What is important is that we are unified in making RE better for the future. Save RE should be a safe environment, just like our classrooms.

I will be exiting Save RE today and will be glad that my Facebook will be rid of this nastiness…

(This is just one example, this is not the first time someone has made the ‘well you must be a rubbish teacher then…’ comment on there)