Blog Archive

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Book Looks - Defining Expectations and sharing a vision for learning

As we reaffirm our high expectations with students regarding our Mangotsfield Way core values, it is essential to set the bar high regarding the standard of classwork and most specifically books. This blog post is not simply about presentation - whilst much could be written about the importance of a neat and well presented book, there is a wider rationale for the focus on quality classwork. The main aim is to ensure that students recognise the shared vision that their books form a 'learning diary', in which they are regularly offered opportunities to record core knowledge, retrieve and apply said knowledge using a variety of strategies, have open channels of communication (feedback) with their teacher and peers and finally recognise their own path of progress.

But how can this be achieved?

First and foremost, it is about marrying the wider school expectations with individual subject routines. In other words, our whole school priorities must be universally applied but in a way that is sensitive to the needs of our individual subjects . It is agreed that ALL BOOKS should:

1. Have clear driving questions throughout, underlined with a ruler, showing evidence that students have been provided with the opportunity to respond and reflect on their learning.

2. Evidence that students are regularly exposed to Tier 3/ subject specific vocabulary - whether this be through the use of glossaries, guided reading, word banks or the expectation that students include specific words within their writing.

3. Be presented in a way that makes them readily accessible for retrieval work and for revision. In other words, that students are able to use them as a source of knowledge - no loose sheets, use of DIRT time to ensure classwork is complete. 

4. Try Now tasks routinely and often (every 8 lessons of learning) allow students to reflect on their work and challenge them to extend.

5. Corrections are made where necessary, with the use of green pen to provide peer or self feedback.

So these non-negotiables' aside, how do we model the standard that we expect from students? Our new recognition system is one approach - publicly recognising students whose classwork is either exemplary, or those who have made a concerted effort even if its not the neatest book in the class. 

Many departments have started work on displays that allow for longer term recognition - do we have an opportunity here to build into these our department expectations surrounding books? WOW walls are a possible strategy here (see the blog post from 2018 Mango Moments - WOW wall). However, is displaying the work enough? I recently read an excellent article on how creating classroom displays of students work only truly has an impact if you share with students why its exemplary. This may be through permanent annotations that form part of the display or through discussions directly with students. Is this enough to maintain day to day expectations though?

So how can we transfer this message to books?

One consideration is that presenting students with the 'ideal book' does not allow for much flexibility between departments. Therefore, should we as departments be providing students with our own autonomous versions, or a hybrid of the two? 

In primary schools, well my sons for certain, they provide all students with annotated examples of book expectations based on literacy and numeracy (see photo opposite). We often assume by secondary level that students should be well trained but often this is when we see standards drop. 

So how would this look in your department? Imagine you have been asked to select ONE students book to represent you as a teacher? What would it include? Why have you chosen this one? How many of us naturally select that of a HAP for example? 

We also need to ask ourselves the harder questions of what does a good book for a LAP look like? How can we ensure that missed work is included, especially in period of high absence. 

In some departments, electronic workbooks are an alternative approach and the use of Google Classrooms is essential here. The dialogue between teacher and student becomes a permanent record and amendments can be made through directed feedback. 

In other departments, its through structure DIRT time in which students receive a checklist of improvements to make. But the balance must be right, too much emphasis on presentation and not enough on content can render this process ineffective. 

Modelling is therefore the most common approach. Keeping examples of previous students work is a must, I have a cupboard full of GCSE books in particular that I can retrieve at any point with my current GCSE classes to demonstrate the quality of learning I wish to see. Creating a bank of images on our Google Drives is a more 'modern' approach and then embedding said examples into Google Slides becomes a breeze. Please see the growing bank of examples the Humanities Department has begun to collate for this very purpose: Book Presentation Google Drive.

Please consider as a department what are the essentials for your subject, in addition ensuring that the wider priorities of 'growing independent learners who take pride in their work' and 'embedding formative assessment to identify and close gaps' are evident throughout.