How I Schedule Reflection to Enhance Teaching

As an Assistant Headteacher, juggling teaching and personal responsibilities can be tough. Read about how one teacher found the energy to reflect and improve their teaching through running and meditation in this insightful blog post.

I’m an Assistant Headteacher at a small primary school, with a fairly full teaching commitment.

Recently, I left school on Friday at 5pm (early for me) because I needed to collect my daughter from the airport. I hadn’t finished marking my books from the day. I’d have to find some other time to do that. From my morning Y1/2 RE lesson that day, my abiding feeling from the session was that in the last part of the lesson, where I was reviewing learning, my questioning could have been sharper and I wasn’t really eliciting the responses I was hoping for from some children.

On Saturday, I decided I’d get up early on Sunday morning, run to school, do the marking then and cycle home (I’d left my bike there) so I could spend the afternoon with my family. I did that. And I was trying out some running techniques from a book I’d been reading, which explores the fusion of running and meditation. These worked nicely and the run was genuinely blissful in some parts. I felt good as I entered school and went about my work for the morning.

I had another couple of lessons’ work to mark, which I did first. Then when I came to the Y1/2 session, looking back at the lesson’s outcomes was really quite eye opening. The lesson was the first one I’d taught on Christian Baptisms. I’d introduced this to the children through large pictures (on the IWB) of what happens, together with text captions, which we read as a group. The children were then asked to work in pairs to match sentences to the pictures, then, once this was complete, I removed some of the sentence cards and replaced them with a post-it note, asking the children to write the sentence (or a description) to show what was happening in the picture. I took photos of them doing this and, as I placed these in their books and typed up comments to accompany them, I felt very pleased that I had. The photos I’d taken enabled me to reflect properly on the learning the children experienced during the session. At that time, and having gone for a run, I was clearly in a more energised place for professional reflection than I would have been trying to clear the decks on a Friday after a busy day at school. This helped.

It dawned on me that the learning experience of the children was actually quite logical and pleasingly successful. After sharing the content with the children through both pictures and a one/two sentence text caption (striving for dual coding) I was asking the children to work in pairs to match pictures to text, thus probing their recall in an initial sense, as well as challenging both their reading and collaboration skills at the same time. Once the groups were successful with this, I replaced some sentences with blank ‘post-it’ notes for them to test their recall further and challenge their writing ability, hopefully supporting their memory of the aspect through the demand to discuss and record their thinking. I was able to differentiate this by varying the complexity of the sentence cards I was removing, based on the ability of the children or the success they were showing. As I removed more sentence cards and replaced them with post-its, this proved really quite motivating for the children; they could see how they were becoming more and more successful, wanting to replace all sentence cards with their written responses, as if it were a game.

It dawned on me also that this activity had a pathway of ‘(collaborative) match-read-write,’ with very little distractions. It was easy for the pupils to go from one phase to the next and the next, so there was little to no extraneous cognitive burden.

But, as mentioned, my lasting feelings at the time were of slight disappointment at the less than high flying plenary element. So, as I was marking, I thought about what I could do to better review learning and secure recall further at this point. So, a simple peer assessment approach where groups looked at each other’s pictures with annotated sentences would have perhaps strengthened the children’s knowledge as they would adopt the role of critic. An exit ticket or simple multiple choice quiz to assess and strengthen knowledge retention etc. would also be easy to implement and would probably provide an effective review, as all children would be involved. Or, on another tack, a structured role play of the events in a baptism, with targeted questioning would have perhaps made the concepts more real and thus memorable for the children.

As I cycled home that Saturday, I contemplated how I could adapt this ‘(collaborative) match-read-write-with no distraction’ approach further and also use it in other year groups. Something I’ll certainly give more consideration to.

What became clear to me is that I wouldn’t have given myself this insight if I had not marked the lesson in the way I did or at the time that I did. And I quite likely wouldn’t have done so either if I’d have marked it late on the Friday as I normally would. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in any way advocating working on a Saturday! However, maybe I am championing the idea of picking times for reflection that suit us best. Or integrating personal well-being centred activity (for me running) into our working rhythm. (Orperhaps just leaving earlier than we would normally on a Friday!)

So, after my initial disappointment, it’s most pleasing to have found these approaches to both my teaching and reflections on my teaching that I can explore further.

It seems common knowledge that quality teaching requires a reflective approach to the work. Perhaps specifically organising our reflections in a time and manner that works well for our life schedule and physical well-being can also provide further benefits to our practice.

Jens 2023

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