A Thought Piece by Laura McLaurie 5 October 2018

Back in July, North Birmingham Academy carried out an interesting experiment to get teaching staff thinking about what it means to be a student, while also helping them to share best practice across the academy. Here Senior Assistant Headteacher Laura McLaurie, who devised and led the experiment, fills us in on Operation Mega Swap.

We were delighted to receive an Ofsted good rating following our inspection earlier this year. When looking over the report, I noticed that two of the areas for improvement were to “reduce instances of low level behaviour in lessons” and “to further share good practice across the school”.

In the vast majority of cases, low level behaviour occurs in lessons that are not well planned and are not matched to the needs of the students, and when the teacher assumes too much of an understanding on the part of the student. As a result students can become disengaged because they feel overwhelmed and as though they won’t be able to achieve.

“Low level behaviour occurs in lessons that are not well planned and are not matched to the needs of the students.”

To highlight this point, I decided to put our teachers in the place of students with Operation Mega Swap.  I asked them to plan a lesson from the viewpoint of our learners, students with no knowledge of the topic, rather than the viewpoint of the teacher, who would already know the information being covered.  On one of last year’s after academy Insets, I strategically paired all 75 of our teachers with a colleague in another department, instructing them to plan and deliver a colleague’s lesson.  There were two rules: only the lesson objective would be agreed upon, and there was to be no cheating… teachers were not allowed to share resources or download a pre-prepared lesson from the TES website! Each member of staff had to go and learn the topic themselves before delivering it to the students.  They were also given a feedback sheet and asked to fill in their thoughts during the process.

Operation Mega Swap was met with enthusiasm from both staff and students, and I heard about some amazing lessons.  I taught a BTEC sport lesson to a mainly lower ability, all boys Year 10 class.  The theme was ‘how is sport represented in the media?’ I planned a Google Classroom activity with various links to examples of sport in the media, (I now know what a fanzine is!) and set tasks for them to complete to hit the pass-merit-distinction criteria. I learned that when teaching low ability boys, I can achieve the same outcomes without being so strict. I also learned that although my subject doesn’t have a BTEC, a lot can be gleaned from staying very close to the exam board criteria.

Having the class’ usual PE teacher deliver a geography lesson to my mixed ability Year 8 class was also a learning experience. Teaching a lesson on the formation of a meander, his starter was ‘guess famous rivers around the world’: I would not have done this, but it made me reflect on the fact that the students enjoy general knowledge as well as the specific content which we deliver.  He also used a lovely video animation which is different to the one I have used for the last five years, which made me think about updating my resources more often!

“I learned that I can achieve the same outcomes without being so strict.”

I had asked each teacher to present their feedback and evaluation at our next after academy Inset. We broke into smaller discussion groups, each led by an NQT with their own individual question to ask the rest of the group, generating discussion and reflections on the Mega Swap. This was an extremely positive feedback session which allowed people to reflect on the exercise and apply their experiences to their own practice.

One of the most common difficulties commented upon was that “I didn’t know the class so it was harder to embed stretch/challenge and/or scaffolding in comparison to what I would normally do for my class”.  We have done a lot of work this year on knowing your audience by ensuring that teacher files are well populated with key data to aid planning.  Therefore I was pleased to see that when staff did not have this information available, as they were teaching an unknown class, they understood how important it was to have and use this information when planning their normal lessons.

“It reminded teachers of how important it is to break tasks down into manageable chunks”

By placing the teacher in the shoes of a student, it reminded them of how important it is to break tasks down into manageable chunks, frequently check on understanding, have clear explanations and know their classes.  It was also a fun way to further share good practice across the academy and connect with some new colleagues!

Finally, I was reminded of how supportive our students are, as they were really open to the process.  Many members of staff told me that the students applauded them at the end of their lesson – a sign that they appreciate all that we do for them.