CPD session (‘Report writing and effective plenaries’), Al-Ashraf Secondary School, Gloucester

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Straight back to work after the half-term break; a two hour CPD session for staff at Al-Ashraf Secondary School, followed by one and a half hours of teaching (GCSE geography to a quiet, diligent group of Year 11 students)!

The remit that I was given by the Head Teacher for the CPD session this morning was ‘report writing and effective plenaries’.

I shared the following aims with staff at the very beginning, so they were clear about the purpose of the session:

  • To improve written feedback given to parents/carers and students.
  • To share effective ways of bringing lessons to a close (plenary).

Next, I outlined the structure of the morning.  I was conscious to promote much interaction and discussion as such opportunities are often quite limited when there are so many part-time staff in a school.  It also provides a great way for SLT to gain instant feedback.

  • Starter:
  • Activity: Report writing.
  • Whole group discussion: Report writing.
  • Main:
  • Introduction to the new draft Ofsted Inspection Framework.
  • Report writing: What not to do!
  • Advice: Report writing, including exemplars.
  • Break for refreshments.
  • Activity: Flat chat – Plenaries.
  • Plenary ideas.
  • Plenary:
  • Feedback: Post-it notes (‘concluding comments’ and ‘action points’).

Teachers were, firstly, asked to imagine that they had to write a report comment for a Year 11 student following their recent mock exam/s.  On the postcard that they had been given, they had to identify the student and then jot down their comment.  Participants then formed small groups and read each others’ postcards.  Afterwards, I chaired a whole group discussion, posing the following questions to gather teachers’ thoughts and encourage further contemplation:

  • Who is your ‘target audience’?
  • What format should it take?
  • Why should these items be included?
  • How long should it be?
  • Where should you go in order to gain the evidence that you need to support your comments?
  • When are Year 11 reports best completed?

There were some interesting points raised here, which SLT will now take on board and use to review reporting procedures.

The main part of the morning explored the newly released draft Ofsted Inspection Framework, with particular attention given to its views surrounding assessment.  We then looked at report writing in some depth; ‘what not to do’, with some amusing comments extracted from well-known individuals/celebrities’ old school reports, web-links with further advice and examples of recently written student reports, which we critiqued together.

After a short break for refreshments, it was time for some ‘flat chat’ (a silent, open-ended activity that stimulates visible thinking for all).  I explained how the activity unfolds and then teachers ‘had a go’.  I used the following quote, taken from the website, https://www.connex-education.com/why-do-i-need-a-plenary/, as our stimulus:

‘Plenaries are used by teachers either during or at the end of a lesson, to review aims and consolidate the students’ learning.  It is an evaluative part of a lesson, where students reflect on what they have learnt and achieved during that teaching period.  Furthermore, it can be a time to celebrate good work and outcomes.’

This activity was initially conducted in silence.  In groups of 4 to 6, teachers sat/stood around a piece of sugar paper with the above quote displayed in the middle.  Individually, they recorded anything connected with the stimulus around the edge of the piece of paper.  They continually walked around the piece of paper, reading, adding to and challenging annotations made by others in their group.  Next, each group moved to another sheet of paper that has been annotated with a different group’s thinking.  Again, they walked around the piece of paper, reading, adding to and challenging annotations made by others in their group.  We managed to view two other groups’ efforts in the time that we had.  However, if time and circumstances allow, then this can be repeated further.  Afterwards, groups returned to their original sheet of sugar paper and discussed and reflected upon what was now visible; what they had written, what has been added and what was on the other sheets that they contributed to.  As can be seen below, flat chat really prompted teachers to think about plenaries; the who, what, where, when, why and how?

I provided many web-links related to our plenary theme and, importantly, allocated time for teachers to explore these.  I tried to ensure that I included some generic, as well as more subject-specific ones.  Hopefully, staff will be able to gain inspiration and the plenaries that they include within subsequent lessons will be much more effective, both for themselves and students.  In order to bring everyone back together, I steered a whole group discussion based on the question,  ‘What is your favourite classroom plenary and how effective is it?’.  Teachers responded very willingly, sharing further ideas and showing a degree of reflection.

We concluded with a post-it note activity; a quick and easy means of gaining feedback about the CPD session.  Participants were instructed to take two post-it notes.  On one post-it note, they were asked to sum up today’s CPD session in five words/in a sentence or two (some chose the WWW/EBI approach).  On the second post-it note, they had to identify three things that they must now do.  They could add their name and position on each post-it note if they wished (this is helpful if I need to follow up any comments).  Teachers were simply requested to stick their post-it notes onto the backdrop as they left the room.

Feedback from attendees can be viewed below, much of which was incredibly positive:

‘More ideas for plenaries, comment writing, making reporting more effective and getting students more involved.’

‘Informative; learnt about different types of plenaries.’

‘Plenaries; stretching; reinforcing; testing; achieving.’

‘Beneficial – new ideas; more plenary suggestions.’

‘Very helpful; interesting; very good ideas.’

‘New ideas and helpful discussion.’

‘Reports and plenaries consolidated and inspired.’

‘Feedback; stimulate learning; variety; round-up; reinforcement.’

‘Informative and intuitive.  Thank you!’

‘Effective and inspiring.  Loved the flat chat activity!  Thank you very much indeed, Emma.’

‘WWW: Learnt some new skills.  EBI: If we went through some examples of plenaries as a group.’

‘WWW: Maintained my interest even though I am feeling unwell.  EBI: Hand-outs of some of the plenary ideas (don’t like reading from a screen and printing off at home is expensive).’

‘WWW: Was quite an interactive and informative session.  EBI: Could have been a more conclusive session.’

Some of the ‘action points’ that they included were to:

  • refine reports; improve my report writing – avoid repetition and keep it concise; avoid waffle when writing reports; ensure reports show the progress of each student, as well as a personalised target/s; report-writing for Year 10 – streamline comments and focus on quality.
  • look at/familiarise myself with/read the new draft Ofsted Inspection Framework.
  • vary my plenaries; use different methods; try out a new plenary every lesson (variety); try and incorporate plenaries into lessons; think more creatively about plenaries; use plenaries more, if appropriate; try to include interesting plenaries every lesson; explore different options to make plenaries more interactive; make the plenary specific to the ability/abilities of pupils; make plenaries fun and engaging.
  • research plenary suggestions; read through the links provided in this CPD session to remain motivated and become inspired to plan effective plenaries; go over the MS PP presentation to get ideas for plenaries; review some plenary ideas from the slides and try them!
  • write down the topics that I want to discuss with Cathy on our next science trip (Birmingham).

I look forward to witnessing some of their intended ‘action points’ in any future lesson observations, learning walks, book scrutinies, etc. that I conduct.

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