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DKSR Kings Beats: Student Radio Station

We asked the student controller of our school radio station to write this month’s blog and here it is:

At Dixons Kings Academy, we have our own student-run radio station, DKSR Kings Beats. While the job may seem quite simple to those on the outside—how hard can it be for a bunch of kids to choose songs and play them off a computer?—in reality, it takes a lot of diligence from all those involved.

What We Do

dkrs2The most noticeable thing we do is our daily morning show (aptly called ‘The Breakfast Show’), which is broadcast live to all the staff and students from 7:10am. It features a wide selection of music, hand-picked by the staff and students of the school, amongst various other segments such as ‘Cheer-Up Tunes’, in which a staff member details the songs that make their day that little bit brighter. This show is the current main focus of the radio station.

As we move into the future, we want to start creating podcasts, whether they be subject-specific or just for fun for DJs who may not have enough confidence to present live yet. For instance, the Spanish department do a ‘Radio Internacional’ podcast, in which students write and record their own shows in Spanish, covering different aspects of Spanish culture, life, music etc. This would present opportunities for subject teachers to push students’ understanding of a subject and allow students to do wider reading around their best subjects, which can only be beneficial for their futures, both in exams and life in general.

Job Roles

A radio station needs a variety of people in order to thrive and achieve its potential. We’ve narrowed it down to four categories: talent, technicians, marketing, and news.

Each job needs a different type of person: for example, our technicians need to be able—or willing to learn—to use different pieces of specialised software and equipment, while DJs can get away with not knowing the difference between an Ethernet port and a USB port. Students who like to have a little nosy into school news and enjoy a bit of English would be perfectly at home in the news team. Creative students can help take photos, make posters, or even manage the radio’s social media account.

There’s a job for virtually any student interested in joining the radio station team—all we ask for in return is enthusiasm and commitment to the job.

Skills Development

Apart from the skills specific roles hone in on, being involved in a group project like this develops some general skills that are useful for anyone, in or out of school. Teamwork is key, along with time-management, organisation and communication; we can’t have a DJ sat behind a microphone at 7:10am without a technician there to get the broadcasting happen, neither can we have a DJ scouring their mind for a song thirty seconds before we go live, nor an awkwardly quiet Twitter feed. All of its aspects link in together, and I think members of the radio station can take a lot away from observing and understanding how each branch of the radio station relates to one another.

Personal Development

dkrs1

Being the radio station controller has opened up a myriad of opportunities for me: speaking in front of my peers in assemblies, writing letters to be distributed to students, chasing down members of staff for quick meetings… While a lot of these tasks may sound trivial to most people in the world of work, to me—a student who has not yet been subjected to the throes of the adult world—these develop crucial skills that will undoubtedly creep into my life at some point or another, and so it would be best to get accustomed to them sooner rather than later.

Overall, I believe opportunities like these are greatly beneficial for helping students to reach and showcase their potential, as well as diversifying a student’s set of skills. Projects like a school radio station can open these opportunities to students and increase their understanding of the jobs available to them after school.

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Values

Lineup at Dixons Kings Academy

Every morning at Dixons Kings Academy starts with Lineup. Year groups gather together at 8 am, lining up in straight lines ready to start the day. They hear a short speech on the focus of the day, before walking to lessons in silence. It’s one of the most important parts of the day, where we set the tone for everything that follows. So why does it play such a huge role in our school culture?

Values

ValuesOur Monday Lineup focuses on Integrity, Tuesday on Diligence and Wednesday on Civility. We want our values to be brought to life with stories and role models. That way we take them from being abstract concepts to acts and habits. So, in a typical week, we might hear of the integrity shown by Sojourner Truth, the diligence demonstrated by Amelia Earheart and the civility shown by Octavia Hill. Not only do these lineup speeches provide concrete examples of our values, but they broaden the general knowledge of students.

Behaviour norms

Like all successful schools, we have the highest standards of behaviour, but it takes everyone in the school to keep standards high. Tom Bennett, the foremost authority on school behaviour and culture, states in his review of behaviour in schools that one of the key priorities for schools is to “create a culture – usefully defined as ‘the way we do things around here’ – that is understood and subscribed to by the whole school community.” When you have 350 students attentively listening in silence to a staff member then it is a striking reminder of how we treat everyone with respect. By insisting on full uniform, straight lines and tracking, we are also reinforcing how we do things. When students en masse walk to lessons silently, we are saying that everyone is ready to learn in a calm and purposeful manner. Often, at the start of a term, lineups will focus on reminding students of our classroom routines.

Appreciations 

It’s very important to us that we develop a culture where we appreciate each other. You can see this in the increasingly epic appreciations bulletin that is sent out each week. On Friday, we celebrate the achievements of students and staff in Lineup, and it’s a lovely way to end the week. Interestingly, this also links to the previous idea of norms, because we are reinforcing the idea that the norm here is that students are exceptional, they are resilient, they are hardworking and we are proud of them.

Literacy

Every Thursday has a literacy focus. This can take lots of different shapes. One week we may have the school librarian Mr Nixon reading his poetry and another we may hear an extract from a teacher or student’s favourite novel. We want to surround students with rich experiences of literature. Lineups also help students to focus on listening skills and it obviously helps them to hear confident, articulate teachers speak on subjects they are passionate about.

There are of course other, more logical reasons that make line-up useful: we can share key messages, make announcements for extra-curricular activities, it’s easier to find students etc. However, it’s the reasons stated above that make this so important.

Diligence

DKA shared routines

The school culture at Dixons Kings is designed to make it as easy as possible for teachers to teach. One of the most important ways that this school culture is established is with a focus on consistency and shared routines.

Every class teacher in every school has their own routines, whether it is how to enter the classroom or handing out books. That’s often fine for the individual teacher, but can be quite confusing for students. Students who attend 6 lessons in a day may be faced with 6 different sets of classroom routines. There is inconsistency. And where there is inconsistency, there isn’t clarity of expectations. In some classrooms with less established routines, or with teachers who are new to the school or the profession, lessons are less effective because the structure is not there or they must repeatedly reinforce their own particular expectations.

At Dixons Kings, we start every day with the same clear routine. We start lessons with the same clear routine. In any circumstance where we think there is an opportunity for an efficient, effective routine, we will take it.

Let’s look at one crucial routine which demonstrates the value of this approach. In every classroom at DKA, there are Mini Whiteboards which we feel are a low-tech way of making sure that we can check for understanding. However, most teachers know from experience that they can be an absolute nuisance if not handled correctly! Knowing that we would be using them routinely, we looked at the issues that might arise, and created a routine. After students write answers, the teacher says “3…2…1…Show me!”, the students hold the boards up with two hands and the teacher then asks them to track one person (look at them and listen attentively). The automation allows the teacher to focus only on the quality of answers and what they might do with them. See this post for more of the pedagogy around Mini Whiteboards.

The routine isn’t an accident. We have scripted language to be efficient and consistent. Two hands means the board doesn’t wobble and the students don’t fidget. Tracking means that the students are listening carefully and ready for follow up questions. Our routines are always open to change e.g. we used to have pens in plastic wallets for students but these went missing or ran out so we now have this as part of students’ essential equipment. By making this sequence simple and consistent across the school, it is very easy to use mini whiteboards. Each classroom uses them in exactly the same way and teachers can easily use them when and if they want them. We practise regularly to ensure these routines are embedded.

There’s a natural inclination to see this kind of scripted routine as robotic, but we see it more as automation, in the way that automation of using pedals allows drivers to put their main focus on the road. We want the bulk of the effort and the hard thinking to go into the lesson content not classroom management.

Whole cohort teaching is supported by school routines

Other places we have looked to secure this kind of consistency is with bringing the class back to silence (“OK class…track this way…3-2-1…thanks”), classroom exits and corridor expectations, learning modes (clear expectations for whole class, individual, pair and group work), lunchtime routines for family dining as well as many more.

As we return from the summer break, very little time will be wasted as new and returning staff and students can quickly get used to these routines.

CPD

Extended Writing

The following is a write-up of the CPD session on extended writing 20/9/16:

In many subjects across the curriculum, students are required to write at length. While the writing itself may not be assessed (although SPAG is marked in English Literature, Geography, History and Religious Studies), without effective writing, students cannot communicate effectively what they know in the subject. It can be a significant barrier for some of our students. Some controlled assessments require essays of 1000+ words and even shorter 6 or 12 mark questions in subject are demanding due to time pressures of exams.

By far the most important thing when thinking about extended writing is knowledge. There is no chance of writing of any quality when material is not known. American educator E.D. Hirsch, states the following:

‘Higher-order thinking is knowledge-based: The almost universal feature of reliable higher-order thinking about any subject or problem is the possession of a broad, well-integrated base of background knowledge relevant to the subject.’

So, make sure that students have the knowledge required. For subjects where the writing is merely the means of communicating what they know, students have to know things. Otherwise writing may happen, but it won’t be particularly good.

That said, there are certain practices that can enhance the quality of writing. Here, we will focus on three. Like most effective strategies they are simple: model, practise and support.

Model

This includes two distinct elements:

Models: Students need to see examples of great extended writing.

Modelling: Students need to see an expert (you) creating writing and articulate thinking about the process.

Without models, students have no idea what quality looks like. Without modelling, they have no idea how to get there.

Models can take various forms. Teachers can create them; students can create them- or their work can be used; exam boards will have them in standardisation materials; you may even find real world examples which you can use.

AOS 1We have had much success at DKA with ‘Artful Sentences’. Sentences are the simplest models and students with a command of effective sentence-building tend to produce the best writing. You can read the blog post on these here, and borrow a copy of Teach Like a Champion 2.0 if you’d like to read more.

You also need to model the processes involved in writing. This will often be heavily entwined with answering exam questions. Metacognition is something which has been shown to have real benefits, with the Sutton Trust stating in their research reports that “The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils.”

bugsLive modelling is incredibly effective. You can use a board and pen, but we have visualisers and department iPads to support this. Recently, the idea of the ‘Walking Talking Mock’ has been developed. (Read a blog on this here.) It can take a variety of forms but in essence is a teacher talking through what they are thinking as they answer exam questions. Modelling explicitly how to answer exam questions (whether they require writing at length or not) is one of the most effective things that we can do. The Geography department use the mnemonic BUGS!

Practice

The curriculum feels ever squeezed, and there is so much to cram in that sometimes we don’t practice writing enough. Writing at length is not something that students, or indeed adults, do regularly, so they need to practise. This means practising with exam timings to avoid complacency and increase urgency, practising planning and it also means the teacher stepping away and letting them do it without interruption.

Support

peel-1peel-2

 

 

 

 

There’s a difficult balance to be had with the support of extended writing. Too little support and students will find it difficult to even get started, let alone finished; too much support and answers become a little too formulaic and the most able students don’t write with enough flair. There is some merit in mnemonics as starting points, and one which has been successful in R.E. and Science is the PEEL structure. The examples shown are for R.E. and this structure allows students to score highly on questions that account for about 50% of the marks available.

icebergIn English, we have explored Iceberg paragraphs, which are built around a topic sentence.

While these two methods are distinct, they do have some overlap. Both require a clear point to be introduced, then evidence to support it, this evidence to be explored, and the question to be answered. For students who might struggle to build an Iceberg paragraph, saying something like “start with a point, just like you do when you use PEEL” has been useful.

Individual subjects must never be forced to use a mnemonic or approach that does not work for them, but over the next cycle we would like to explore further what works well with extended writing, to share what has been successful and see where we can find common ground. For example, are there sentence structures that we can use across the school which will support all of our subjects? Is there an extended writing slide that we could develop that would support all subjects in extended writing?

If you have any successful approaches, please let us know, and present them in the Teachmeet on 28/11.

Further reading

More on Walking Talking Mocks:http://www.kristianstill.co.uk/wordpress/2015/05/02/walking-talking-mocks-worthwhile/

Shared writing- modelling mastery: https://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/shared-writing-modelling-mastery/

5 things every new secondary teacher needs to know about writing: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/writing/5-things-every-new-secondary-teacher-know-writing/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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iGCSE English Language advice

The iGCSE English Language exam is on Tuesday. Here are some top tips for success. 

General advice

Start with question 3: By starting with this one, you will hopefully ‘bank’ a large number of marks and it will help you to feel confident.

Keep an eye on the time: It is important that you don’t leave any question unanswered or incomplete. Mark schemes for Q1 and Q2 require even and balanced responses.

Read the focus of each question carefully: You need to ensure that your answers address exactly what is required. A slight misunderstanding can cost lots of marks.

Question 3 advice

Highlight points and number them: Numbering as you look for points ensures that you have enough. If you get more than 15, you can choose the best ones.

Make sure that your points are clear: If your points are not clear, the examiner might think that you don’t really understand what you are writing. Ensure short and unclear answers are expanded with a noun or verb to make sense e.g. ‘Northern Lights’ becomes ‘You can see the Northern Lights’. Ask yourself: if the examiner had not read the text, would they understand my point?

Don’t just copy quotations: Sometimes a quotation isn’t the full point. Quotations can be fine but make sure that you change anything that needs changing.

Be precise: If the weather is freezing, then it is ‘freezing’ or ‘very cold’. It is not just ‘cold’. Be careful with plurals e.g. writing ‘dog’ when it should be ‘dogs’ will lose the mark. Writing ‘is’ when it should be ‘was’ will lose the mark.

Don’t repeat yourself: Check that none of your points are similar. If you said that Lapland was not too far away and also said that Lapland is a three and a half hour flight away, you would be repeating yourself.

Question 3b (summary) advice

Don’t write an introduction or a conclusion: It is a summary and should be concise- this means keeping things short.

Reorder things: Don’t just list ideas in the order they appear in the text. This will show that you have skilfully organised things.

Group similar ideas together: It shows that you fully understand the text and can help you to ‘squash’ things up

Use discourse markers to structure the summary: These help your writing to be fluent; it flows better. They prevent it from becoming too much like a list. e.g. Additionally; However; In fact; Equally; Despite this

Use your own words: You will get a low mark if you don’t!

Don’t develop points: It is a summary so you can’t do this. Leave that for Q1.

Question 1 advice

Make sure that you understand the text fully: It’s a reading exam and knowing the text well will make both Q1 and Q2 much easier. Ways to aid understanding could be to underline facts and details as you read or reflecting after each paragraph on what it was about.

Highlight 5 or 6 ideas per bullet: This will allow you to have lots to choose from. You want 4 or 5 for each bullet if you are trying to get the best grades.

Cover each bullet point evenly: The mark scheme is clear- an ‘even’ response will get you into the higher bands. On a simple level this means writing the same amount but it really means including several points, details and developments for each.

Include specific details from the text to exemplify your points: It’s pretty easy to state an idea for a bullet point, but the next part is to refer to a specific moment, fact, circumstance, event from the text. Don’t just say that the journey to Winter Wonderland was difficult, give a specific example of exactly when it was difficult. Again, it shows that you really understand the text. It is sometimes useful to start with the detail and build things around it. “When x happened, it was clear that…”

Develop your details: This is important because the best readers can make inferences and statements that build on what they know. You could do this in a very simple way with words like because/so/which/therefore or phrases like which told me/ this meant that/ it made me realise that etc. There are of course more sophisticated ways to do this which the best answers will have.

Change the order of things: The exam board mentioned in their report that the worst answers “tended to stick closely to the events and ideas in the passage, and to present them in the same order.” The best answers used the details from the passage, but made sophisticated decisions to structure the ideas in a new way. It is good to try and notice where the mood/tone changes in an extract, and reflect this in your own answer. Thinking a little about your structure will help the writing mark too.

Don’t forget the writing mark: Most marks are for reading, but there are 5 for writing. The exam board want to see interesting writing which matches purpose and is aimed at the right audience. Shape the source into whatever style they want. They also want the basics: correct spelling; correct punctuation; clear paragraphs. Add in some complex vocabulary and vary your sentence structure. CHECK YOU’RE YOUR WORK

Question 2 advice

Start each answer with an overview of the paragraph: This shows that you understand what the writer is doing and will help you later with ‘effect’. Avoid vague sentences like ‘It builds tension’; be specific and precise. Don’t just say what happens, try and capture the mood/tone and what the writer is trying to do.

Highlight everything that you could write about, then pick the best quotations: Highlighting all possibilities gives you options to choose from. Pick things that you could write lots about. This means words/phrases and especially images with clear meanings and connotations. Words with different connotations are great. Remember that this question asks you to show understanding of how language works.

Refer to language techniques: Showing a knowledge of language terminology is not essential, but referring to metaphors, similes, personification and other things e.g. adjectives or alliteration will show off what you know. Don’t go overboard with this though.

Explain the meaning of the quotation: Explaining the meaning shows that you know the different stages of creating effects. Effects start with an understanding of meaning. You can’t say the effect of the phrase ‘the weather gripped him’ without knowing what ‘gripped’ means. So, say ‘To grip something means to hold tightly, often against the will. This creates the impression that the weather…’

  • If something is described as…then it…
  • A…is often seen as…

Note that you should consider the meaning in context. Don’t just write the dictionary definition of something- make sure that it is relevant to the paragraph and the effects that you will go on to explore.

Then comment on the effect: Once you have been clear about the meaning of the word/ image you apply to the context. “The writer uses the simile ‘like a bull’ to describe the customer. Bulls are often portrayed as angry, violent creatures, which creates the impression that the customer is particularly angry and capable of violence. A bull is also a huge animal, and this image reinforces the idea that the customer was large and could overpower the shop assistant.

Diligence

Diligence: Smarter Revision

With the English Language exam just over a week away, we are very nearly into ‘exam season’. At this point, there is a tendency for some students to panic and to just start cramming for the exam. But lots of what we know about learning and revision says that just getting out the books and highlighters won’t have the desired effects. Whether you are a student or a parent, here are some simple research-based strategies that will support revision- the smart way.

Spacing not cramming

While it would be silly not to revise the night before an exam, research says that a little more thought needs to go into how you organise your revision schedule. If you were to spend 10 hours in total revising for an exam, you will remember more and be better prepared if you space this study out. Five 2 hour revision sessions would lead to greater retention of information then one 10 hour session.

This means getting the exam schedule out and planning backwards for the exam. Even those taking the final exam- Film Studies- will benefit from starting their revision now.

Testing not reading

By now, most students will have study guides and lots of notes. They will have elaborately colour-coded cards with Geography case studies and simultaneous equations. Simply reading these will not be harmful, but it is likely to fool the brain a little, making it seem that the content is known well. The problem is that this builds a false sense of confidence that everything is ok. The better approach, instead of simply reading, is quizzing.

A huge body of research shows that testing is better for the long term retention of information than simply studying. This is known as the ‘testing effect’, and it works because the more that you have to recall things, the easier it is for you to recall them at a later date. There is also the benefit for revision that you can check whether you actually know something, or just think that you do.

Flashcards are particularly useful for this. Write notes as usual on one side and then write questions on the other side. Start with the questions and then check the answers. If writing notes on paper, you can use the Cornell system: make a column on one edge of the page where you enter key terms or questions then test yourself later by covering the notes and answering the questions. There are programs like Quizlet and Memrise which also have mobile apps. There are many quizzes already there or you can create your own.

Elaboration and self-explanation

Elaboration basically means asking ‘why?’ and Self-explanation really just means saying ‘How do I Know?’.

Instead of simply answering a question or reading some notes, it helps to ask ‘Why is this true?’ or ‘How do I know this?’ For example, if studying Heroes in English Literature, you might say that Nicole is presented as innocent. By asking ‘why’, you might begin to comment on what Cormier was saying about guilt, and innocence, and heroism, and religion. By asking ‘how’, you might start to talk about Cormier’s use of imagery or the way that the narrative is structured.

When looking at a scientific or mathematical process or a series of events in History, asking ‘why’ will allow you a greater depth of focus than merely studying the material and asking ‘how do I know?’ will help you to connect all the information together.

You can never guarantee anything when it comes to exams, but by approaching revision with these principles in mind, you can be sure that your study sessions will be fruitful.

Further links:

Mr Gayle has created some excellent revision videos for Religious Studies here.

You will find a playlist of iGCSE English Language videos created by me here.

If you search ‘walking talking mock’ in YouTube, you will find a number of these. They are simply teachers talking through how to answer exam papers. It is helpful to see what they look at and focus on in exam questions, then how they proceed to answer them. Quality is variable, so it is best to check comments/ likes/ views etc to get a sense of this. You must also be sure that it is the correct exam board or paper, otherwise you could be learning how to succeed in an exam you won’t take.

Civility

Civility: More than just a word at DKA

Positivity, respect, excellence, commitment, opportunity, integrity, honesty, determination. Go into any school and the schools values will be displayed but are these mere buzz words used to show that the school has a moral purpose, or are the words meaningful and demonstrated throughout the school day?

CivilityUsually the values of the school are on display the moment you enter the building and here at DKA we are no different; upon entering the main entrance of the school in blue size 1000 font are the words INTEGRITY, CIVILITY, DILIGENCE.  However what I feel makes us different is that we fully live by our values. We don’t have contrived displays that show students modelling our values, we don’t have fancy acronyms that are repeated daily incorporating a number of values, we don’t use them as a PR stunt– what we do is embed the values in to everything we do.  To illustrate this, I will share how we have embedded our value of civility as something we do, not just something that we say.

Take a typical school day at DKA. Every day starts with ‘line up’. The whole school is silent and in arrow straight lines fully equipped for the day. Students are spoken to by a member of staff about selected topics; these might include literacy, current affairs, morals etc and staff make links to our school values in these speeches. Students then leave line up and move to lesson one in impeccable silence in a calm and civilised manner. There is no shouting or rowdiness and when they get to Lesson 1 students are in the right frame of mind to begin learning. The movement from line up to lesson one was recently described by an inspector as ‘ballet’ and it is wonderful to be part of such a purposeful start to the day.

Having worked in a school which was very noisy and chaotic during lesson transition, I feel we have got the right balance of civility during lesson changeover at DKA. We don’t have silent corridors or expect students to walk between lessons in arrow straight lines like the movement from line up to lesson one. What we do expect is students walking on the left in a civilised manner. To ensure that everyone is able to get to where they need to be on time, students can only visit lockers at certain times during the day. Any shouting, running, pushing or general conduct that is more acceptable at a football match than a professional place of work is not tolerated. This stems from our values, specifically civility and prepares students for the civilised world.

Family diningThis year we have introduced family dining with our year 7s. As a head of faculty, I do not have a tutor group and I feel privileged to attend family dining on a daily basis.  Having witnessed the development of table manners and etiquette, even I have learnt some more vital table etiquette! Students are encouraged to speak in proper English and the sophistication of conversations is rapidly developing. Family dining will undoubtedly support students later in life when eating at university, a place of work and even in the home.

We always end our school day with a ‘thought of the day’. A reminder bell will trigger EVERYONE to stop what they are doing and start reflecting on the day. Classrooms have quotes for students to think about – but this is a whole school policy and it is observed by everyone in the building – it can be embarrassing when you have to stop a meeting with a parent or school governor and explain to them that a minutes silence to reflect must be adhered to. However, everyone following the rules and routines of the school is essential for consistency and without it, we would not be adhering to the civility we want to instil in students.

Dixons Kings Academy is no different to other school in that we have our values: integrity, diligence and civility. What I feel makes us different is that both staff and students express these values in everything they do every day.