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Take a risk with your learning – Guest blog from Katie Holt

This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Katie Holt, Coordinator of Learning & Teaching and the Student Council at South Dartmoor Community College. Take it away, Katie

‘Take a risk with your learning.’ This is often something we say to students who tend to play it safe when it comes to their learning. So in the spirit of modelling life long learning the teachers at South Dartmoor Community College decided to do exactly that when they put their Student Learning Council in charge of designing and delivering a CPD session to staff on ‘5 things really good teachers do well’.

When first presented with this task the students could have run a session called ’55 things really good teachers do well’ but heated debate (and careful coaching) narrowed it down to the 5 things that the students felt most strongly about. Over a period of 4 weeks the students divided themselves into groups each focusing on their key topic. They choose problems, designed activities and discussion tasks for their teachers to do and collated all the good practice they had experienced across the school.

The five things are:

Good teachers use the Consequence System consistently: Students get very frustrated if school wide systems – for rewards and sanctions – are not followed consistently. They felt some teachers gave way too many warnings, while others were too harsh. They just wanted to feel fairly treated and for every teacher to follow the rules!

Good teachers use emotionally intelligent body language: This one took a while to coax out of the students. Basically they hate teachers ‘looming’ over them or ‘getting in their face’. We designed an activity where the teachers had to get up and walk towards each other, stopping when they felt uncomfortably close. We then repeated the experiment but at an angle rather than face on to show that we can get much closer in the second case. The students really enjoyed looming over the teachers and then showing the alternative they prefer of squatting down at an angle.

Good teachers use differentiation: Students enjoy the challenge of being stuck, but they hate being all at sea (something they call ‘bad stuck’) or being held back to allow others to catch up. The students in charge of this section gave the teachers a range of puzzles to do. They gave some teachers clues before they needed them and told the teachers who were struggling to ‘think harder’ (they enjoyed this very much). They also gave some examples of how an activity can be differentiated (without the teacher having to generate alternative resources):

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Good teachers don’t cause ‘Death by textbook’: This includes worksheets or interactive programs projected by teachers. Students don’t like to use the same resource all the time. They recognise that these are valuable resources but just hate slogging through them and so wanted to get teachers discussing how to use these resources in innovative ways. Some suggestions from the students (that they say works well) include:

  1. Student choice: Give options labelled according to difficulty i.e. Gold/Silver/Bronze and give students the choice of where to start and when to move on.
  2. Peer mentoring: set questions from the text book for each other based on peer assessment.
  3. Do any 6 questions from an exercise in the book, then speed date using the most complex question the student understood perfectly.
  4. Distil information: use pictures/cartoons/symbols/mindmaps to distil information from a textbook page without just copying it out or answering questions on the information.
  5. Write the exam question (plus mark scheme) for a page of information in a text book.

Good teachers have variety: An in depth discussion about their favourite teachers netted the fact that good teachers make an effort to mix up their style. The students decided to ask the teachers to ‘tweet’ to each other their go to lesson style and reflect on if they use the same style all the time before suggesting that good teachers make an effort to use different:

  • Styles of learning
  • Resources
  • Multimedia
  • Poems/pictures/sources/etc,
  • Links with where the learning is applicable to real life
  • Role play/group projects/paired work
  • And most importantly….. Good teachers don’t love the sound of their own voice all the time!


We of course bribed the teachers with coffee and cake to give up their lunchtime for this CPD opportunity but the feedback from the teachers has been so fantastic and the students enjoyed the process so much we are going to run the session again. It has become very trendy in recent years to ‘do’ student voice, it is however very powerful for students to have this direct contact with their teachers, to put forward their ideas and feelings. This was a very professional and well run session….it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you take a risk on your learning!

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