It’s early morning and dawn begins to gently trickle through our window. Blue birds sing as we effortlessly elevate from our beds and our morning song calls out through the window. Robins hurriedly fly down our chimney and into the bathroom, igniting the gentle waterfall that will spring forth life from our bodies. We call to the blue birds to brush our hair whilst deer and rabbits dance into our rooms and select our attire for the day. We spring forth through our front doors and into our carriages with our voices at full blast as we pour forth our excitement for the day in an explosion of colour and sound. Our journey through the school doors begins with a bouncing good morning to our fellow colleagues, an uplifting hello to our students and we pop into the staff room to fire up the kettle for our morning coffee or begin our daily tea grind. We chat about the tipple we had the night before, oh how we all laugh.
Our first period is delivered without a hitch but then suddenly there is a crash of thunder and a streak of lightening. The skies darken and in the distance we hear formidable footsteps of our second period. Exploding through the door a student announces that he has forgotten his pen, another is annoyed at her best mate for the post on Facebook. We trod in some chewing gum and it sticks to our heel and we know that at some point we are going to have to scrap that off. We take everything personally. We raise our voices to reinforce our authority. The tension mounts in our shoulders and our eyebrows narrow. Our backs straighten, our knees lock, we pert our lips and hold our breath. The voice is strained, the neck is tightened and the coffee begins its dehydration process. We finish the period and head into the staff room to vent our annoyance. Of course, our helpful colleagues begin to give us tips on how to control the class. The storm continues throughout the day with only the sporadic spotting of wildlife. We stomp through the stark corridors offering a few grunts and groans goodbye which is all our voice can muster. Why is this happening to us?
During our recent 3 week rolling programme, ‘Master Your Vocal Power’, we were given hints and tips to help us use our voices in more effective ways along with breathing and relaxation exercises to help strengthen power and release habitual tensions built over the years. Below are just some of the highlights of the session.
First become conscious of what you are doing.
Questions to ask yourself:-
How am I standing?
How am I holding my weight?
How does my head rest upon my shoulders?
Is there any tension in my shoulders?
Head & Mouth
How do I hold my head?
Is there any tension in the jaw?
Where is the tongue placed?
Where are the teeth placed?
Which is longer – breathing in or breathing out?
Am I breathing steadily?
Do I hold my breath?
Here are some of the exercises we experienced:
1) Standing with your feet hip width apart and parallel, breathe in as much as you can and as quick as you can. Hold. Check where the tension is – is it in the neck? Did the shoulders rise? Did you tense your face at all? Raise you eyebrows? Frown? Widen your eyes? Did you breathe in from the mouth or nose? All these things tell you where you are holding tension during your breathing. If you are about to shout I can guarantee this is where all the tension immediately builds. Now gently breathe out slowly.
2) Imagine chewing a large lump of toffee. Work the jaw in a circular motion. Engage the muscles and gently pull from left to right.
3) Place your hands at the side of your waist and gently squeeze. As you inhale, feel your stomach expand. As you exhale, engage the muscles in your trunk just below the rib cage. You should feel a strong push from the muscle. This should be engaged when using your full voice. Repeat this 8 times.
4) Hum gently to the sound of ‘mmm’. Feel the vibration in your throat, nose and chest. Begin quietly and gradually increase the volume. This helps warm the muscles powering the vocal folds safely.
We learned some things to avoid to prevent problems:
- Smoking, or cut down if you can
- Raising your volume. If you raise your voice the students will raise theirs. Be conscious that whatever volume you start with, children will always gage theirs slightly higher to feel heard.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeinated tea, coffee, fizzy drinks (they dry you out)
- Medicated lozenges that kill pain – (pain is telling you to stop talking); suck non-medicated pastilles instead
- Heavy/spicy meals last thing at night (can cause indigestion and acid reflux, which inflames the vocal folds)
- Dairy products which can cause over-production of mucous around vocal folds
We were also given some ideas of what we can do if there is a problem:
- Voice rest – stop talking when you get home
- Body rest – relax – take steamy baths
- Steam inhalations to moisten the back of the throat, and ease pain
- Hydrate by drinking water throughout the day
- Have a few early nights
- Take a deep breath between classes and consciously relax. It will make you feel calmer and more confident.
- To nurse your voice through a cold or a throat infection, steam it. Put some hot water in a basin and lean over it with a towel over your head. Inhale the steam gently and deeply. Do this several times a day for 10 minutes at a time.
Look out for the three week rolling programme in next year’s CPD calendar. If you would like any further information please contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Jones July 2016
Giving effective feedback
In our training we have been looking at ways that we can get students to think about the feedback that they have been given and act upon it. Many staff spend hours marking students’ books which the students dutifully read. However, sometimes we do not make the most of the feedback time to ensure that pupils respond to their feedback and learn from the points that have been made. During the training session we reflected upon the WWW (What Went Well) and EBI (Even Better If) comments that we give students. We identified that quality feedback should be:
- Personalised (including name and target grade)
- A clear point/ skill that the student has done well relevant to the work, not just how it looks
- A clear point/ skill that the student needs to improve relevant to the work, not just how it looks
- Explain how the student can improve the skill/ point
- Give students time to make the improvements
- Excellent effort Geoff!
- WWW-You have identified the purpose of the source and given examples from the source to explain how the source achieves this purpose
- EBI- To reach a B you need to explain how the purpose affects how reliable the source is
Students often struggle to improve their work because they do not understand the criteria on which they are being judged or they simply have not thought about it and are merely looking for the grade at the end of the piece of work. A simple, but effective way to make sure students understand the grading criteria and to think about their feedback is to give them their work to mark themselves or peer assess.
One method is to mark the students work and write the WWW/EBI on a separate pieces of paper. The comments are then placed around the room. The students then have to read their work and read the comments to identify which piece of feedback is most appropriate to them. This is very effective because the students have to reread their own work and assess it against a criteria that they have been given. This also ensures that the students read the feedback carefully and understand it.
Peer assessing is also an effective way to develop pupils’ understanding of the grade criteria and how to improve their work. Students read their own or another student’s work and then mark it to a specified criteria. It is important that this criteria is written in a way that students can understand. They then provide the other student with a clear WWW/EBI which leads to discussion about the work as each student wants to find out what their peer thought. The student is then given chance to act upon their feedback. This is an excellent method of providing feedback as it enables the teacher to focus on other areas that the student has done well or needs to improve.
Supporting LGBT+ students
As teachers we provide an inclusive education and strive to support our students in the challenges that they face in their education. However, our support is not limited to the academic aspects as we provide pastoral support as well. We are in a privileged role because we build supportive relationships with our students based upon positive rapport. This can often lead to us working with our students and helping them manage issues beyond the classroom. In our training sessions we have been fortunate to have been given an excellent training session by a guest speaker about ways to support LGBT+ students. They have shared their suggestions on how to support students in the post below.
LGBT+ inclusion – the positive representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and other marginalised sexualities and gender alignments – in school is crucial. Every teacher will teach LGBT+ students. Census information shows that even as at the most conservative estimate, there will still be more LGBT+ students than will adequately fit into one class. As teachers we will, on average, encounter a bare minimum of one LGBT+ student in every other group, with a more realistic figure in excess of two in every class.
The government recognises the importance of LGBT+ inclusion – Nicky Morgan recently allocated £2m to help tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools. ‘British values’, according to the DfE twitter feed, includes ‘tolerance and acceptance of diversity’. And Ofsted now also look to see what schools are doing to promote LGBT+ inclusion: talking to students, staff and SLT to see if and how bigotry and bullying are addressed and if students are taught about diverse families and how to tackle homophobia and transphobia.
But this shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise: the impact of inadequate provision for LGBT+ young people is devastating. The majority of LGBT+ students experience bullying specifically due to their gender or sexuality; more than a fifth will experience physical abuse and death threats. A third of LGB students will alter their future plans, either through not attaining sufficient grades to go on to pursue academic pathways as a direct result of bullying, or because they simply cannot withstand further abuse, and opt to sacrifice their goals in favour of ‘flying below the radar’.
And yet 3 in 5 students report that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene, and just 10% of teachers tackle homophobia every time they hear it – perhaps because only 10% of teachers receive any training on anti-LGBT+ bullying. But as a result, a quarter of LGBT+ have no in school support – not a single teacher, TA, or pastoral assistant they can turn to. And half of those young people have absolutely no adult support whatsoever in their life. LGBT+ students are also significantly more at risk of abuse, depression and even suicide attempts.
So what can we do to help? First and foremost, we need to ensure all teachers are tackling anti-LGBT+ language in school. The ubiquitous ‘that’s so gay’ is most common – 99% of students hear it on a frequent basis, and the vast majority of LGBT+ students say it causes them distress. However, LGBT+ students – and staff – also report other micro-aggressions.Common among boys, “you’re such a girl” – as well as being rooted in sexism (why, exactly, is this seen as an insult?) – can cause extreme discomfort to trans students, who frequently have to battle to have their gender correctly acknowledged. Asexual and aromantic students – who experience no or minimal attraction to others – are often erased and belittled by comments such as “but everyone fancies someone; you’re just weird”. Bisexual students commonly report being accused of being “slutty” or “confused” – even adults tell them, “It’s just a phase; you’ll grow out of it.”
Of course, such ideas are often deeply embedded in society: we cannot simply assume students are making these remarks maliciously. Education here is key: I like to start discussions with, “I know you don’t mean it this way, but…” Explaining to students where the terms originate from can help, as can promoting empathy: ask students to consider how THEY might feel if a key part of their identity was used commonly as an insult. Give them a chance to develop their communication skills – they don’t really mean it’s GAY – after all, is your lesson only attracted to other maths lessons? Not English lessons, or science lessons? No, they mean they don’t like it – and in my class, students often find themselves presented with a thesaurus to more fully explain that opinion. (No prizes here for guessing my main subject!) Even as teachers, we can sometimes find ourselves contributing to the erasure and harm of LGBT+ students. Boy/girl seating plans, or addressing students as ‘boys and girls’ can misgender trans students, or invalidate the identity of students who don’t fit the gender binary – that is, those students whose gender does not fit neatly into a ‘male’ or ‘female’ box.
But LGBT+ inclusion can be simple – and powerfully effective. Changing how you address your classes – “year 8” instead of “boys and girls”; using seating plans which are data rich; and ensuring we respect names and pronouns of transgender students ensures we do no harm. But we can go further by making use of display space to tackle anti-LGBT+ attitudes, or to promote LGBT+ role models. Even in curriculum space, positive representation is easily achieved: MFL teachers can teach about diverse families by equipping pupils with the vocabulary to say, “my mothers” or “my fathers”; English teachers can explore texts by LGBT+ authors – such as Carol Ann Duffy, Wilfred Owen, or even Shakespeare; ICT teachers can teach about role models such as Alan Turing, Tim Cook and Lynn Conway.
Together, we can make a powerful positive difference to LGBT+ students, ensuring school is no longer a place of fear and bullying, but a safe space, where they can reach their full potential.
Rainbow Teaching is a project aimed at supporting teachers with LGBT+ inclusion in education. More information, as well as lesson resources, can be found at www.rainbowteaching.co.uk
Holly and Lindsay