Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Teaching and Learning - the RGS Approach

Teaching and Learning - the RGS Approach

There is a real pleasure in teaching Year 7 students. They are, without exception, curious, excitable, energetic, fearless and relatively small. 
 
They ask great questions, they ask silly questions,they ask questions of procedure that simply baffle those of my colleagues who do not teach Junior School; it really doesn’t matter whether the date is put in the top left or top right of the page, or whether they write in pencil or in pen. 

Sadly, I get too few opportunities to teach them, but I really enjoy it when I do.

Two months ago they were in Junior School, but now they are in big school and everything seems to want to change. 

The management of the transition from one to the other is therefore something that requires a bit of careful thought. We don’t expect them to behave like Year 8s from the word go, but then we don’t expect them to be exactly like Junior School students either. They need to adapt and change and we need to help them do that.

Similarly, it’s a difficult transition for you as parents. You no longer gather at the school gate eagerly awaiting those happy, smiling faces so full of stories about the day. That’s quite a difficult change to manage as, perhaps, your relationship with the school becomes that little bit less intimate.

That’s one of the main reasons why we’ve put a Pastoral Parents’ Conference in now. It’s a chance to establish a relationship with those of who are new to RGS and to foster the relationship we have with those of who’ve seen their children go through Junior School.

It also fits in with the New Parents Evening early next month which is a chance for parents to meet other parents – you know, the ones you hear about over the dinner table. Putting a face to a name can make a real difference to perceptions!

I would encourage you to talk to the staff present this afternoon to try and get to know them and their approach to your child’s education.

One of the changes we need to manage, and what I want to focus on, is how children learn and how our teaching supports and promotes that.

We need to ignite the curiosity and build on the excitement that they show in such abundance in those early September days. We must encourage that sense of fearlessness in getting things wrong. But we need to recognise that, as children, they grow up in different ways and develop that sense of self that make them unique.

So, what’s it like to learn stuff here? What’s a typical classroom like in Year 7?

The first thing to say is that it’s very different from what it was when I was in Year 7 (or first form as it was called then) over 40 years ago, and probably quite different to what it was when many of you were there too.

We have a good intake of intelligent students who we can challenge intellectually. We like to think that we consider each of them as individuals, pay attention to their individual needs and adjust what we do accordingly. 

We don’t like to spoon-feed. We want, above all else, to encourage our students to be strong, independent thinkers, capable of arguing a point and considering all views. We want them to be resilient in their learning, willing to try new things, to make mistakes, to learn from them and to move on. We want them to push themselves, to reflect on their learning and develop robust strategies for solving problems.

That means we need to model this behaviour as teachers by taking risks with our teaching and not playing safe. We want to harness the power of different teaching strategies and using technology where it really enhances the learning.

We want learning to be fun and exciting. We want children to challenge us, to ask us difficult questions and make us defend a position.

We expect them, in return, to try hard, to read, to pay attention, to be co-operative. We don’t want them to ask for help from the teacher the moment they encounter a problem. We want them to be equipped to use different strategies before they ask the teacher. In their planner we lay that out – brain, book, buddy, before you ask the teacher.

We want them to get things wrong. It’s only by making mistakes that we understand how to improve. The classroom should be the safest place to have a go at something. If they didn’t get it right, then they simply haven’t got it, yet. But it will come.

We don’t, therefore, expect them to get everything right from the start. We don’t expect homework to be 10 out of 10 all the time. If they’re always getting 100% then are we really teaching them anything new or is it just too easy? There’s no challenge in that.

Whilst on the subject of homework, we have a homework timetable and I’ve written a short guide for parents about how we expect our students to approach it, which we will send round in the next few days. 

Above all else, homework should be manageable and purposeful. It really must not take students hours and hours to complete nor should it be too hard or, worse still, too easy or pointless. We can’t stop the incredibly diligent and perfectionist student from producing a thousand-word essay when really only one hundred is required. Maybe, as parents, you can? But then we certainly should ask why that student thinks it’s necessary to do that, because it really isn’t.

Homework really comes in two main forms, that consolidates work in the classroom (so practising maths skills, or doing some writing, for example) or preparatory (learning some vocabulary for the next lesson). But there’s also the longer, project-based work that really knows no end. We would simply ask that the time spent also allows for other activities: sports, music, drama, etc.

I’d also like to mention our reporting system for Year 7. We will be giving students' three grades at each grading point. Each is not a single letter or number, but a word (or very short phrase) that relates to a scale of descriptors that you will be able to refer to. 

We want to focus on three key aspects. Firstly, how the student is developing the skills and knowledge in that subject. We don’t expect all students to master all those skills from the word go. So, we do expect students to develop that over the course of the year. We should see their skills and knowledge progress during the year, so they know and can do more at the end than they could at the start. 

Secondly, we want to be able to comment on their engagement with their learning. Those who engage fully will be able to make better progress in their development of skills and knowledge. That is something we expect to be good from the start and maintained through the year.

Thirdly we will comment on effort. This is very difficult to do sometimes, because, as teachers, we really don’t know what’s going on at home. A student might struggle with organisation and produce a scruffy piece of work, but it might have taken a lot of effort to produce. It’s a tricky one to judge. But we do think we can see what they’re doing in school and that’s what we can go on.

Reports will therefore allow teachers to comment on what the student is doing well and how they could improve. Grades alone won’t easily allow this, obviously, but do offer a stock check on where things are. We will have two academic Parents’ Conferences through the year to talk about these three issues with associated grades, and one set of written reports. 

I hope that this is not the only time I get the chance to talk to you. I’d be really happy, in fact I hope, that some of you will want to ask questions or talk more generally about how we do things here so you can better understand what we’re trying to do. The best education is only possible through good mutual understanding and support by school, student and parents. We need to keep that dialogue open, trustworthy and honest. I hope reading this is the beginning of that for you as your child begins their seven-year journey through the RGS Senior School.

Many thanks for reading.

Roger LoxleyDirector of Studies