How do you solve a problem like 8X3?

8X3 are the archetypal middle-set English class. They have ability, but are disengaged; they find English challenging, and often dull; they enjoy socialising much more than listening. There are under twenty of them, but a number of them have diagnoses of ADHD or ASD and others have home circumstances or backgrounds that cause them to find school understandably difficult. They feel like a much larger class, mostly because it would probably be possible to count on one hand the number of days when at least four of them haven’t been bickering, sulking or flirting with (or as a result of) one another over the course of the past year.

I had a class like them last year, although admittedly with some distinct differences of ability and temperament. I didn’t do an especially good job teaching them – I was an NQT, which shouldn’t be an excuse, but which does explain why I was quite so clueless – so I was resolved to put right this year what I’d got wrong first time round. In a lot of ways, they are now better than my class last year were, but there are still fundamental issues that need addressing.

Such as: Their unwillingness to work in silence. Their failure to act upon feedback. Their lack of focus in class discussions. Their half-hearted answers, which do not address the given success criteria.

These things are not eternal, though; they can be fixed. Hence the title of this blog.

Year 8 is a crucial time for 8X3. If they don’t start mastering the skills that they need for GCSE now, then my understanding of cognitive load theory and the ‘Matthew effect’ suggest that by the time they get to Year 10, it will be too late. They will not have a solid knowledge base of techniques or themes or symbols or key words to look out for; they will not know how to take good notes; they will not be able to write using a variety of sentence types or construct effective descriptions. All of these things take time, of which we have very little, and if they have to be re-taught these things at the start of GCSE then, honestly, it will be a serious challenge to get them a ‘pass’ grade.

So I’m taking action. I’ve identified three things that I think will make a major difference, and I’m going to focus on these over the next term with 8X3, charting my efforts on this blog.

These three things are:

  • Marking every book, every lesson (see Joe Kirby and Harry Fletcher-Wood)
  • Allowing students and parents to track progress online (like this)
  • Instituting a system of whole class rewards coupled with my existing behaviour management system – ten successes equals a class reward

I’ll try and give an unvarnished account of how I get on, daily if possible (and assuming that I don’t get worn down by the whole endeavour).

I’m also aware that reading this people might be tempted to say that my lessons need to be more engaging, or simpler, or my behaviour management more consistent. Please trust me when I say that I’ve reflected on these things, and that my behaviour management is pretty good and I’m happy with the level that my lessons are pitched at. If you want to see how this experiment is going, though, please feel free to comment – especially if you’ve done something similar in your own setting.

We will invariably end up touching on a whole range of other teaching related things in time, too, but I’ll tackle those as we go.

Wish me luck.

How do you solve a problem like 8X3?

7 thoughts on “How do you solve a problem like 8X3?

  1. This looks interesting. I think the idea of picking three simple things to prioritise and then implementing them thoroughly is a really promising one – and the idea of a daily, public reflection is great – could be absolutely fascinating…

    Good luck.


  2. TJ says:

    Thanks, Harry – I hadn’t planned on publicising this until I’d been going for a week or so, but of course I forgot about pingbacks. It’s good to know that someone’s reading already, though, especially given that a lot of my ideas and inspiration in my class so far have come from your blog.


  3. ChrisN says:

    This sounds fascinating. However, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something inherent in the approach to learning in our primary schools that has led to “Their unwillingness to work in silence. Their failure to act upon feedback. Their lack of focus in class discussions. Their half-hearted answers, which do not address the given success criteria.” You’re right that Year 10 would be far too late, but I suspect that Year 8 may be too late as well, in the sense that even if you succeed, they will already have lost so many learning opportunities.


    1. TJ says:

      Chris – I’m inclined to agree. The Quirky Teacher blogged insightfully about this before Christmas:

      It’s particularly noticeable with our setting system that the kids who struggle with working in silence, acting on feedback etc. all went to the same couple of primary schools, which might be an issue with catchment or could suggest that the approaches in those primary schools simply aren’t instilling habits that prepare students for secondary school.

      In part, that’s why I want to try this – I’ve taken on board a lot of ideas from Doug Lemov, the master of getting routines and culture in place, and Teach First, which has seen great success instilling positive routines in some challenging classrooms. I’d like to think if I could sort out their attitude then I could at least go some way to addressing that knowledge deficit while there’s still chance, even if they’ve still missed out on a lot.

      I’m curious to see if it works, or if by Year 8 the damage is already done.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good luck. I can (almost) guarantee marking every book every lesson will improve the standard of their work. They’ll be more accountable for their daily output and they’ll appreciate the effort your making. It’s win- win. Keep us posted,


    1. Thanks Damian. I certainly hope so – one big concern is what to do with the few who seem to take pride in their lack of effort, but hopefully public recognition and praise of the others who are doing well will get them chasing positive attention.

      Liked by 1 person

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