Since taking the plunge with mini-whiteboards (see this post) over the past few years my ability to know whether students are paying attention, thinking and practising has dramatically increased. Because I’m usually teaching groups of children I’ve not met before, I always draw out a seating plan and make sure I have everyone’s names recorded. With access to MWBs, it made sense to jot this information onto a whiteboard rather than a piece of paper. I’d then find myself ticking students off as I asked them questions or got them to participate in some other way to ensure I had deliberately involved everyone in the room.

Then, last year I saw Doug Lemov speak at a conference. If you’ve ever seen Doug speak you’ll know he peppers his talks with video footage of teachers doing great things. One clip that stuck in my mind was of a teacher using a clipboard to help him remember what students had said, whether they’d been asked questions and anything else that might, in the hurly burly of the classroom, be forgotten. This was one of those moments – equal parts excitement and frustration – where I think, “Why’ve I never done that?” I immediately rushed out to get myself a clipboard and have not looked back.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing I do:

As you can see, my sletch of the classroom is essentially an extension of my memory. I write down names because I don’t know the children and tick them when they have answered a question. I make a dot where a students has said, “I don’t know,” to make sure I go back to them. I’ll normally say something along the lines of, “It’s OK not to know but I really need you to listen to what the other students in the class. I’m going to come back to you after we’ve heard from a couple of others and I either want you to be able to repeat what they’ve said or come up with your own response.” I circled one student because they were taken out of the lesson for some reason, and the stars are for students who I want to make sure get praise points. This is, I think, a simple way of making sure that I do what I’ve told students I will do.

As all this has been playing out in my head over the last year or so, my colleague Claire Woozley has been telling me how great she’s found using ‘messy markbooks’.[1] I’m not really sure what I thought they were. we had a couple of brief conversations where I somehow failed to grasp what she was talking about but was left with a nagging suspicion that I was missing out on something great. When I told her what I was up to with my clipboard she said something along the lines of, “Cool. That sounds just like my messy markbooks.”

Here are a couple of Claire’s examples:

The template in both images is a seating plan (with children’s names redacted) along with information about each student – their reading ages, SEND status etc. Onto this, Claire has scribbled some brief reminders about the lesson she’ll be teaching as well notes about some of the students. (We can see in both markbooks that she has written that “Olly needs to do KO quiz” which indicates that, unless prompted, he probably won’t. The arrows show her intended plan around the room when monitoring students’ activity and the ticks indicate where students have answered questions. She’s also jotted down previous taught knowledge that she plans to reactivate as well some brief notes on items she wants to cover this lesson.

Claire’s more sophisticated use of messy markbooks have several advantages. Because they contain much more information, she can refer back to them over time to quickly check what has been taught, she can compare students’ performance over time and see who’s contributed to lessons in particularly helpful ways, such as reading aloud.

So, that’s it: one simple, straightforward way to make yourself more efficient in the classroom. I don’t want to claim this is anything especially original but I’ve found the  combination of seating plans plus a clipboard to be a revelation.

[1]Apparently, messy markbooks are, originally, the brainchild of Christine Counsell.