Lee Donaghy

Working with trainees: my favourite action step – extending ‘Brighten Lines’ into a comprehensive routine

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In my work with trainee teachers, I draw heavily (as the programme I work for does) on techniques from Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. There is one technique that I talk about so often with my trainees that any mention of it now brings barely suppressed smirks and playful eye rolls: Brighten Lines.

In TLaC this technique is explained thus: ‘Ensure that changes in activities and other mileposts are perceived clearly by making beginnings and endings of activities visible and crisp’. There is a further explanation of it here: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/brightening-lines-video/, along with a video of participants at a TLaC training session practising the clean start aspect of the technique.

The reasons I talk about Brighten Lines so often are two-fold: firstly many of my trainees have still not mastered it (though some very effectively have) and secondly it is incredibly powerful – in fact I would argue it is one of the absolutely fundamental building blocks of effective teacher practice for new and trainee teachers working in predominantly challenging schools (as my trainees do) for establishing a culture in their classroom in which pupils follow instructions and complete tasks quickly and efficiently when given an activity to complete.

In focusing on Brighten Lines I have tried to develop a comprehensive routine that I can share with trainees that goes beyond the narrow (though excellent) examples seen in the clip above and that takes in giving clear instructions, having a clean start and then continuing on to enforce the start after giving the ‘go’ signal, whatever that may be.

The routine has 10 steps and includes some other TLaC techniques, as follows –

When setting pupils off on a task, once you have their full attention (pens down, eyes on you) in absolute silence and with you stood at the front of the room:

  1. Give clear instructions, ensuring economy of language
  2. Give a clear time limit for the task
  3. Ask one or more pupils to repeat the instructions back to you, as well as the time limit (an opportunity to check on those pupils who like to feign ignorance of the instructions and remove this as an excuse not to begin)
  4. Ask pupils ‘Is there anybody who is still unsure what to do?’
  5. Repeat, very briefly, the task and the time limit
  6. Give a clear ‘GO’ signal (perhaps include a pause beforehand to build anticipation, or include a brief preparatory instruction like ‘pens in hand…go!’
  7. Stand still – do not move
  8. Very obviously scan the room – (Be Seen Looking) – to check whether pupils have begun
  9. Narrate compliance – praise those who begin straight away (‘James has started. Well done, Courtney. Thank you for starting Ahmed.’)
  10. Anonymously challenge the non-starters (‘Just waiting for two pupils to start’, ‘90% of us have begun, let’s have 100%’)

I tell trainees to remain on the same spot, at the front of the room, until 100% of pupils have started, or until they think there are any pupils who will not begin without the teacher approaching them for a one to one conversation.

I have seen this routine used incredibly effectively. It can transform lessons from a battle scene where a teacher spends the five minutes given to a task circulating the room trying to persuade pupils to begin, to one where there is a perceptible ‘snap to it’ when the go signal is given and pupils begin working in earnest. In extending the idea of ‘Brighten Lines’ to take in the whole act of giving instructions, starting an activity and enforcing the expectation that pupils begin to complete it, the script becomes a comprehensive, practise-able routine that trainees can internalise and automate so that it begins to come naturally and is implemented every time they set pupils off to work independently.

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