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Isabella Wallace on NQT issues and Paul Dix on how to get a learner to listen – PP57

The topic of the week is Isabella Wallace on NQT issues and Paul Dix on how to get a learner to listen.


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Paul is not able to join me this week as he is unwell so I’ve been rooting around in the Pivotal Podcast archives and I’ve managed to find two great pieces of unreleased audio. The first is from our conversation with Isabella Wallace. We kept her after her great episode on talking less to ask her to respond to a voicemail we received from Mike about NQTs and seating plans.

podcast2Seating plans

Isabella thinks it’s very useful to have a seating plan when you first meet a class because it’s important to use learners’ names all the time. However, she believes that seating plans should be fluid. It’s important that children don’t know who they will be sitting with and working with. This is because Isabella believes we have a responsibility to get children working with as wide a variety of others as possible.

As teachers, we know that children will work better with certain others for different activities. This is why Isabella doesn’t think blanket advice from outside is helpful. This is particularly worrying because the teacher’s sense of autonomy can be threatened. She has heard teachers begin to ask about how long they should do certain activities, when they should be the experts in knowing how long their classes can be usefully engaged in a task.

Isabella’s controversial view is that it might be helpful to put the more troublesome students towards the back in the corners to begin with – leave a comment below if you don’t agree! She believes that this will avoid the automatic audience these learners can have if they are at the front and also gives them the opportunity to see the well-behaved learners in front of them.

Honeymoon period

Paul then goes on to mention the ‘honeymoon period’. In the first couple of weeks with a new class you probably won’t need your behaviour management techniques, your positive reinforcements or to give out sanctions – or at least it seems like you don’t need these. However, you need to put your behaviour management plan into action from the very first day. If you don’t use this time to set up your boundaries, expectations and routines, trying to pick this up after the honeymoon period of a couple of weeks is over will be twice as hard.

Find the best role models

Isabella stresses the importance of finding the teaching colleagues who are going to be the most positive role models in managing behaviour and ask them for practical tips. Don’t try to emulate their practice because their style will be different to yours but learn from their advice.

Top tips from Isabella


  • Make your classroom your own – put up displays that children can interact with, for example a ‘Wonderwall’ where children can pose questions they want to find out answers to or an ‘enable table’ with resources to support the less able and stretch the more able
  • Get into the staff room a lot – talk to people outside your subject area but never listen to the people who are enthusiastic about teaching, not those who are cynical and criticise every new issue without properly considering it
  • Get the learners involved in making resources – it creates an ‘automatic buy-in’ to helping the activity go well – they feel they have written, produced and directed the whole show
  • Search for Poundland Pedagogy – practical tips on how to random items from a pound shop can be used in your lessons to illuminate complex concepts

@DanMath87’s tweeted question

Dan’s son fidgets and doesn’t seem to be able to listen to instructions. Paul suggests a few ideas:


  • Try something written down or a diagram/picture
  • Break down the instructions into different parts
  • Recognise when he does remember
  • Ask him how he would like to be given instructions
  • He could have a pen and a notebook to draw a diagram or a picture
  • Make sure he has his eyes on the person giving the instructions
  • Say ‘here’s something I’m going to need you to remember’ – then give him just one thing to remember
  • Make sure he has nothing in his hands


For much more detail, anecdotes and tips, listen to the episode!



(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –



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