Author Archives: Helen McCafferty

Social Equality in the Classroom

I saw a comment on Twitter questioning why there is such a high proportion of pupils on free school meals in bottom sets for English & Maths. The tweet prompted a discussion about the merits of setting and mixed ability teaching. While this is an interesting debate and may well be a factor, I couldn’t help feel that something I heard at a recent CPD event might be more pertinent in addressing the question. It certainly challenged my thinking. I’d be very interested in any professional discussion and views from the pedagoo community on the following:

Dylan William at the CPD event was explaining what he called ‘the multiplier effect’. He began illustrating this in the context of Canadian Professional Ice Hockey. Statistically, professional players were four times more likely to be born in January, February & March. The reason?  The cut off dates for beginning training!

Children who reached the required age in the first quarter of the year were older, more likely to be taller and coordinated and so were often selected for teams and training. Those selected received more specialist training and were put up against tougher opposition. The effect being that by having a slight age advantage was multiplied to be a greater advantage over a 10 year period.

Dylan then discussed the same effect in education. Children from more educated / affluent background often know the ‘rules’ of the classroom and the language of learning before they come to school and consequently were better learners from the outset. He illustrated this jokingly by saying you can tell the class of a family by the questions they ask their child in a supermarket.

‘Middle class’ parents tend to ask questions like: “Which is the best price /value? ”

A lower class parent would ask :”‘Do you want a smack?”!

I know the issues are more complex than merely that of money and perceived class but the point was challenging to me. It really brought home to me the importance of teaching children to learn.

He also said that the most effective way to reduce this multiplier effect in a classroom is to use a ‘no hands up’ approach. This way all pupils have to think and contribute and learn the language of learning in the process. With hands up the gulf widens, as the children with their hands up are usually those who know the rules and those who don’t become passive in the process.

Whilst reflecting on this I also realised why I was so uneasy with elitism and competition in schools. I now realise that I am not ‘anti competition’ or opposed to the most talented pupils being selected to represent schools as some colleagues have interpreted my reservations as. However, I feel that I do want to challenge this multiplier effect and the self fulfilling prophecy that often ensues by changing my own practice. I also want to encourage colleagues to reflect on their practice too.

I’m particularly interested in the role of education in social mobility as a result of my own upbringing and background and would welcome comments / views on the issues this raises and other strategies you use to level the playing field for our pupils.

Classdojo- More than just a behaviour management tool!

I started using Classdojo this August after hearing about them a #tmhebrides2012. Thank you @daveterron!

I’m new to using them so am by no means an expert but I will try to capture my experience so far…

To me they are primarily a way to communicate, reinforce,  monitor and assess the behaviours and attitudes I want in my classroom.

These little colourful characters have worked wonders in my classroom so far and although I broached the use of them tentatively with my classes, I soon found out that S1 and S2 pupils were NOT ‘too cool / grown up for dojo points’! I don’t currently teach older pupils so cannot comment on their suitability for S3 upwards at this point.)

I set up the positive and negative behaviours after a lot of thought about what I was looking for from my pupils. I award dojo points in my Science lessons for:

  • Positive attitude to learning
  • presentation of work
  • safe working in the lab
  • precise measuring
  • ‘book of the day’ for presentation
  • helping others

Fairly standard behaviours. However I also award points for:

  • great struggling
  • applying my learning
  • ‘Einstein moments’

These may need more explanation.

‘Great struggling’ came about from reading Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets and I wanted to change pupils perceptions of struggling as positive and necessary for learning. Pupils get these points when they keep struggling / thinking about a problem or question rather than give up / ask for help straight away.

‘Applying my learning’ is for when pupils manage to suggest additional situations, contexts or examples which the lesson’s learning can be related to. This so far has been the most difficult for pupils to get points for but hopefully I will be able model this better for them as the year progresses.

An Einstein moment relates to the supposed quote from Einstein’s mum “What questions did you ask today?” for when pupils ask insightful questions to improve their own or others’ learning.

I also have negative behaviours which remove points for stopping the learning, homework not done, late to class, negative attitude  and unsafe working.

I teach PSD / Guidance and have different points to help model good discussion skills such as good listening, good ‘including others’, good contribution.  Discussions have greatly improved as a result. Particularly with boys who tended to sit back in group discussions.

I’ve only recently given pupils their access codes to their own results and the code also allows them to customise their avatars. I made this a reward for achieving 20 points.

Classdojo also produces useful and colourful reports presenting the data as a pie chart showing the % of points earned for each type of behaviour. I have informed parents that I can e-mail these every 2-3 weeks and some parents have signed up for this. This takes seconds to do once e-mails are inserted. I asked parents to e-mail me at my school e-mail address and copied and pasted them in- an inspired tip from our school secretary!

For parents who didn’t sign up for e-mail, I will send printed reports at the end of each term. (Trying to reduce printing costs and save the planet a little here!)

I sent my first reports to parents by e-mail on Friday. One parent was so pleased that they e-mailed back yesterday (Saturday) to let me know that they were encouraging their child to keep up the good work. I don’t have a full list of parent e-mails yet but hopefully the word will spread!

A new feature is that I can now record attendance using Classdojo. At the moment the Classdojo team are working on a way to provide an attendance report / sheet which will help me to record this digitally and not have to ‘double record’.

This also reminds me that  I should mention the excellent support from the Classdojo team who are always happy to help me find my way with using the tools and also respond to suggestions from users.

This was meant to be a short post. However, I hope it may encourage you to use Classdojo in a way which will enhance learning in your classroom!