Author Archives: Bryan Gregg

A selection of #pedagoofriday 29-3-13

I’m not your Stepping Stone…

I’ve been reading a lot lately, both online in blogs and tweets and in things like TES, about Learning Outcomes and the varying schools of thought around their efficacy or otherwise.

Reading the supposed gurus (no names, no pack drill) and their published texts, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had to use them all the time and get the jargon  exactly right or no learning would ever take place.

I remember a lecture/tutorial thing from my time at Jordanhill (BA Sport in the Community, not BEd…) when we had a session during a block about coaching and the coaching process. Our tutor, a venerable ex PE teacher and Scotland Rugby Internationalist, asked us questions along the lines of “are Learning Outcomes goals we MUST get to? Are there stepping stones on the way? What might they be called? Are they objectives? Must we do things in a certain way and with a certain vocabulary to get the best results?”

He summed up, after we’d batted the idea about for a good ninety minutes, with something I still think is valid today:

It doesn’t matter what you call them as long as they tell you what you want to do, how you’re going to get there and how you’ll know if you’ve done it or not.

I also “studied” (attended lectures, rattled off an assignment) Marketing at the time as part of the course. They like their objectives those Marketing guys. That’s fair enough, people (companies, businesses, public sector organisations) are spending a lot of money to promote whatever it is they need to promote, so it’s only right that there are checks and balances in place to ensure they’re getting a fair bang for their buck.

One way of doing that is to ensure that any plan/campaign/initiative they devise has an associated set of targets. They like to call them “SMART Targets” – I’m sure you’ve heard of them. It’s an acronym. Now, for me, acronyms are generally hateful things but this one stands up well.

The exact nomenclature changes depending on the publication you read but SMART is generally taken to mean that a target must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
These, I hope, are pretty much self-explanatory but just in case here’s another wee version of the same. The crux of it is that things (whatever they may be) can’t work well or at any rate *efficiently* if you don’t have an agreed timetable for them to happen to.
Other acronyms, WALT and WILF are often maligned and, to be fair, I’m not keen on the anthropomorphism of them into “characters” but I accept that it’s good to have something to hang your lesson and ideas on.

I don’t always use the phrase “We are learning to…” with the class, sometimes it’s “we are looking at…” or “we’d like to know if…” but the bottom line is the same: it says what you’re hoping to do. I never have too many “WALTS” because then it gets busy, messy and difficult to evaluate but I do always try to flag up any accidental/serendipitious learning after the lesson.

For example, I might write up on the whiteboard during the plenary (tick!):

WALT “x…y…z” – we know we achieved it because “…(revisit WILF)” and We Also Found/Learned/Discovered….

In the Curriculum for Excellence this kind of “accidental learning” or discovery is the kind that I’m finding more and more of.

Today in Science with p4-7 we started off on vinegar and baking soda and ended up looking at the Giant’s Causeway. Don’t ask. It does however mean that, through the children’s own enquiry, we’ve now collaboratively mapped out some possibilities to explore in the coming weeks, everything from studying basalt to trying to organise a talk about the geological history of Ben Nevis.

If I’d put up a strict (ie must-be-adhered-to) list of objectives/targets/whatevers for yesterday’s  lesson then anyone sitting with a checklist would have failed the lot of us yet I’d argue we all got more out of the session as a result of discussions and “happy accidents”.

That’s not to say, of course, that we can ignore plans and pre-determined Outcomes – we must keep them there if we want to ensure appropriate coverage in terms of depth and progression – but they can’t be an enslaving ideology, they must be more of a guiding principle. Surely that’s not too much of a Mission (Statement): Impossible?


*insert bad New Year ‘Rev’olutions pun here*

I love the idea of #pedagooresolutions and there are many that I could (and probably will) sign up to but I’m struggling a wee bit on a purely selfish and personal level.

The thing is, I work in several (does three count as several?) small, rural primary schools providing CCR and management cover for six classes, three p1-3s and three p4-7s. I do everything from RME to a bit of Gaelic in classes of no more than 18 munchkins. For the most part it’s a joy and a pleasure, read all about it, as they say, here. No two days area ever alike and the interactions with the children vary so much from one school to the next that I’m always kept on my toes.

But here’s the thing; it’s that very variety which can often be most challenging. I’m never in the same classroom, or even the same school, two days running. I’m the educational equivalent of a hermit crab; nowhere to leave my things, no opportunity to carry work over sometimes for another whole week. Cloud storage and Edmodo are my twin saviours of sanity: round here if I forget a resource it’s a long, slow drive home to get it!

I feel,  often, disconnected from the lives of  the three schools; at one in particular I’m not there from one week to the next and trying to catch up with colleagues can be something of a challenge. Planning meetings can either be few and far between or it’ll be a case of trying to fit in fourteen million things into a stolen half hour at the end of a day.

I’m not complaining, I’m not even 100% sure why I’m writing this post. What I do know is that being organised – not necessarily something that comes easily to me – is absolutely paramount. Having to be a jack of all trades – again something we primary teachers are well used to – is particularly tricky when you go days at a time without the opportunity to see, far less build a relationship or rapport with, the children. Nonetheless, the rewards are huge and the opportunities to try out the many and varied wonderful ideas that come from the Pedagoo community, such as Edmodo, one minute writing and more thoughts on science teaching than you could shake a stick at are certainly more than worthwhile.

I don’t for a moment purport to have any great ideas or be in any position to offer answers to the many conundrums presented by teaching across multiple multi-stage composites but I’m always willing to listen and learn and, if I *can* help or offer support at all then consider this ear loaned.

Lies, damned lies and statistics…

“Highland has 80% of primary schools and 90% of secondary schools meeting the Scottish Government’s target for PE. What would you do to ensure all schools in Highland meet the target by June 2014?”

This was the topic on which I had to present in a recent interview for a PE Development Officer’s post. I didn’t get it but that’s not the point. I’m not bitter, honest, just wanted to share a few ideas in the hope that some of them make it into the remit of the new post-holder.

I was recently at an Education Scotland PE event at Ratho. It was excellent, as usual the most informative and useful parts of the day came in the tea-break chats with fellow teachers and those interested in PE.

A similar statistic to the one above was shown to us in the initial briefing session, albeit as a national picture. Bearing in mind that the room was full of people who actually teach PE in schools across the country I’m sure you can imagine the derisory snorts and whispers of “never, nothing like that number” from around the room.

That, of course is not to say that the will isn’t very much there. I completed my PGCE in Primary PE about 4 years ago and wrote my dissertation based around Peter Peacock’s statement in the 2004 Report of the Physical Education Review Group:

I will ask the curriculum review group to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility in the curriculum to allow schools to accommodate the provision of at least 2 hours of good quality physical education for each child every week, and more if possible.

I mused on the theme of “what is quality physical education?” I don’t claim to have the answers and I certainly don’t know how best to get those numbers up to 100% (that’ll be why I didn’t get the job!) but I do have the following thoughts on some of the barriers to teaching PE in our schools.

Having studied the work of Prof Richard Bailey as part of my course and being a keen follower of his on Twitter, I work very much on the problem-solving approach to learning: what problem are we solving by doing/learning this (or what use is it going to be to learn/do this) so I came up with a Barriers vs Solutions theme for my presentation:

Solving them might be a bit trickier than listing them though! I lumped the first two together as one very much influences the other. What affects them? Teachers’ own school and ITE experiences I would argue: if you didn’t like/enjoy/value PE why would you be interested in it? I know that’s  a broad generalisation but it’s one I’ve certainly come across a lot in my time.

How do we address it? Firstly by getting supportive, well-trained people (teachers of PE, development officers, etc) in to run meaningful, practical CPD which doesn’t just leave one equipped with a load of “physical” resources (lesson plans, cones and balls, etc) but with “mental” resources: a sense of valuing PE, a shift in pedagogy an approach which sees PE as an opportunity to learn in other areas through the medium of Physical Education. Number Bond Orienteering anyone? Counting in fours whilst doing the slosh? (honest, tried it last week!)

We see too much “superficial” CPD – heaven knows anyone on pedagoo knows the real stuff happens in the interactions with colleagues and the sharing of ideas. PE CPD needs to reflect this and allow those who’re not comfortable with it to use their existing skills and interests to facilitate PE – you like ICT? Cool, let’s get the kids using the Wii balance board; Geography’s your thing? Excellent. TOPS Outdoors Orienteering for you sir!

For me all CPD should be about capacity building. If you leave [a CPD session] armed with resources and thinking “right, that’s me sorted” then you (and the CPD event organiser) have failed. If, on the other hand you leave with a bunch of ideas, questions as to how you might put it in place and thoughts on how you can improve then we’re getting somewhere. I’m not suggesting all CPD should be mind-blowingly pedagogically challenging stuff, but if you come to school every day and get everything right, you’re wasting your time as a wise pedagoo-er once said.

Get out and have a go. Ask the questions. Use the resources – physical and mental. There’s always someone with an idea to contribute and a huge amount of folks out there with the will to make it better.

Good luck!