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‘An Education for Education’ in response to, ‘What is the purpose of education?’
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In response to the UK Governments announced consultation regarding the purpose and quality of education in England inquiry I was asked to offer my thoughts on the purpose of education by the EducationPolicyNetwork (@edupolicynet).

‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’ (Freire, 2000, p.34)

Learning is a lifelong process of both passive and active engagement with the empirical and ontological world. It is a transformative process leading to a permanent capacity change, a process which, if actively engaged with and directed towards premeditated goals throughout ones life, can be called Education (personal enlightenment). From the cradle to the grave we learn with, from and because of others and the more we come to take control of these interactions the more effectively we come to learn about ourselves, others and the world in all its forms and strata. An individuals capacity for a lifetime of learning (Education) is shaped by countless variables, encounters, mechanisms and structures, yet one system plays a significant role in liberating an individual from dependance to independence, an education. 

In many cases formal education seeks to primarily induct an individual into the empirical and ontological reality of a given community and culture. Thus education systems provide a curriculum which imbues an individual with domain and non domain specific knowledge, embed that knowledge as understanding and foster the development of culturally prized skills. In the prevalent system this is important as mastering these grants access to later levels of education and is the currency of socio-economic mobility. Along the way a learner develops social skills, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and in some cases attributes. But if we consider the work of Freire, Bernstein, Marx and to an extent Critical Realist philosophy, an education is more than a process of at best enculturation and at worst indoctrination. An education is an opportunity to liberate learners, furnishing them with the knowledge, understanding and skills, attributes and aptitudes to both master their learning lifelong and lifewide, enabling an individual to direct their personal Education.

Traditional transmission and ‘banking’ (Freire, 2000) approaches to education, and in turn teaching, which focus on the triumvirate of predefined knowledge, understanding and skills is no longer an appropriate preparation of todays adolescents for their place in our Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009). Top down and grass roots change have and will continue to undoubtedly occur within the how of learning, teaching and education. Yet the how without the why lacks true value. It is the question of why, and the purpose of an education, which still requires satisfactory address. An address not shaped by political and personal bias, but shaped by the hopes and ambitions we collectively have for humankind as it strides forward into an unknown future.

It is not for me to determine the why of education, but as someone actively involved in both my own Education and within the engineering and facilitating of the education of others I have come to recognise the following. My applied philosophy of Education is one which recognises that it is the duty of an education to enable learners to know enough about themselves, others and the world to find out more and to build a cognitive and social network of understanding. To enable learners to develop and practice a range of skills which they can hone, develop further and synthesise with others throughout their lives. To question, to be self motivated, self regulated and to be aware of how they, others and the world works. Education is about capacity building, facilitating an individuals ability to recognise, enable and enhance their own Agency. If an education is focused upon these goals then gender, race, background, socio-economic status should not hold an individual back. If an education provides the means to develop a lifelong-lifewide learning capacity through socialised-learning contexts where thought has been applied to how group interactions can be managed for the benefit of learners and learning then differences such as gender and race can became facilitators of learning rather than potential shackles on liberation.

To enable the above, systems of education, and associated pedagogies, must actively foster a learning orientation (Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117). Such an education would provide the route towards empowering all learners with the cognitive and social tools enabling them to positively interact with an undetermined future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009). In addition to recognising the purpose of education expressed above, systems of education must also preach and practice the tenets of effective learning. Without experiencing a culture of effective learning how would an individual come to recognise and master their own effective lifelong-lifewide learning?

It is my fundamental belief that the most effective learning results from an active process of engagement with learning (Ireson, 2008, p.6) in order to achieve premeditated goals (Resnich, 1987). Illeris (2007) suggests that this active process is stimulated by the interactions between three dimensions of learning, content, incentive and environment, a theory supported by Claxton (1999), Watkins et al. (2002) and Ireson (2008). When such an interaction process is placed within a social context, such as the classroom or wider societal contexts, a further tri-directional relationship is activated between rules, tools and community, all of which shapes the activation, direction and nature of learning (Engestrom, 1987, 2009). At the heart of this active learning process is an acceptance of the enabling role of social factors, a central truth of constructivist, social-constructivist and particularly social-constructionist philosophies championed by Piaget (1923), Vygotsky (1978) and Burr (1999).

Learning, facilitated as a social process within education contexts such as schools, is explored throughout the literature relating to effective learning (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Watkins, 2005), cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) and collaborative group learning (Gratton, 2015). The literature, drawn from diverse academic fields, highlights the varying cognitive, social, psychological and societal benefits of socialised learning, in particular learning which is collaborative in nature. Ding and Flynn (2000) highlight the relationship between an individual’s engagement with collaborative learning processes and the development of some of their more general cognitive skills, in particular, ‘intersubjectivity, planning, communication and inhibition.’ (p.3). Panitz (2011) furthers this, citing 67 benefits of collaboration including, improved learning and achievement, improved skills, improved engagement and responsibility and improved relationships. Bruffee (1993) believes that collaborative learning processes encourage learner autonomy through a development of ‘the craft of interdependence.’ (p.1). The development of this attribute promotes a shift from cognitive self-interest to mutual interest, the development of positive learning and social relationships between students and an increased openness to being influenced by and influencing others (Johnson and Johnson, 2008, p.12). Evidence also suggests that due to the way in which collaboration requires the use of dialogue, in problem solving and social mediation (Vygotsky, 1978; Mercer, 2002), verbal task regulation is stimulated (Biemiller et al., 1998, p.204), effective learning encouraged (Alexander, 2006, p.9; Kutnick, 2010, p.192) and personal identities developed (Bakhtin, 1981; Renshaw, 2004, p.1), helping to form socially adept individuals. From this it could be concluded that a learner may become increasingly more able to control their Education due to an education structured to engineer and facilitate socialised-learning as described above.

Applying the discussion above to an education raises numerous implications for pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. These aspects are widely researched, discussed and at times vilified, collectively generating much white noise within the ether of educational debate. I have written about and will continue to reflect upon how these aspects of an education may be reorientated to enable learning for the purposes of a lifelong-lifewide Education but other than promoting here a Collaborative Group Learning Pedagogy, a Connected and Collaborative Curriculum and Authentic Assessment I will say no more on these areas.

It is commonly accepted that Europe has socio-economically and culturally shifted from being “workshop of the world” to predominantly a “knowledge economy and society”. The post modern knowledge society and rapidly changing world we find ourselves part of requires much more from todays learners, their teachers and existing systems of formal education. An education must recognise this change and orientate itself towards educating todays adolescents with a capacity to engage with our rapidly changing world, directing their own Education throughout their evolving lives. Ultimately education should seek to build an individuals capacity to both actively and positively engage with and shape the world around them, enabling them to create their own reality; the defining element of ones liberation as a human.

Rob Gratton works as an Assistant Principal in a North London Academy with responsibility for Research, Pedagogy and Curriculum Design and continues to teach within the Humanities. In addition he works for UCL Institute of Education as Subject Tutor on the Teach First programme and is course lead on the Assessment for Learning Masters module. This work is furthered through a number of design and teaching roles which presently include working for the States of Jersey and the Government of Macedonia in the development of their ITT programme for Secondary practitioners. Facilitating this work within education is Rob’s ongoing Doctoral studies in the fields of socialised and collaborative group learning. Rob’s work in education is accessible at www.collaborativegrouplearning.com and @CGL_edu.

Creativity in teaching: Creative Pedagogy
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In a previous article (ICT enhanced teaching and learning or ‘digital pedagogy‘) I shared my current work, commissioned by UCL IOE on behalf of the Government of Macedonia, concerning ICT, pedagogy and more broadly creativity within education. This article outlines my thoughts relating to creativity in teaching and creative teaching or ‘creative pedagogy’.

Why do we need creativity in teaching and education? 

The post modern knowledge society we find ourselves part of requires much more from todays learners and their teachers. Traditional approaches to the teaching of the triumvirate of knowledge, understanding and skills is no longer an appropriate preparation of adolescent learners for their place in our Brave New World (see for example Long, 1990; Field, 2000; Skidmore, 2003; Alheit, 2009 for a discussion of how education systems need to respond to global economic and social change).

Creative pedagogies which actively foster a learning orientation (Watkins et al., 2002), a willingness to learn (see Skidmore, 2003, p.15), and the attributes that could enable a capacity to engage with learning lifelong (Yaxlee, 1929) and lifewide (Ekholm and Hard, 2000, p.18; Alheit, 2009, p.117), offer a route to empowering students with the cognitive and social tools that would enable them to positively interact with an unknown future (see Costa, 1991; Broadfoot, 1996, p.23; Costa and Liebman, 1997; Skidmore, 2003, p.14; Watkins et al., 2007, p.18; Costa and Kallick, 2009).

What is the relationship between creative pedagogy and effective learning?

If the most effective learning results from an active process of engagement with learning (Ireson, 2008, p.6) in order to achieve premeditated goals (Resnich, 1987) then what can activate this process? Illeris (2007) suggests that this active process is stimulated by the interactions between three dimensions of learning, content, incentive and environment, a theory supported by Claxton (1999), Watkins et al. (2002) and Ireson (2008). When such an interaction process is placed within a social context, such as the classroom, a further tri-directional relationship is activated between rules, tools and community, all of which shapes the activation, direction and nature of learning (Engestrom, 1987, 2009).

At the heart of this paradigm is an acceptance of the enabling role of social factors, a central tenet of constructivist, social- constructivist and particularly social-constructionist philosophies championed by Piaget (1923), Vygotsky (1978) and Burr (1999). Learning as a social process is explored throughout the literature relating to effective learning (see Lave and Wenger, 1991; Watkins, 2005), cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) and collaborative learning (Gratton, 2015). A valid interpretation therefore is that if we are to engineer effective learning processes and opportunities we must consider and exploit the social nature of learning and to do so requires creativity.

What is creativity and creative teaching?

Of the various creative attempts by teachers to socialise classroom learning and to facilitate effective learning, such as Dialogic Teaching and Learning (Lefstein, 2010), Think>Pair>Share (Lyman, 1981), AfL (see Black et al., 2004) and Collaborative Group Learning (Gratton2015), the most beneficial methodologies seem to be those seeking to engineer and facilitate cooperation-collaboration between learners. Whatever the methodology one thing unifies them all, creative teachers and creative teaching practices.

The most effective methodologies are created and delivered by the most creative of teachers working in creative educational environments. A creative pedagogy is recognised within a teachers ability to develop something novel and adapt to new situations in order to enable effective learning. Unusual solutions alongside originality are visible parts of creativity (Hackbert, 2010; Lemons, 2005). Lin (2011) describes creative teaching from three different perspectives: creative teaching, teaching for creativity and creative learning; referring to them as creative pedagogy. We are particularly interested in Lin’s (2011) conception of creative teaching in particular. Creative teaching, focuses on teaching and teacher’s actions (Lin, 2011, see also Sawyer, 2004, 2006). Lin (2011) draws on Craft (2005) referring to creative teaching as a creative, innovative and imaginative approach to teaching. These ideas are extended by Sawyer (2004, 2006) who emphasises a creative teacher’s ability to use improvisational elements within their lessons. The creative teacher lives in the moment, acting spontaneously, courageously and confidently taking the ideas that have arisen from the student learners and change the lesson to finish it in another and arguable better way (Sawyer, 2004, 2006). This definition of creative pedagogy reflects both a creative teaching practice and the widely  recognised tenets of effective learning facilitation. It also highlights a crucial aspect of creative teaching, the capacity to be creative within ones teaching.

Creativity is a multi-dimensional and complex phenomenon (Toivanen et al., 2013). Conceptions of creativity sit within four dimensions: the creative person, product, process or environment (Lemons, 2005; McCammon et al., 2010). We are interested in the creative person, specifically a teaching professional, their creative product in the form of creative teaching methodology (Aleinikov, 1989) and the environment which enables creativity to occur (Lemons, 2005). Creativity is described, within the research literature, as a process and an inseparable part of its surrounding culture (Toivanen et al., 2013).

How do we enable creative pedagogy? 

Case studies such as High Tech High (San Diego), UCL Academy (London) and Ørestad Gymnasium (Copenhagen) reflect the existence of the four dimensions of creativity outlined above, in particular the creative environment or context. It has been recognised (Kim, 2010, 2011) that to enable creativity within teachers, education systems need to empower all to develop characteristics and attributes associated with creative practice; self-motivation, confidence, curiosity and flexibility. Flexibility within teachers and within school systems is the most important of these enabling states. Without flexibility, trust and the promotion of teacher agency, measured risks can’t be taken; with risk central to creativity (Cleeland, 2012). We can expect a certain degree of creativity from our teachers but to enable teachers to be highly creative in their approaches to enacting effective learning then the capacity to do so needs to be nurtured and supported.  Enabling teaching professionals, through training and support, to have a growth mindset (Dweck, 2012), to develop their own agency for enhanced professional practices (Priestly et al., 2012) and empowering them to form and use collaborative networks in order to enable a sustained application of a creative pedagogy are vital.

The type of society dictates the type of pedagogy. Our society requires a creativity, creative people and a creative pedagogy. As such it is up to those that shape education, in all its facets, to enable a creative pedagogy to be realised.

Presently I am undertaking some design and teaching work for UCL IOE on behalf of the Government of Macedonia. I am fortunate to be part of a small team developing a training program for the Macedonian Secondary Teachers ITT course and as part of this group I am leading on ICT enhanced teaching and learning and Creative teaching.

Developing the Young Workforce – Career Management Skills: One Primary School’s Approach
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The labour market is constantly changing. Many of the children in our classrooms will move into jobs that do not yet exist. A 21st Century Teacher’s job cannot only consist of turning on the tap of knowledge in the hope that our learners will be equipped for the future.

In 2014 the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce was published. Later that year the Scottish Government outlined the Developing the Young Workforce Strategy, an agenda focused on increasing youth employment. Between May and September 2015 we have seen the 3-18 Career Education materials published on the Education Scotland website.

It’s great to see the power of work going on in the Secondary sector; however, the grass roots of the Early Years and Primary are crucial if we aim to develop the skills for work of our workforce of the future.

Earlier in 2015 Lochardil Primary School, Inverness, developed a Career Management Education programme for P6 and P7 pupils. The multi-agency project which was led by Highland Council’s then Literacy and Assessment Development Officer, the P6 and P7 teachers in the school, the Employer Liaison Manager at Barnardo’s Works and Skills Development Scotland. The project aimed to:

  • increase pupil, parent and staff awareness of the world of work
  • develop an understanding of skill development within the world of work
  • allow learners to reflect on their own horizons
  • make connections between education and the world of work.

CME2The Primary 6 and 7 pupils developed their research skills through using Skills Developmental Scotland’s My World of Work tool, identifying core skills which are fundamental across different industries. They learned how to create surveys to find information which was pertinent to the project, enhancing their skills in data literacy. They developed their communication skills through writing to businesses and presenting to businesses and their families about their learning in career education. They learned from local businesses within the hospitality, finance, construction and consumer market industries.

The project enabled the learners to make connections between the skills developed in school and the skills which are crucial to the world of work. They learned, from Skills Development Scotland, about the tools which they can use to make informed choices. Families learned from Skills Development Scotland and from the children through informative and interactive presentations.

The project engaged P6 and P7 pupils in the world of work, highlighting the importance of Skills for learning, life and work. To find out more about the project, including learning resources to help you develop Career Education with your children, check out the links below:

Developing the Young Workforce – Lochardil Primary School
Developing the Young Workforce – Lochardil Primary School (includes appendices)

A new narrative for Curriculum for Excellence?
December 17, 2015
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Tuesday saw the publication of the OECD report Improving Schools in Scotland (see https://tinyurl.com/j3vce6g). The report, originally set up to provide an external evaluation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), offered a broad and mainly complimentary commentary on the health of Scotland’s school system. It also offered a critique, including a range of insightful and helpful recommendations for improving the curriculum. These covered issues such as the need to build capacity for practitioner engagement with curricular issues, advice about simplification of curriculum guidance, and the need to make better use of the expertise residing in Scotland’s research community. An intriguing recommendation referred to creating a ‘new narrative for CfE’ (see pp.19-22).

This raises some interesting questions. For example, what is wrong with the existing narrative? The review was clear that the building blocks of effective curricular practice have been provided by CfE and parallel policies such as those associated with Teaching Scotland’s Future. However, and I would concur with these, it identified some issues affecting the translation of curricular aims into practice. These include the complexity of guidance; as I have argued elsewhere, a problem with CfE has been a proliferation of guidance that is often vague and poorly rooted in research, and which has often served to merely reinterpret earlier documentation for practitioners. Another issue lies in the tension between the Four Capacities (effectively key competencies) and the more specific outcomes. The OECD quite rightly asks ‘How clearly aligned can be a curriculum that is both about four capacities on the one hand, and about extensive Experiences and Outcomes on the other?’. As Walter Humes and I have argued, this creates multiple starting points for curriculum development (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03054980903518951). What the OECD termed the ‘elasticity’ (p.21), emerging from the above issues (particularly the lack of clarity around purposes and methods) means that pretty much anything can be made to fit. This in effect means that, for many schools, CfE has been an audit process (against the Es & Os) followed by a rebranding exercise, rather than genuinely transformational change. Our research suggests, for example, that many secondary schools have adapted existing practices, retaining many familiar features of the old curriculum such as short timetabled lessons and traditional subjects, rather than opening up the innovation made possible by the new curriculum (e.g. see http://hdl.handle.net/1893/11356).

Thus there is a compelling case here for suggesting that the existing narrative of CfE is over complex, lacks coherence in places and has not therefore instigated the sorts of reform envisaged by the architects of the curriculum. This then raises a further question: ‘what might a new narrative look like?’. I offer here some thoughts on this subject. I would largely concur with the OECD that the building blocks are in place. These include a reasonably clear statement of purposes (the Capacities), good practices in relation to formative assessment and interactive pedagogy such as cooperative learning, and the development of teacher professional learning and leadership in recent years. What has been missing from the narrative, in my view, is a clear sense of process. This is commonplace in modern outcomes-based curricula, where it is assumed that the methods are not important as long as the outcomes are achieved, but it is unhelpful when the expectation is for practitioners to engage with policy in developing practice. Thus my narrative for CfE would start from a clear definition of educational purposes, and then clearly set out a process for engagement. This process led approach is very much about a school-based approach to curriculum development, as advocated by the OECD.

First, let me examine the notion that the curriculum should be driven by clearly articulated purposes. The Four Capacities go some of the way towards this, but require substantial sense-making by teachers. They need to be framed against deeper purposes of education, or in other words should address the question ‘what are schools for?’. This will inevitably include preparation for the world of work, but education should also develop the capacity for critical, engaged citizenship (for an excellent overview, see http://democraticdialogue.com/DDpdfs/WhatKindOfCitizenAERJ.pdf). Educational purposes need to be accompanied by educational principles. CfE has a stab at these, but the rather vague existing principles could usefully also include dimensions such as ‘interactive’ and ‘dialogical’ – ideas that are currently contained in a rather fragmented fashion in the Es & Os. Second, a process-led approach should involve consideration of fitness-for-purpose, or in other words which practices are best suited to developing the desired attributes set out within the principles and purposes of the curriculum. These relate to the types of knowledge required to become educated, as well as the pedagogical and assessment practices which might best develop the desired attributes. Third, and finally, a clear narrative for CfE should include suitable processes for undertaking innovation. The GTCS already advocates professional enquiry and, in my view, this approach offers considerable potential to develop the curriculum. However, there are many types of professional enquiry; some are very light on process and do not connect well with educational purposes. Thus a clear narrative for CfE should also incorporate a clear and detailed set of processes for translating curricular aims into curricular practices. Our recent work with schools in East Lothian provides a template for this, and early empirical research suggests that this is both effective and successful in developing CfE (for full details of this initiative, see http://hdl.handle.net/1893/22518).

A couple of final points. First, let’s stop calling it Curriculum for Excellence, as suggested by the OECD; The Scottish Curriculum sounds pretty good to me. Second, developing a new narrative for CfE does not necessarily mean rewriting the curriculum. It does, however, mean developing clarity about how one proceeds from the principles and purposes of the curriculum to meaningful classroom practice. And it may mean replacing some of the more unhelpful existing guidance with new forms of guidance – and possibly dropping the Es and Os altogether. This will require both clarity of purpose and a proactive approach from those with the expertise and influence to redevelop CfE; as the OECD stated, ‘this is a prime opportunity boldly to enter a new phase, building upon the achievement to date’ (p.16).

Cross-posted from mrpriestley.wordpress.com

Blendspace
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As one of our digital leaders at school, responsible for raising our digital prowess and use of technology to enhance learning (rather than just a bolt on), I am often asked what are my most recommended apps/tools to use in the classroom. I am by no means an expert – in fact, quite late to the technological game when it comes to it being integrated into the classroom. I have learnt a great deal from experts in the field, such as Mr P ICT and Rob Smith (founder of Literacy Shed). As an avid fan of all things technological, I spend my CPD time learning from them and gleaning whatever I can from the trail they, and others, have carved out. So, with all that in mind, I apologise now if anything I share might be ‘old news’ for you.

My favourite at the moment is ‘Blendspace’, which does exactly as it says on the tin – blend the ‘digital’ space with that of your classroom. I have found this tool invaluable with any children I teach (KS1 – KS2). It allows me to create a digital pinboard, for the children to access online content that I have chosen and selected beforehand. I have used QR codes for a while (another post to come) to allow children to quickly access a website, without having to enter in the inordinately long address. When I have needed them to access multiple websites, I have given them multiple QR codes, which in its essence, is fine. Except there is something better. Blendspace.

You can access this website (soon to be an app also, I hear) through your TES account. If you don’t have one of those….you’d be the first teacher I’ve met who doesn’t. Go get one! It’s free and is a whole remarkable resource all of its own. I don’t have time to unpack the genius of this place here and now. Alternatively, you can just sign up for Blendspace.

Blendspace allows me to compile any digital content that I want in one central place for the children to access. I can upload directly from TES, Google, Youtube, images….etc.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I delivered a few weeks back to Year 6 on Charles Darwin. I wanted them to research, using the questions they had generated. By ‘googling’ Charles Darwin, they would have spent too much time sifting through to find relevant KS2 appropriate information. Here, I provided it for them.

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Here you can see that I found a PDF, links to websites and a video, through the search function on the right. I then just clicked and dragged into the available boxes on the left. Here, all the research resources they need are in one location. Now, for them to access this ‘digital lesson’ I have done one of two things. Either:

1 – Used the link above as a hyperlink on our class blog. I tend to do this if I want them to access this outside of school.

2 – Clicked on the green ‘share’ button at the top and then copied and pasted the QR code onto a document. I usually display this on the board, or print off for tables. All our children have access to ipads and so can scan the QR code, which will take them to what you can see above.

Saying that – it isn’t the longer address and they could type it into the address bar. Not my first choice, but not a problem either.

Once created, I named my lesson and it became forever in my library of lessons. Others can access it too, if they search for ‘Charles Darwin’. On that note, if you click on ‘blendspace’ at the top, it will take you back to your dashboard – your homepage, if you will. From here, you can search for lessons that already exist, that others have made. Super useful.

You could differentiate the ‘lesson’ by creating a different pinboard for each group. I have also used it in a carousel activity, when I needed multiple stations, each with different research. My students have also used this to create ‘lessons’ on a topic they researched for Home Learning, to make the websites/resources they used available to all. After we have finished, the QR codes are added to the display board, for anyone to continue to research in their own time. A number do.

I was using this before we purchased iPads. Whilst I believe they do make it smoother, they are not essential to using this excellent tool.

I used this weekly in some capacity or another, in a range of lessons throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, it has just been set up as a station for those who are ready for challenge/early morning work, with websites to SPAG revision, phonics games etc. We have even used it to upload the children’s actual work, be it writing, calculations or art work, so that it can be seen by others (parents, children, teacher) all in one place – a gallery of learning.

If you are already using it, I would love to hear about other ways you have used it, whatever your setting. If you haven’t, please let me know if you started using it and what you thought of it. My staff were really excited to discover this and have found it invaluable already. I hope it is for you too.  Happy blending!

Why we need to reform assessment
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[Originally posted on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 31st OCtober 2015]

Following on from my post back in May ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, I have given the issues of assessment and certification some further consideration, which I discussed in my presentation at this year’s Teachmeet SLF ‘Breakout’ event held at CitizenM, Glasgow back in September. This post is an attempt to summarise and explain the issues which cause me, and many other people in education, huge concern and why I believe assessment must be reformed.

As I outlined in ‘Do Exams Pass Under CfE?‘, the system of assessment and certification has remained largely unchanged after the significant changes brought to the Scottish education system by Curriculum for Excellence. Course content may have been reworked in most subjects, with many now including an extended research and presentation task (assignment) which contributes a proportion of the final exam score, but the framework of unit tests and final exam remains at the heart of how students are assessed.

In many ways what has been put into place for the new CfE National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with the unit tests becoming more high-stakes than the NABs they replace – candidates receive only two opportunities to ‘pass’ these tests unless under ‘exceptional circumstances’, but cannot receive a grade for the final exam unless all course units have been passed.

In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts –

  • 2.1 Knowledge & Understanding (KU) – which is broken down in to individual Key Areas described in the SQA arrangements documentation. To ‘pass’ this component students must respond correctly to at least half of the questions – i.e. if there are 14 questions, 7 must be answered correctly. If a student doesn’t meet this requirement they can be reassessed, but they need only to attempt questions from Key Areas that they did not ‘pass’ in their first attempt. If they do not succeed at a second attempt, they have not met the minimum standard and cannot progress unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ which would allow a third attempt.
  • 2.2 Problem Solving (PS) – which is further broken down into four skills – Predicting, Selecting, Processing and Analysing. In these tasks student must correctly respond to at least half of each type of question in order to ‘pass’ that problems solving skill – i.e. if there are 6 processing questions, 3 must be answered correctly. Students who don’t meet this requirement for each of the problem solving skills do not need to be reassessed, as other unit assessments will allow opportunities to demonstrate the same skills. Each skill need only be ‘passed’ on one occasion across each of the three unit assessments.

It should also be noted at this point that different marking instructions are applied to these assessments than those for the final exam. A standard calculation question in  the final exam would be marked out of three, broken down into a mark each for: the correct formula; the correct substitution of the values given in the question; the final answer with the correct unit. A student making an error or omission would still be given credit for what is done correctly. In the unit assessments students’ responses are either totally correct or just wrong. This means that any minor error leads to the student being penalised for the whole question.

Teachers giving these assessments must record each students performance in terms of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ not just for each unit, but for KU and each of the four PS skills for each unit. This applies to courses at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. The collating and recording of students’ progress through these assessments is both complex and time consuming. However, more is required both of students and teachers.

In all courses except N3, students achieving passes in KU across each unit, and across each of the four PS skills must also complete two further tasks before they can sit the final exam –

  • Outcome 1 – practical experimental report. This tasks is broadly similar to the LO3 task in the old Higher course where students perform an experiment and write up a detailed report meeting criteria set by SQA. This task is broken down into a number of individual outcomes, each of which can be achieved in any number of different activities. Students need only achieve each individual outcome once across the whole course – these must also be recorded by the teacher.
  • Research task – The detailed requirements vary between courses, but in general this is an extended research task which is conducted by all students.
    • At N4, the ‘Added Value Unit’ (AVU), which is internally assessed, contains a number of individual criteria all of which must be met in order for the student to ‘pass’ the task and achieve a course award. Students may receive feedback from teachers to ensure all the criteria are met.
    • At N5, students conduct an ‘Assignment’. This research task, which may or may not include experimental work, requires them to collate information as they progress through the task. At the end of the ‘research phase’ of the task, students are required to compile a report, including items demonstrating a variety of information processing and presentations skills ‘under a strict degree of supervision’. The student can not be given any feedback on their report, which is sent to SQA for external assessment. The assignment report is given a mark out of 20 which counts towards the final grade.
    • At Higher, students complete the ‘Researching Physics’ half unit within the course. This is assessed internally by teachers against criteria set by SQA and must include evidence of both research and practical work conducted by the students. The Researching Physics unit can be used as the basis for the students’ remaining assessment task – the ‘Assignment’. As for the N5 assignment, students must compile a report ‘under a degree of strict supervision’ demonstrating a number of information processing and presentation skills, and no feedback can be given. The completed report is sent to the SQA for external assessment with the mark out of 20 counting towards the final grade.
    • At Advanced Higher the arrangements are similar to those for Higher, though pupils conduct extended practical work as part of their ‘Investigation’. This is assessed both internally as a half unit, and externally through their investigation report which is compiled by the student through out the task. Students are allowed to be given feedback at all stages throughout this task.

Only when a student has successfully completed all of the internally assessed components of their course are they allowed to sit the final examination. At the end of all of this detailed and highly involved assessment the final grade awarded to the student will depend mostly on their performance in during the two to two-and-a-half hours spent in the examination hall, with no recognition at all of the tasks that have been successfully completed on the way.

Bearing in mind that students may be following as many as seven N5 courses, in which various other combinations of assessment tasks and arrangements may be in place, there is no doubt that the new CfE courses have significantly increased the burden of assessment on both students and teachers. This is clearly unsustainable and an alternative must be found.

In my next post, I will detail my proposals for reforming the process of assessment to reduce some of this burden and the certification of courses to allow greater recognition of the achievements students assessments throughout their courses.

Google Classroom…the new IT silver bullet?
possible

The goal: going paperless. Why? Not only is it better for the environment but it prevents me from *misplacing* those pieces of paper without names that were handed to me in the corridor period 9 on a Friday and aids easy tracking of progress.

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Year 11 google classroom header

I have been using Google Classroom with my Year 11 class since the 16th of June and introduced it to my Year 10 and A Level groups at the start of this school year. I had previously been using Edmodo which had been working well, however, with Google Drive being such an integral part of my teaching life it seemed stupid not to give Google Classroom a go.

How does it work?

For those of you familiar with Edmodo it is similar in many ways – you provide your class with a code to access the classroom page. This is all done through the google sign in details. You can post announcements (which can include links to websites, images or document attachments) and create assignments that are submitted via the student’s google drive.

The pros:

  • It allows for easy marking and editing of pieces of work that are submitted as google docs (tip: it is essential that students submit the documents as a Google Doc rather than a Microsoft Word document if you would like to edit or comment on it). The comments are seen down the side of the page and the student can then resolve them as they act on the piece of work.
  • It is easy to add missed worksheets or PowerPoints onto the page from my own Google Drive.
  • I can see the comments I have made on work previously submitted by a student and the mark that was given – this is lost when marking work on paper as the comment is returned with the students so it is difficult to verify whether the student has acted upon the feedback given.
  • Google drive is already an integral part of many workplaces.
  • It is easy to use and follows a similar format to Google Drive

The cons:

  • If your students do not already use Google Doc/Google Drive to store and complete work it can be quite an adjustment for them to get used to completing work in this format rather than in Microsoft Word.
  • Using Google Classroom is reliant on being connected to the internet – if you do not have access to a good internet connection either at school or at home it may not be for you.
  • For the marking and commenting process to be time efficient you should be comfortable typing and reading work from a screen.

For me, Google Classroom has made my marking both more efficient and effective and has worked in seamlessly with the way I already use Google Drive. Whilst it may not be an educational ‘silver bullet’ it may just save you some time (which we all need some more of) and seems to be one of the best ‘virtual classroom’ spaces available at the moment.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions about how Google Classroom works or how I have implemented it with my classes!

The Complete Guide to DATEs – Subject Specific CPD
DATE background

The Complete Guide to DATEs

Developing approaches to Teaching English
Developing approaches to Teaching &Education

Embedding CPD which allows for the development of subject specific knowledge and subject specific pedagogy. Skip straight to The Concept to avoid my preamble!

About me
I’ve been an English teacCPD modelher for 15 years and Curriculum Leader for 6 years. In January 2015 I was given the opportunity to join the Senior Leadership Team and among other things I have responsibility for NQT, ITT, Strands 2 and 3 CPD (targeted and opt-in), the Teacher Guide and Literacy


CPD menu
Background
Over the last 12 months our school’s CPD has radically changed and developed, building our structure from Shaun Allison’s Perfect Teacher-Led CPD book and including approaches through blogs that have influenced our thinking and ideas from our Academy partner school. CPD is no longer exclusively a top down model but a model where staff are empowered to share, explore and collaborate through a wide range of avenues.

Part of my SLT remit is to increase CPD opportunities for staff in ways appropriate to roles, career stages and interests. There is a pleasing appetite for personal development and engagement in the opt-in programmes (such as 15 Minute Forums, EduBook Club, the Teaching & Learning library) is continually increasing. Directed CPD such as the Inspiring Leader Meeting (where TLR holders – all those who are not Curriculum Leaders – and aspiring TLR holders are trained on things you are expected to know when you have a TLR but no one ever shows you) is going from strength to strength.

As much as the whole school CPD offerings have been going well, at the start of this term I found myself increasingly considering the need for subject specific CPD. This was partly through reading a variety of materials online/in books and partly as a result of staff changes in my own department:

• Reading blogs which highlighted the need for subject specific CPD and the benefits it brings, for example, this from Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist http://tinyurl.com/nbraaow, many things from @ShaunAllison https://classteaching.wordpress.com/, interesting articles from Joe Kirby, Kev Bartle, Chris Chivers and David Didau on CPD.
• Revisiting The Sutton trust’s Report on ‘What Makes Great Teaching?’ made me consider the importance of a teacher’s subject knowledge to improved outcomes for students, particularly the depth of knowledge needed.
• Evaluating our approach to CPD over the last year and reflecting on how we can take the things we think have worked and translate these in a more bespoke way to different subject areas.
• We’ve had a major change to the make-up of our department. I have a superb team but much of the knowledge and skills that develops from teaching over a number of years has left us – we have NQTs, NQT+1s and overseas trained teachers (experienced but unfamiliar with our texts at KS3 and KS4) making up a significant proportion.
• My super KS3 co-ordinator, Rachel Kilburn, undertook a SWOT-style audit which flagged up implications for KS3/4 teaching as we progress through the year. She found some aspects could be addressed though 1-2-1 help and others from the innovative ‘thinking moments’ cards she developed to aid self-reflection but common threads cropped up which would require an alternative department approach to boost the impact in lessons.
• We have significant changes to English with the new GCSEs. I’ve co-ordinated and organised this from a long and medium term position but was concerned how confident (or apprehensive!) were we with the new poems and texts.
• Other than continuing to create pre-made lessons (which are great but I have always had reservations about how much someone can really take a pre-planned lesson and understand the thinking that has gone on behind it), I pondered how we could use our individual expertise to help others with the various parts of English teaching many admitted fearing.

The Concept
Introduce DATEs to our weekly English Department meetings – developing approaches to teaching English.

Our Approach
• We made the DATEs high status – they are always the first agenda item regardless of anything else that may be deemed urgent or important in that meeting. DATEs can be scheduled to last different periods of time depending on what is needed.
• After Rachel Kilburn established which aspects of English teaching held the most ‘fear factor’ she calendared DATEs for the year ahead, looking at where things would be best placed for maximum effect. She then approached English staff who she knew had specific skills/knowledge in each area to deliver. New staff have also been encouraged to look at where they would like to contribute. Topics such as how to analyse quotations, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g able students in English lessons, scoring highly on Q4 H Tier, tackling pre-19th Century poems with reluctant learners are all on the schedule.
• I used the AQA enhanced results analysis facility from this summer to determine which question areas we must work on and built in DATEs for these, whether that’s rethinking how we teach it or ensuring staff whose students achieved better than others have the forum to explain how they teach it.
• Where we had spaces to add extra DATEs, we looked at previous highly rated 15 Minute Forums which new staff haven’t been able to see to rework them in an a English specific way.
• We will take other opportunities to have DATEs as/when they will benefit teachers and enhance their knowledge/skills/understanding in a manner that will improve not add to workload.

Types of DATE
• First DATE – the launch session
• Hot DATE – one that covers up-to-date ideas, popular methods receiving twitter/blog time
• Speed DATE – maximum three minutes when something only requires a short, snappy burst
• Cheap DATE – where cost effective extra resources might help the teaching of a complex skill (Poundland Pedagogy/@WallaceIsabella style)
• Dream DATE – talking about a poem or section of a novel: what every English teacher loves to do!
• Double DATE – two in one meeting
• Bad DATE – things to avoid (for example I ran a VAK one last week)
• UnDATEable – the particularly difficult areas to teach that we might try to avoid (grammar for me…) but by looking at them from a different point of view we can see they are worth a go
• Blind DATE – surprise session
• DATE night – a series of sessions in one go

Next Steps

These sessions are proving really popular in the department. Staff are enjoying the opportunity to have the time to really think and talk about the subject in a way that builds confidence, enthusiasm and excitement in lesson planning and delivery. I appreciate there is potential for some limitation – where depth of subject knowledge is needed for great teaching this won’t be resolved in one CPD session. However, it is a start to promoting and developing areas that we’ve perhaps neglected up to this point or just assumed everyone knew on account of the fact they’d been employed to teach English. Also, whilst I have always worked on the mantra of start meetings on time, regardless of who is missing, there has been a noticeable improvement in the promptness of attendance – teachers don’t want to miss any of the DATE!

Over the next half term I’ll be rolling out the concept whole school under the name developing approaches to teaching & education. I’ve already met with the maths department who expressed a strong interest and have already started to map out their sessions. I’ll meet other CLs in pairs to explore how DATEs can be enhance their curriculum area CPD. For me it’s crucial that CLs don’t have anything added on to an already challenging workload without something being taken away so I’ll work alongside them to see how this can work.

Later in the year we’ll have a calendared school DATE night in one of our Monday whole school CPD slots, almost like a mini-TeachMeet but with the focus on departments. We’ll start with a whole staff 15 Minute Forum (we still have some teachers who’ve never attended one so this will give a flavour of what they’re like and hopefully encourage some to come to future ones), progress to department based DATEs and will have a few blind DATEs thrown in for staff who like a bit of spontaneity so they can drop in elsewhere and see what they can pick up!

Engineering the Learning Set: A Socialised-learning Capacity
construction

From the start I have been adamant that my doctoral research was of a nature that could have a true practical application rather than merely concerning itself with theory and principle. My research has resulted in an emergent understanding of the ‘Reality’ of learning as, with and because of a group, which has led to a redefined approach towards the initial construction of the group which seeks to enhance the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom.

I have written about the theory, principles, practice and outcomes of constructing or ‘engineering’ such a group in a number of previous articles and will seek to avoid unnecessary repetition:
3 PRINCIPLES FOR CONSTRUCTING COLLABORATIVE LEARNING GROUPS
HOME & AWAY: CONSTRUCTING A COLLABORATIVE LEARNING GROUP

As such the focus of this article is upon the application of an eighth applied criteria when initially constructing the group; a socialised-learning capacity.

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One of the most fundamental aspects of Collaborative Group Learning is the construction of the initial group; the Learning Set. When applied to an educational context a student would be placed into an ‘appropriate’ group of 6 (the Learning Set) based on the following criteria to ensure Principal 3 (heterogeneity) of Learning Set construction is achieved:

academic profile
any additional learning needs
gender
reading age
socio-economic background
socio-cultural background
prior educational establishment e.g. Primary or Middle School

Ensuring that the Learning Set represents a balanced mix of the above criteria has been a successful means of enhancing the heterogeneity of knowledge, understanding and skill potential of the Learning Set as a whole, with that ‘whole being greater than the sum of its parts’. But what has been illuminated through my empirical research is that more was needed in terms of recognising and understanding the ‘parts’ and considering each individual in more depth before constructing the Learning Set.

As such I have devised and implemented an eighth criteria to the construction of a Learning Set;
8. a socialised-learning capacity.

Understanding the Learner

To gain a greater understanding about each learner before determining which individuals should be placed together to create an effective collaborative learning group I designed and applied (to a cohort of 180 11 year old students) a questionnaire comprising open and closed questions of a quantitative and qualitative nature.
These questions were designed to gather general information about the individual which could prove useful pre-knowledge (for example their language ability and their access to the internet at home), gain information relating to criteria 3, 6 and 7 of the heterogeneity principle, and questions which sought to elicit information about the individuals beliefs concerning learning and education and to determine the learners academic self-concept (the Myself As a Learner questionnaire was incorporated into the wider questionnaire to achieve this). In total the questionnaire comprised 51 questions in 3 sections (Tell me about you, Your views about yourself, Learning) and took between 25 and 45 minutes to complete.

Assessing an Individuals Socialised-learning Capacity

To ascertain an individuals ‘potential’ socialised-learning capacity a ‘crude’ point score system was applied to responses relating to the following questions:

Do you like learning the best…(mostly on your own, mostly with others, I don’t know)
Do you like helping others to learn? (Yes-No)
Even if this means you don’t get all your work done? (Yes-No)
Do you get frustrated when other people ask you for help? (Yes-No)
When learning in a group which role do you think you are most likely to take? (options provided)
I find it easy to work with others (MAL scale)
What are you motivated to learn the most by? (options provided)
I can make friends easy (MAL scale)
Which subjects do you believe you are good at? (number of selected subjects used to determine overall subject confidence)

A higher point value was assigned to a response which aligned with a belief which indicated a positive capacity for socialised-learning and a lower point value for a negative capacity for socialised-learning. A total of 23 points were available, with 23 indicating a highly positive capacity for socialised-learning. Once applied a point score was assigned to each individual, with point scores relating to this cohort ranging from 23 down to 5, and 3 coloured bands applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-11, Amber 12-16, Green 17-23). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of socialised-learning capacities.

Assessing an Individuals Academic Self-concept

By incorporating the well established Myself As a Learner suite of 23 multiple choice questions within this questionnaire it was possible to apply the MAL point scoring system and identify each individuals academic self-concept as a numerical score ranging from 53 (low self-concept) too 98 (high self-concept). As with the socialised-learning capacity point score 3 coloured bands were applied to aid categorisation (Red 0-69, Amber 70-79, Green 80-98). Both the band and the point score was then considered when assigning students to a group seeking to create a balanced mix of academic self-concept.

Constructing the Learning Set

Combining the two point scores, socialised-learning capacity and academic self-concept, and producing a third data set banded again into 3 colours (Red 0-79, Amber 80-99, Green 100-120) a new ‘total’ score was created for the mean of group allocation. By ‘reading’ both the point score and banded colours of each of the three categories, as well as considering the 7 criteria outlined above individuals could now be ‘matched’ to others in order to create a balanced and mixed group of learners.

1         2                       3      4     5       6      7
Girl     Islam                        12    71     83     2
Girl     No religion               15   62      77     2
Girl     No religion               16   96     112    2
Boy     Islam                       17    83     100   2
Boy    Judaism            Y     20    71     91     2
Boy    Christianity               21    89    110    2

The above highlights how the Learning Set (column 7) was constructed considering:

  1. gender
  2. identified socio-cultural background
  3. level of English language proficiency (EAL)
  4. socialised-learning capacity
  5. academic self-concept
  6. combined capacity and concept.

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This new approach was applied in the construction of a new cohort of Learning Sets in the summer of 2015. These individuals have been learning with, as and because of their Learning Sets for 6 academic weeks. So far observations of interactions and the nature of the socialised-learning being undertaken indicates that this more considered and detailed approach to group construction may have achieved its aim of enhancing the socialised-learning process of collaboration within the classroom. I will continue to observe the effects of this approach to grouping and will share my reflections in future articles.

If you want to know more about the approach undertaken or any aspect of Collaborative Group Learning feel free to contact me at rgratton.cgl@gmail.com

#PedagooWorcs
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This is posted later than I planned but the rugby took precedent on Saturday night (What a game!) then life during the week happened.

I had my first experience of #pedagoo last weekend at #PedagooWorcs. Nervous and excited were just some of the great, albeit conflicting, feelings I felt before the ‘event’. I was originally asked to present by @DuncanSKing and although not having been to a Pedagoo event and only been to one TeachMeet I said, ‘Yes’.

I did my research before hand. I spoke, and am thankful, to Mark Anderson and Lee Parkinson for their time to discuss their thoughts on whether my topic and style was okay.

I planned my talk on the new Computing Curriculum and whether it was fit for purpose. What I meant by this statement was:

*Is there more to the Computer Curriculum than coding?

*Are we doing enough to prepare the children for the future?

*Is the rounded/balanced enough to be relevant in today’s world, and more importantly the future?

I set up (Well got my DLs to set up!) the iPads on the Friday. Now with the talk planned I arrived at Saturday’s event where I met @SBHSMissTaylor and @MurphieGirl and checked the room where I was to later present. At this point I discovered that the iPads had been used Friday afternoon and now needed setting up again; ah well the best laid plans! Once ready I joined my fellow #PedagooWorcs compatriots for a drink.

We were given a keynote talk from @DrMattoLeary where we encouraged to take all the positives from the day’s work event and similar TeachMeet events and to also take the power reclaiming and redefining your own CPD/PPD. I enjoyed the rest of the morning’s sessions and learned from other primary and senior school teachers.

The day passed quickly and then it was my turn. Well, what could have gone wrong went wrong! First the projector screen would not display the whole presentation screen and then Reflector would not show or sync with the iPads. Once ‘fixed’ and my blushing calmed down the session moved along quickly. I feel this is such an important of the day; I was very pleased to be able to share my thoughts and ideas and I feel all there were receptive and engaged. It was great!

I, personally feel, digital literacy must be given higher esteem in all our teaching.  There is the clamour for the teaching of coding and 85% of all our children’s jobs have not been created but not all will ‘code’ but all WILL have to use social media, email, video conferencing, computers  These ‘sharing’ skills are the ones that need to be looked at too.

Much was gained and I look forward to taking the idea forward and presenting and sharing again. If you have never been to a TeachMeet or Pedagoo event I wholeheartedly recommend them. As I said, ‘Been there, done that, loved it!

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