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Why sharing should be at the heart of how we teach
Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 21.09.24

Following on from my workshop at Pedagoo Glasgow, this is a brief outline from my session.

Click here to view the Prezi.

The presentation element of my workshop had three sections, each of which is explored below:

Philosophy

If you work in the public sector, then your work should be public

  • This may be slightly controversial because, yes, it does apply to people writing ‘How to Pass’ guides as well, but if you work in the public education system, and your professional knowledge has essentially been funded by taxpayers, then whatever material you can produce to help students should be available to everyone, everywhere, for free.

If you help others, you help yourself, which helps the pupils

  • By opening up and helping others, we become more likely to be helped by them which, consequently, makes us better teachers who are better able to help our students (and, going back to the start, puts us in a position to be of more help to other colleagues). In all honesty, I believe that a focus on openness and collaboration could have more of an impact on teaching than lesson observations, taxonomies and learning intentions ever could.

Barriers

Time

  • OK – everyone is busy, and most people agree that the last twelve months have been some of the most draining ever experienced in a classroom. As budgets are squeezed teachers are pushed closer and closer to minimum time, and that’s not even including all the ‘extra’ activities that some teachers are expected to ‘volunteer’ for. Surely, then, setting aside time for sharing materials with others is out of the question? Well – unsurprisingly – I’d argue not; in fact, I’d strongly suggest that time spent on getting into the habit of sharing should be seen more as an investment than anything else.

Skills

  • There is an entirely legitimate argument to be made by some that they simply don’t have the skills to, for example, share all of their materials on a personal website, but there are two counterpoints to be made here: firstly, you don’t have to set up your own site to share your work (more on this later); secondly, in 2014, our pupils are perfectly entitled to expect an education system capable of engaging with them on their own technological terms – us teachers expect a whole host of support material to be available at the click of a button from the SQA, Education Scotland etc. and it simply won’t do any more to deny the same treatment to our students. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the development of these 21st Century skills can go a long way in relation to the new Professional Update process.

Confidence

  • It is perfectly natural for people to worry about the quality of their work and, as a consequence, be reluctant to put themselves out there for potential criticism, but it is clearly hypocritical of us as a profession to hide behind this excuse whilst expecting precisely the opposite from our students. Every day we tell them to be brave enough to make mistakes, that only through failure will they ever progress – why should it be any different for us?

Culture

  • In reality, the fact that this workshop even took place (and that events such as PedagooGlasgow are still well outside of the mainstream of CPD) is evidence of the cultural change that is still required within education, where too often valuable material is hidden away in store cupboards, pen drives or personal servers. As the world becomes ever more connected and accessible, it becomes increasingly important that the culture within the teaching profession keeps pace.

Examples

Social media

  • More than anything else, Twitter has had a massive influence on me as a teacher, allowing me to connect with a range of colleagues holding both similar and competing views to my own. The first piece of advice I was given on my way to becoming a teacher was: “Get on Twitter and join the conversation” – four years on I cannot endorse this suggestion strongly enough.

VLE

  • There are various options for Virtual Learning Environments around now and, aside from Glow (which I don’t use), Edmodo is probably one of the most popular – this service allows you to share resources with your pupils and specific colleagues, thus encouraging a more open and collaborative culture.

Online communities

  • I expect that I’m largely preaching to the converted here, but I really cannot overemphasise the potential value of joining groups such as Pedagoo.org ! The other community-style service that I mentioned during the workshop was www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – an open, online resource (created by me) for sharing assessment, exemplification and teaching resources for the New Qualifications under Curriculum for Excellence.

Personal / class / department websites

  • This is the area that I believe that the most potential as it allows us to easily share whatever we feel like for free. I few months ago I decided to share all of my Nat5 Course Materials on this site and, since March, a quite incredible amount of people have viewed and downloaded the resources that I have made available (so many, in fact, that the site became one of the top Google results for search terms such as ‘National 5 English’). Based on the comments and emails I received, a huge number of these individuals were students, which just goes to show how much value our pupils could find in teachers developing a more open culture amongst ourselves.
#pedagooglasgow
PedagooGlasgow

It’s been a while coming but I’m in the proud position to announce that PedagooGlasgow is on. After some healthy consultation with the University of Strathclyde, we will be holding an event on Saturday June 14, in Glasgow. We are still fleshing out the details but the day will take a similar form to the Fringe event we held a couple of years back and the PedagooLibraries event last June. A selection of workshops will be available with, hopefully, four slots throughout the day so you are guaranteed to hear some amazing ideas. After some great events in England, it’s about time we got something happening in Scotland.

However, I’m determined that this Pedagoo event gets teachers in a room talking. There will be no speakers as such, although David Cameron ( @realdcameron) has agreed to attend so you never know. There will be few frills – might not even be wifi – so the emphasis is on collaboration and conversation. The event will take place in the Lord Hope Building of the University of Strathclyde so the space has been created with learning in mind. In true Peadgoo-style this will not be a series of lectures but a day of workshops in which everyone is encouraged to get involved. Active not passive.

But it will not happen without your contributions, your interaction, your presence. So, now, we invite anyone who would like to lead a workshop to sign up. We hope that we can offer workshops from all sectors; early years, Primary, Secondary, FE, all other educational establishments. Workshops will involve a twenty to twenty-five minute presentation style talk from the leader and fifteen or twenty minutes of audience participation in some form. Who knows, it may prove so popular that you have to run it twice. We’re aiming for about eight at a time, four slots during the day, so there are lots of opportunities if you haven’t done something like this before.

It is also very likely that there will be little in the form of catering available. A real back to basics event. We may need to improvise with a PedagooPicnic in the main room of the floor we are on; coffee, sandwiches etc. We have no sponsorship so if I can find any coppers down the back of the settee then I’ll see what I can do. Shops are close by but it may be better to bring something. Who knows, you may share some great things over lunch, perhaps with those at workshops you couldn’t attend. Remember that’s what Pedagoo is all about. Getting teachers in a room to talk.

Pedagoo started three years ago when we were very much in the early stages of this final push into the new Curriculum in Scotland. We have all come a long way. But it is hugely exciting to be able to gather again and discuss the progress we have made in Scotland. We could be on the verge of something very special and we’re the ones to make that happen. By this time next year all assessment changes will be in place, more or less, and we will have what we have. The glass is only half full. Let’s make a start on filling it properly. Sign up now: Pedagoo.org/glasgow

Jamie’s Flipped: (almost) a year with a flipped classroom
image

There are lots of different ideas about Flipping your classroom, see this TED talk for more. But essentially you provide your learners with resources and videos to allow them to ‘learn’ the material as homework and then build on this with skills in your classroom. Starting in September 2013, and as part of my MSc research, I have implemented my own interpretation of a flipped classroom with really interesting results. This post is a brief into to the research behind the flipped classroom and then I discuss how I have implemented it and the power of blogging to engage students outside of the classroom.

Flipped learning? Flipping mad?

Flipped learning is “…a form of blended learning that encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing” where the instructor provides “an opportunity for academics to provide more personal feedback and assistance to students, but also to receive feedback from their students about the activities that they are undertaking and what they don’t yet understand.” (Wiley and Gardner, 2013).

flippedgraphic(web1100px)_0

Several papers have reported on the impact of ‘flipped learning’ on undergraduate psychology courses and suggested that there is a positive impact of this on students’ attitudes toward the class and instructors as well as on students’ performance in the class (Wilson, 2013). There are far too many technological changes to how we are teaching and learning to list here, but they all suggest that same fundamental question: How do students learn best? (Halpern, 2013) and the possibility the flipped learning could be a step forward should be considered.

Using videos to support students’ learning has attracted the attention of a large number of researchers (Young and Asensio, 2002) and a key concept within the idea of flipped learning is the use of new technologies to support learning; or as some would label: blended learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). To successfully implement the flipped classroom approach, a change is needed to the existing traditional teaching approach. These changes have been conceptualised by Hamdan et.al. (2013) into four important elements referred to as four Pillars of F-L-I-P. These four pillars stand for Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional Content, and Professional Educator.

An interesting comment from Wilson’s (2013) action research where she attempted to flip her classroom is that she suggests that what she implemented was not totally a flipped classroom:

Although I have attempted to ‘‘flip’’ my classroom, what I have achieved is really a half- or three-quarters flip. I have removed much, but not all, lecture content from the course. (pg. 197)

This raises the idea that a flipped classroom is a binary entity – it is either flipped with no teacher delivery of knowledge or it is not. This I disagree with. Flipped teaching is just another tool which teachers should embed into their lessons when and where appropriate. Especially at post-16 level it would be difficult (impossible?) to completely flip ones lessons and expect all learners to assimilate all of the knowledge of A Level  outside of the class.

The Power of Blogging

For the best part of a decade I have been using blogs to stretch my students and have given several lectures, INSETS or workshops on the topic. This started with PsychBLOG in 2007 where I hoped to provide wider reading and current research for my students – now a site getting ~25,000 views a month. Moving on our department has had a blog and posted notes and extra tasks for the last four years with great success.

Blogging software is becoming more advanced with each  day and now it takes nothing more than a few clicks to create your own part of the internet. There are really an infinite number of uses for blogs within the field of education: writing and collating new and relevant news for your students, giving students a summary of what was covered in that past week, leaving homework assignments, and so many others. Not only can you write your blog posts but students, other teachers and colleagues can comment on your writing and start discussions about what was raised.

There are many kinds of blogging software but the two most popular ones are WordPress and google’s Blogger. Both of these sites allow you to set up your own blog online and post articles or general musings through a web-based interface allowing access wherever you have the Internet. If used well blogs can provide to be a central part of teaching and independent learning, however, general rules of web etiquette still apply and all users need to be aware of this.

With this in mind, I decided that a blog would make an excellent platform for my flipped classroom

Jamie’s Flipped…

I’ve written before about flipped classrooms and how you can flip your classroom with Resourcd. This year I have partially flipped my classroom with one flipped task each week for students to complete over the weekend before their first session of the week – you can see it at jamiesflipped.co.uk or @jamiesflipped. I talked a little about my experiences of my flipped classroom at a ‘teachmeet‘ back in October (notes and video here)

My approach to flipped learning involved giving students a ‘task’ each week to compete which introduced the topic for the next week. This flipped task involved reading a chapter (a few pages) from their course reader, watching a video clip and completing a quick multiple-choice quiz (see the gallery for screenshots).

One reason the flipped experiment was so successful was the addition of the quiz each week. This ensured that I could monitor the completion of the tasks. It is also good to stand by the classroom door and know before the students arrive who has not completed their homework task. After a few weeks the students knew there was no escaping it.

As well as the flipped tasks, each week I would publish the work that was going to be completed in class, the powerpoint and extension tasks on Jamie’s Flipped. I was surprised how many students actually read the articles, watched the videos or completed the extra tasks. Many commenting that they would do them on the bus on the way into college or while sat watching television.

At the first consultation evening of the year I canvased opinion as to my new approach and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with students stating that they liked the format of the tasks, it was more ‘fun’ than usual homework, and that they found the lessons easier as they had an underlying knowledge about what was going to be covered. More than this it gave me more time in class to complete tasks and develop my students understanding of the content and experiment with other activities that I would not usually have had time for.

My experience of ‘flipping’ my classroom this year has been a really positive one and it is something that I will continue to develop and use in future years. As well as all the benefits of the flipped classroom my students know that all of their resources, homework and guidance is going to be ‘on flipped’. They know where to go if they miss a lesson to get the resources, and where to get extension exercises from when revising. It has required an investment of time – but nothing horrific – and now that I have the lessons for this year, as with everything in teaching, I can adapt and reuse these next year.

Flipping great!

EDIT

I have had loads of emails and tweets from people that would like to flip their classroom but don’t know where to start.

Here is a short (~15 minute) video that I have made that will take you from nothing to having a blog with your first flipped task containing text for your students to read, a document for them to download, a video for them to watch from youtube and a quiz to check their progress.

Here are links that I mention in the screen-cast:

resourcd.com – teacher resource sharing site
resourcdblogs.com – where it all takes place
wordpress.com / blogger.com / edublogs.com – other sites you can set up a blog
If you are considering flipped learning or just giving your students a different type of homework once in a while then this could be an excellent opportunity to experiment.

I could have spent hours talking about wordpress and all the ins-and-outs of it – so it might feel a little rushed. The best thing you can do it set yourself up a blog and spend an hour experimenting and seeing what you can achieve.

Let me know how you get on

Post original written on jamiedavies.co.

Ofsted Prep: How 5 good habits can lead to excellent teaching and learning
Habits

I recently had an observation with my line manager. I used to dread observations, especially when being judged by an expert teacher. I think the thing that even the most experienced teachers fear is an Ofsted inspection. Having received positive feedback for my recent lesson observation, I looked back on what I did and realised that most of it was automated, I do these things every lesson without thinking.

I came to learn about these techniques through our head of CPD (@HFletcherWood) whose numerous techniques come from the books of Doug Lemov and also talks and inset by Dylan William (See Youtube for a taster). By automating these good habits, we can free ourselves (literally and mentally) to address student’s queries more effectively. Since the beginning of the year, I have managed to automate 5 techniques which have had a huge impact on my teaching:

1) Start the class with a “Do Now”

This should have a low threshold for entry and plenty of room for growth. My example was simply to state what you like/dislike about the following posters and to suggest improvements.

 

2) Positive framing (Catching them when they’re good)

By using positive framing; only announcing names of people who were doing the right thing, it encourages those who are slow to start. “I can see James has started jotting down some ideas…I can see Megan has put one point for improvement”. Within 30 seconds, everyone is settled, they all have opinions and are scribbling away. This is the most challenging class in the school. Those who looked like they had finished were asked to suggest improvements to the posters or think of general rules to make the posters better.

Compare that to negative framing where you call out people’s names for being slow to start, “Ryan, you’ve been in here 5 minutes and you still haven’t got out a pen…Janet, why are you walking around?”. This type of framing adds a negative vibe to the lesson and may also lead to confrontation.

3) No hands up and no opt out

Asking only students who put their hands up is probably one of the worst habits you can get into according to Dylan William. The shyer students never get to contribute, those who are feeling a bit lazy will simply opt out and those with their hands up will get frustrated when you don’t pick them. Using nametags or lollipop sticks on the other hand keeps the class on their toes.


Source: goddividedbyzero.blogspot.com 

In combination with Doug Lemov’s “No opt out”, it ensures that all students will contribute when asked to give an answer. If a student answers “I don’t know”, you can respond with “I know you don’t know, I just want to know what you think”. Every student has something in their head. If they’re still hesitant, simply reinforcing that there is no right or wrong answer will build their confidence and even the shyest students will usually contribute an answer.

Extra tip: There are times when the question is so difficult that there is a good 30-40% of students who do not know the answer and do not even know where to start to think. In these situations, it is a good idea to do a “Think-Pair-Share”. A think pair share with a written outcome means you can quickly see if the majority now have an answer to give or if you need to go from pairs to fours to widen the pool further.

4) Student routines

All the aforementioned are teacher routines. As a Computing teacher, you will appreciate that we have one big distraction in front of every student, their own screen. For some teachers, they dread laptops or a lesson in the Computer lab as it just leads to students going on Facebook. Social networks aren’t even blocked in our school, but a student has never gone on a social network in any of our classes as far as I can recall simply because the consequences are so severe. Some teachers also find it difficult to get students attention. I would recommend asking students to close their laptop screens to 45 degrees on a countdown of 3-2-1. Some people call this “pacman screens”, I’ve heard of teachers literally holding up a hand in the shape of a pacman which seems quite novel and efficient. I just call it “45″-efficiency in routines is important!


Source: itnews.com.au

By having routines for handing out folders, getting students’ attention, you make your life as a teacher much easier. Expectations are clear and students do not need to think about their actions, they just do it and in turn you’re making their lives easier. By having clear consequences for not following the routines, most students are quick to latch on.

5) Ending with an exit ticket

Ending with an Exit ticket is the quickest way to find out what students have learnt in your lesson. No student can leave the room before giving you their exit ticket. With these little slips (No smaller than a Post-It Note and no bigger than A5) you can quickly spot misconceptions and it also helps plan the start of your next lesson. It’s one of the most efficient forms of assessment. Some teachers sort these exit tickets into piles, one for those who will be rewarded with housepoints next lesson, one which is the average pile and the last pile is the one where students simply “did not get it”. The last group can also be pulled up for a quick lunchtime mastery/catchup session before your next lesson with the class. As mentioned earlier, these piles go directly to inform your planning. Very quickly you can plan for the top and the bottom.

Closing thoughts

When you get the dreaded Ofsted call, remember that there is no way that any teacher can change their teaching style for one lesson observation without seeming un-natural about it. The kids spot it, your observer spots it and you just end up running around the classroom sweating whilst trying to do a load of things you’ve never done before. Yes, I’ve been there loads of times, in fact probably for every single observation in my first 6 years of teaching! It took a school culture which does not believe in “performing for observations” or “pulling out an outstanding lesson with lots of gimmickery” which really changed my practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year (mainly from my amazing head of CPD), is that in order to be excellent, you have to practice (and practise) excellence everyday. As your good habits become automated, you end up freeing up some of your mental capacity and therefore you are able to do even more for your students.

Using pupil feedback to improve teaching
input

At the end of every lesson, I try to evaluate my teaching. Sometimes I manage to do this, othertimes, there’s simply not enough time. I’ve even thought about giving myself DIRT on my timetable so that it’s not just the students who are doing explicit improvement and reflection. Towards the end of a major unit however, it’s difficult to evaluate how effective your teaching has been. Of course, I could look at test results, but sometimes the test doesn’t catch everything. It may tell you that your teaching of x, y and z was ineffective but it won’t tell you why. This is where pupil feedback can help.

Laura Mcinerney once asked the daring question, “Should teachers publish the test scores of their classes” . I wondered what would happen if I published the pupil feedback of all my classes. It has certainly forced me to reflect more honestly and openly about my own practice.

You can find the original pupil survey here: http://goo.gl/W2mRPk . I have been selective with the publishing of my results, generally ignoring repeats and responses where students replies were too general and not actionable e.g. “Mr Lau was great”.

What could Mr Lau have done differently / better:

    - let us figure out what has gone wrong with our code.
    - Maybe give us more time to actually try ourselves rather than watching the board quite often. I also think it would be useful to sometimes have a quick break from python and try something else like scratch for one lesson
    - Explain coding simpler and talk a bit less so we have time to get the work done better.
    - he could have showen a demo of what he wants us to do
    - Mr lau could have simplified the technical language.
    - come round to every one
    - Maybe explain in more detail.
    - Explane more clearly
    - put more computing lessons on the time table.

Analysis and Response: Students have raised the issue that I help them too readily. Whilst a growth mindset and persistence is abundant in the majority of our students, it appears that in my teaching, I could demonstrate these learning habits more by helping students less, offering more waiting time and responding with questions rather than answers. Several students also thought that explanations could be clearer; teaching computer programming for the first time, I think this is to be expected but I will try to observe more experienced Computing teachers. Key words and language was also raised as an issue, so I think a Vocab list for each unit would be helpful. On the positive side, many students replied with “nothing” on the improvements list with the last comment of putting “more computing lessons on the time table” brightening up my day.

What would you like Mr Lau to do more of:

    - Letting us work on our own, a bit more .
    - more of prasing people
    - Demonstrate code before sending us to do work.
    - more work on your own
    - come round to more people
    - explained things and use more visual things like pictures

Analysis and Response: Firstly, Praise praise praise, it’s an invaluable currency. Secondly, many students preferred working on their own. I think I have done paired programming for several reasons, firstly because the research suggests it can be the most effective way of coding:

http://www.cs.pomona.edu/classes/cs121/supp/williams_prpgm.pdf

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?PairProgrammingBenefits

http://www.summa-tech.com/blog/2013/05/16/pair-programming-benefits-part-1-the-good/

The second reason is because our laptop trolley rarely has a full class set of working laptops. However, I will certainly pilot more independent working and solo tasks next term.

What would you like Mr Lau to do less of:

    - Speaking to the whole class about something a few people have got wrong.
    - work sheets
    - stop showing people what to do if they are stuck.
    - Keep on showing us the board
    - To do less talking when teaching and to pick people to come and try the code on the interactive smartboard.
    - canstant doing hardcore lessons may be sometimes we could fun lessons
    - I would like to get on with the work straight away on the and have a learning objective on the table
    - stopping the how class when only a few people need to know things
    - speaking less at the start and giving us more time to practical work time.
    - dont explan to fings at wons

Analysis and Response: Early on in my career, I had a lot of helpless handraising. This was partly to do with my teaching and partly due to the culture of the school. I decided to combat this by judging when it would be appropriate to stop the whole class. If a student asked a question that I thought the whole class could benefit from hearing the answer to, I would stop them. No teacher likes repeating themselves afterall. It appears that my students don’t like this strategy as I am stopping the majority in order to help a small minority. I therefore plan to get around this by helping Student A with their problem, then when Student B asks me for help on the same problem, I could direct them to Student A. If Student C asks the same question, the chain continues. Whilst there are clear literacy issues (perhaps distorted by the use of computers and their association with txtspk), the last student makes a point about working memory and helping students remember. This reminds me of Willingham’s work on helping students remember and learn.

Any other comments

    -stop 5 minutes early to put the computers away
    - computer science is fun
    - Thanks Mr Lau I am getting Better .
    -Nice.
    print(“Thanks Mr Lau again”)
    I think i need a new account sorry :( i will try to remeber please dont give me a detention soryy

    - It was very useful to work in partners and also rate and and have your own work rated.
    - my mum is impressed
    - Computing is such a unique subject to learn in a secondary school and I am so happy to participate in it as it is intresting, inspiring and useful if you want to have a future career in game making or something like that.
    - I have really enjoyed computer science this term I have had fun playing and exploring around laptops. Making chat bots and having challenges I have learnt a lot about computers and how they work. I am looking forward to doing more work this term and learning different things.
    - I have really enjoyed codeing i really like it some times i do it at home with my dad because he enjoys it to just like me.
    - PLEASE show us how to do spreadsheets through the medium of dance like in your old school.


Analysis and Response:
Timing is an issue for me. I need to fit in an exit ticket, house points and packing away. That’s a good 10 minutes before the end of a lesson. To close on a bright note- clearly computing is having a positive impact on many of our students. The highlight for me is the student who wrote a print command in Python in her comment!

How useful was this process for improving my teaching in general? I think it provided a great deal of stimulus for reflection and improvement. Using Google forms, I also managed to sneak in an exit ticket, which I quickly evaluated using conditional formatting.

As a result, some students will be due housepoints, whereas others will need mastery classes.

After all this analysis, hopefully I can put some of these ideas into practice and feedback on the process.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

A TERM WITH YEAR 9 – HOW CAN I SHOW MY STUDENTS HISTORY MATTERS?

Why is history in the curriculum?

I’m not being rude but it doesn’t actually help you in your daily life.”

To punish people.”

So if anyone asks you a question you could answer instead of saying I don’t know.”

(Quotations from students in Richard Harris and Tony Haydn, ‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter’, pp. 45-46)

Not all student responses looked like this, but these individuals’ words exemplify a problem: although 70% of those questioned claimed history was useful, fewer than a third were able to articulate why.*

It is possible that the absence of a clear and developed understanding of why they are learning about the past, and about the discipline of history, is impacting negatively on pupil effort and attainment in history, and on take-up rates post-14.”

(Ibid., p. 48)

A few months ago, noting that motivation correlates with attainment and GCSE choices, I argued that demonstrating the relevance of history to students is important if they are to immerse themselves in learning and recognise the subject’s importance.  In that post, I mentioned having spent a year working on this problem with a Year 9 class.  This post describes and evaluates my actions and their reactions during our first term together, as I tried to persuade them that history matters.

Who better to explore this with than Year 9 (thirteen/fourteen year olds)?  In most schools this is their last year of compulsory history, so it is critical in cementing their understanding of the past.  Most students are pretty confident at the beginning of Year 9 whether or not they will choose to study history in their GCSEs; the majority conclude they will not (nationally, a third of students study History GCSE, figures replicated in my former school).  History is a hard sell: a large proportion of students see the subject as difficult and irrelevant to both everyday life and their future careers.  Moreover, Year 9 is the dip: equidistant from the bright-eyed enthusiasm of entry into a school in Year 7 and maximum pressure from school, parents and usually, students themselves, in Year 11.  Proving history matters is a challenging task in this context, but a vital one.

What did my class think of history?

I was teaching a mixed ability class; most of the students were new to me – if we can overlook a disastrous cover lesson I’d had with a third of the group the previous summer.  The head of year was characteristically upbeat, noting that “You’ve got a very bright class here” and saying less about their fairly unenviable behavioural reputation.  She did mention that a couple of parents had never heard anything good about their children and if I managed to ring home positively early, it would be worth my while.

At the end of our first lesson together, I asked students to answer: ‘How do you feel about history?  The picture below shows my summary of reasons why students said they didn’t like the subject:

Relevance2

Above all, they expressed the idea that it was ‘not useful’ or ‘irrelevant to my life’ and ‘boring,’ a word which came up more than any other.  Only four students had anything positive to say about the subject… it seemed pretty clear to me that embarking on the (pretty dry) prescribed course was unlikely to achieve anything.

There is sufficient evidence of school or departmental effect in the data to suggest that teachers can have an influence on pupils’ understanding of the purpose of school history.”

(Ibid., p. 47)

My goal was to teach students to love history and to recognise its profound importance to their lives…  but I believed this was something they had to realise for themselves.  So I began by asking:

What questions matter to you?

I began with the still on the right from from the Italian Job and asked students what questions they would wish to ask about this picture – they came up with a good range: What had happened?  Was the driver drunk?  And so on.

Italian Job

I then developed an idea from Teaching as a Subversive Activity and asked students to imagine that they were redesigning the school curriculum from scratch, without reference to tests or syllabuses.  What questions would they want answered in such a curriculum?  I was nervous at this point as to how well they would respond to the idea; results varied, this is a representative sample:

  • If you were in a fight with one of your friends and you seriously hurt them, and no one saw you, would you take them to hospital or leave and pretend nothing every happened?
  • How did music emerge as a global phenomenon?
  • Why is there school? Why do we need education?
  • Can you explain global warming?
  • Is there something you can’t live without?
  • What do you aspire to be in the future?
  • Would you give your life for people you care about?

I closed by returning to the list of questions about the bus and asked what did almost all of the questions refer to?  The idea I was trying to convey was that we have to look to the past for answers to every question except one (what happens next?) we can predict an answer to this based on all the other answers.

How can history help us answer the questions that matter to us?

I wanted students to see how a historical question can help answer a philosophical or ‘life’ question, so I began with an easy example: one student had asked ‘Is Arsenal rubbish?’ so I invited students to break this down into smaller questions (for example, how many goals did they score last season?)  They then extended this to formulate historical questions which helped answered some of their other (more interesting) questions.  I also offered them some of my own historical questions (ensuring there was at least one historical question linked with each philosophical question); examples which linked with the questions I listed above included:

  • Why did the Victorians let children not go to school?
  • What did Roman people think you couldn’t live without?
  • What did the Ancient Greeks think was the meaning of life?

Finally, students voted on the question which they most wanted to research.

I wrote to a friend after this lesson: “I’ve been reading their books and from the last lesson some of them did write stuff like – now I realise the past can help us understand other questions… so I think it can work.”  And as another friend said to me at the same time, my having promised to prove that history mattered and let them choose their question “You have to honour that!”  I was unsure where things were going, but it looked like the right direction.  So I prepared to help my students answer their question through history.

‘Are you a leader or a follower?’

This was my students’ chosen question, and it was a gift to a history teacher.  I designed a lesson which explored this question from a range of angles: looking at why so many people voted for the Nazis, what made leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi successful and, by my students’ request, how fashion trends spread.  I also asked a wonderful Year 13 Psychology student to visit the class and explain Stanley Milgram’s ‘Obedience to Authority’ electric shock experiments.  Students spent a lesson examining these different examples of leadership & following and at the end, I asked them whether they were leaders or followers based on what they’d learned.

Over the next two lessons, students created presentations on different aspects of what we had learned: how we had got this far, what history suggested made a leader and a follower, what we had decided about ourselves and the skills we had developed.  They then presented what they had done to the head of year (and I had it filmed as well).

Other ways of demonstrating relevance

Although the hardest bit of the ‘selling’ process was over, I devoted the rest of the term to continuing this push.  We looked at propaganda as a tool during World War I – and applied this knowledge to modern advertising.  We worked on essay-writing and persuasion – as a tool for history and for life.  And we studied the origins of the London riots (one of the highlights of this was Zelal popping into a police station, on her own initiative, to enquire into the racial disparities in arrest statistics).  At every point, I devoted time to the ‘so what’ question – underscoring the importance of what we were doing.

In the spring term I pushed the class to create far better work – which matched their interest in the subject, rewriting essays and seeing some great essays from some of my students.  In the summer I focused on sharing what we’d learned and organised a trip to a local primary school to teach them what we had been learning, in which every student had a role presenting, teaching or supporting Year 6 students.  Again, every topic we studied or skill we refined, I set time aside to consider why it mattered.

The results

Avowed beliefs: In January asked students to write postcards addressed to my Year 9s next year which summarised why history matters (as I explained, to save me the time of those new students misbehaving before they recognised why the subject mattered).  The noteworthy factor is that no one refused, no one said ‘I don’t know what to say.’  No one wrote nothing – so all of them had gained some impression that history was useful.*

Choosing History GCSE: When it came to their choices, seventeen students chose to study history and seven didn’t – a rate which was three times the school average.  I asked them to explain to me as best they could why they had chosen history; my summaries are below (some students made more than one relevant question):

CIMG6153

(Two students were absent on the day I asked this question, both of whom had chosen history).

And as to why they hadn’t…

CIMG6154

Academic results: I received some absolutely brilliant pieces of work – the highlight being the student who moved from apparently being on level 3 to level 7.  That said, a handful of students made no progress on paper- primarily because a cunning combination of absence, time in the school’s behaviour unit and avoidance of homework meant I barely saw any of their written work; that said, I should have done more to chase those individuals.

‘Prosocial behaviour’: This one’s harder to evidence, but students displayed better attitudes to learning and school more generally.  Firstly, I ceased calling for help from my head of department/form tutors/the head of year/school behaviour unit, because off-task behaviour was sufficiently limited, and relationships were good enough, that I could address this unaided.  This was a novel situation with me for an entire Year 9 class – every previous year we reached a point in the summer where one or two students had adopted such a consistently negative attitude (and had long since chosen not to study GCSE History) that they were removed entirely from history lessons.  More tentatively, I would argue that there was a power in students having a subject which they enjoyed, succeeded in, had a teacher to say something positive about them in parents’ evenings…  I don’t know what it counted for in their wider lives, but I do know that one parent claimed she dropped the phone when I rang to say her daughter was doing well (first positive call home ever).  The same student (who was a bit of a terror), came up to me near the end of my time at the school and said: ‘I don’t want you to leave.’  And then wandered off.  What does that count for in the great scheme of things?  I’m not sure: but I’d like to hope it was worth something

Evaluation

Focusing on persuading students history matters meant I spent a lot of time thinking about the purposes of my lessons and considering how best to communicate this with my students.  It led me to work in a more democratic way – a managed democracy, certainly, but one in which I gave my students genuine choices and was open with them about the rationale for what was on offer and the decisions I made.  The more I did this and they responded, the more I was happy to be open and honest about the problems I was facing or things I didn’t know how to do.  Clarity about purposes and honesty with them improved our relationships and meant that they better understood why they were doing what they were doing and so chose to buy into it.

My plans evolved as I worked.  Although there were some things I had in mind early on (like visiting a primary school) much was unplanned; there were many points at which I wasn’t clear about much beyond the next step.  I acted by instinct and – for the most part – it worked – but it was pretty terrifying at times and it’s not something I would recommend lightly.

Were I doing this again, I would insist on a higher standard of work and behaviour from the start.  At the time I though I was doing pretty well – I judge myself now against a school with higher non-negotiables.  The time to chase every child and every piece of work myself, together with another four Key Stage 3 classes, Year 10s, Year 11s, A-level coursework and the UCAS system simply wasn’t there (especially in a system which demanded assessment and data entry six times a year).  I’m in awe of those who can honestly do this and maintain their sanity.  I did throw my teddies out of the pram on one occasion and make the whole class rewrite an essay – and I got some very high quality writing from some students.  However…  I now feel that I could have done more than I did.

Did they learn enough?  Possibly not.  They learned a lot – but among other things I dropped some topics to provide enough time to do others well.  I told myself then that I’d done more of a favour by getting them to study history so they would keep learning.  I look at these things differently now and appreciate this better – more knowledge and understanding provides the secure basis for later success.  Could I have pushed them further?  When I visited the school again in October, many of them were struggling with their GCSEs.  Why?

I had a massive amount of latitude.  I was in an ‘Outstanding’ school, subject to only one lesson observation a year.  I don’t think anyone really knew what I was doing…  How acceptable is this?  Had I had to follow the curriculum to the letter, I’m sure I would have been faced by some fairly mutinous students all year.  And yet most schools do not provide this space for teachers.  What would I recommend to teachers who don’t have this latitude?  I think spending five minutes at the end of a lesson to discuss why the lesson just studied matters – how it links with our lives or the present day.  But there’s a broader question here: if teachers (and schools) don’t have freedom to innovate and experiment, how can they meet the needs of their students?  Equally, once they do have that freedom, what’s to keep their choices at least somewhere related to their straight and narrow.

Intervention in Year 9 is too late!  This worked, but it’s not the best way to do it.  If you are trying to convert students from a negative impression of the subject, it’s hard work doing this in a year.  It can be done, but this is not the most productive approach.  We need to work harder in Year 7 to ensure students love and appreciate history.

Nor does an approach like this substitute for effective behaviour management, on the part of the school and the teacher.  One of my struggles was getting all my students to try as hard as I’d have liked them to do on their written work – or indeed, any task needing sustained application.  Equally, classroom management alone is sufficient neither to ensure students’ best efforts nor to ensure students pursue your subject with genuine interest.

Much of what I did doesn’t diverge far from what we might teach anyway.  Everything I taught was on the syllabus, except the London Riots (and even that was just a tweak of the syllabus: we studied the crisis in Syria this year in Year 8, of which more anon).  What this approach does is reverses the agenda, or the direction I’m pursuing – beginning with students and moving to history, rather than treating history as thing to press onto students.  The best case is having seen an example like the one above, students recognise the links between what matters to them and what they learn and then formulate them independently: one of my students in Year 7 did this spontaneously last week for almost the first time ever.

Conclusion – would I do it again?

Curriculum time is precious at Key Stage 3, but investment in these inputs can make all the difference between desultory compliance on the part of pupils, and wholehearted and enthusiastic commitment to wanting to do history, to do well in it, and to do it for as long as possible.

(Ibid., p. 48)

Aspects of what I’ve described above still make me uncomfortable.  There are many things which I would change: for a start, I would demand far better written work from the beginning.  I would be less sanguine about playing fast and loose with the curriculum.  One particular thought-experiment I haven’t considered enough if how I would react as a head of department if one of my teachers did this without talking to me about it first (as I did).

On the other hand, I believe the fundamental approach is sound.  I went from having four students who had something positive to say about history at the start of the year, to having seventeen choose to keep studying the subject.  Moreover, irrespective of their choices, students experienced things of enduring value: persuasive essay writing, identifying and analysing propaganda and teaching primary school students.   This experience has shaped a unit themed around historical relevance with which I begin the Year 7 curriculum (and similar units for Years 8 and 9).  With each class, the approach I take is different (I may come back to this in future) but with all of the, the result should look something like this – three photos of Year 7 work from last half term:

CIMG6089 CIMG6079

CIMG6074

Notes

* It’s not entirely clear from Harris and Haydn’s published report how bad the picture is.  70% of their respondents said history was useful.  Of 1,500 comments about its usefulness, 658 were tautological ‘It’s on the curriculum because people need to learn it.’  Over 250 appeared to offer statements which demonstrated an understanding of the rationale as expressed by the National Curriculum.  Over 200 responses related to employment – although many (around 50) were phrased as though history would only be useful if you wished to be a history teacher/work in a museum.  The best guess possible from the article is that around 400 students, from a sample of 1,500 who commented, were able to articulate ‘valid’ purposes of school history.

* More tricksy psychology: asking people to persuade others of something makes them more likely to believe it themselves.  I knew by this stage I wasn’t going to be at the school next year, but I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise for my students.

Further reading

There doesn’t seem to be much written about this – please point me towards exciting things I’ve missed.

Richard Harris and Tony Haydn,‘Children’s Ideas about School History and why they matter,’ Teaching History, 132, September 2008 (paywall) although you can download the full report here.

Ben Walsh has an E-CPD unit at the History Association website on exactly this question – again, behind a paywall.

I write lots more at improvingteaching.co.uk and I’m on twitter as @HFletcherwood

A Play Strategy for Scotland – It includes schools!

We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities.

Yesterday the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision was officially launched.  This is the first part of the Play Strategy – the action part of it will be published in the autumn.

When you think of your own children, or perhaps children you teach or work with in some capacity, consider the opportunities they have in their daily lives for free play – particularly outdoors.

To begin with, do they have enough time in their lives to play? I don’t mean undertake football training, or sing in a choir or attend dance classes or any other structured activity. It’s about free play – time for a child to choose when, how, where and with whom they play. Is there time for free play for children who may have to help their parent with work or care for them in some way? How about children you know who have additional needs? What about young people studying for exams?

Do the children in your street feel able to play outside safely, in their local area? Are there suitable places for play? By this I don’t mean simply play parks but green space or well-designed, child friendly urban areas? Are teenagers welcomed or is their presence everywhere and anywhere frowned upon? Have you ever asked a child or young person you know what they think and how they feel about this?

What about the school and the quality of play provision? Do the routines around break and lunch time provide enough time for play? Do children get to play if they haven’t been behaving well or if they haven’t finished their classwork? Are the school grounds accessible all year round in all weathers and beyond the school day? Are they interesting, well-designed places to be with open-ended features and resources? Is play facilitated by staff who know, understand and support children’s right to play?

Ghandi is often quoted as saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This may be a fair point, but the first indicator has to be how a nation values and treats its children.

This play strategy matters. It is an acknowledgement that there needs to be more happening in our homes, schools and communities to ensure all children and young people of all ages have the right, the time, the space and the places to play.

  • What do you think?
  • What action do you want to see the Scottish Government take?

Let me know. There’s still time to have a say, make a difference. Tell me your thoughts – from within or beyond Scotland. I’m part of the play strategy working group putting together the forthcoming actions to support the vision statement.  I’m genuinely interested to know

(Reposted from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here! blog! It’s about to undergo a big merge and morph so I won’t add a link)

To text poll or not to text poll, that is the question?

Although I have come across online text polls in the past, I hadn’t used them myself until last week in one of my lessons and came to the conclusion that they are more time and effort than they are worth – let me explain why…

The group of learners I used this with were Entry Level 3 and in a nutshell the objective of the session was to identify and demonstrate skills, qualities and values required when assisting at a sport and active leisure event.

So after providing learners with their personalised targets for the session I asked them to place their mobile phones on their desks. Out of the 12 learners in attendance, only 10 had a phone…already the task was not going to plan!..so, I paired the learners without phones with somebody with one.

I then provided the text number and opening question…”what skills are needed when helping to lead a sports event?”… Learners were allowed open ended answers and the premise was that the answers that were text to the number would appear on the smart board…what I didn’t realise until the time was that learners who didn’t have phone credit, could not participate…another two learners out of the task and requiring a partner. Those that did have credit began to text their answers and they started to appear on the board – great!

However, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t clear who was texting what answers (thus making it difficult to target questions to the learner concerned and also ensuring that all learners answered). Moreover the answers that came through were not just skills, but also qualities and values… Not such a bad thing, but in order to differentiate between the three areas I had to write everything on the white board (almost defeating the purpose of this e learning tool) and ask learners to dissect the information into the relevant categories.

So after almost 20 minutes and the disengagement of those without a phone/credit, I came to the conclusion that I could have provided the learners with a much more effective learning environment had I used ‘post-its’ or any other traditional strategy which allows all to be involved, whilst allowing me to see who answers.

Despite believing that there is room for e-learning in the classroom, I do feel that we need to ensure that whatever is chosen as a strategy is effective and not just used because the school/college has an e-learning agenda.

On the other hand, perhaps I approached text polls in the wrong fashion, so if you have used them with success, please share your comments.

Talking pedagogy globally

February 2013, after #ukedchat on Twitter a group of us who use and are interested in the use of Solo taxonomy have a chat about its use. We are all UK based and the chat is interesting and very useful. The next morning, another educator I have chatted with about Solo enquiries if the chat she had found on Twitter was a regular solo chat. Alice is based in Melbourne, Australia. I tell Alice that no it’s not a regular chat but go on to tell her about an experiment in July 2012 led by John Sayers (known to many on Twitter) that was a group of geographers discussing Solo’s relevance to their teaching.

The geogsolo chat was on a Saturday so that it could cover as many time zones as possible. It included Penny from Virginia, USA;several of us who are UK based inc. John and myself; Emma in Abu Dhabi; Amy in Australia and we were also joined by a teacher from New Zealand. In one our we had made a global link based on one pedagogical idea.

So, why is this relevant? because Alice and I decided that we’d try a repeat exercise but for an open group to discuss Solo with a global audience one Saturday in April 2013.

The chat which we have been promoting in several countries is called #sologlobalchat and it takes place on Saturday 13 April at 11am UK time (GMT +1). Alice and I will host and the session will be archived using Storify by Alice. Feel free to join us or read about how it went after the event. To practice hosting a chat I acted as #ukedchat host last night on the topic of CPD. The rush of tweets was a surprise at first but I seemed to host successfully.

Onto Saturday and beyond …..

I am on Twitter at @aknill.