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The Story of Me – increasing vocabulary recognition.

I am a primary school class teacher, based in Scotland. I teach Primary 2 (age 6 -7 years).

I designed the Story of Me project to promote recall of vocabulary. It was inspired by an article I read recently by Turk et Al (2015) which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence.

At the same time I had been doing lots of work with my class on improving their drawings of themselves. I had been modelling the step by step process I would take to draw a person and discussing with them all the elements that one might think about when trying to represent somebody in an illustration and then, following on from that, how you might illustrate what they are doing in the picture.

I put together the project based on these on these two ideas to see whether co-authoring and the experience of being the subject of both text and illustration could make target words more memorable for children and also to see whether seeing themselves represented by an illustrator would improve their self-portrait skills!

I am currently studying illustration and I was engaged in this project as an illustrator as well as the class teacher (although the children were not aware that some of their stories were being illustrated by me!).

The model was as follows:

  • Identify target group of words for each child – these were a mixture of ‘high frequency words’ and ‘keywords’ from our reading scheme.
  • Children create sentences about themselves using these words.
  • Aspiring children’s illustrators were recruited to work (virtually) with the children in the class – they draw one illustration for each child’s sentence per week.
  • Child is created as a central character so each sentence becomes part of a story about them.
  • Aspiring illustrators gain experience in the creation of a character and placing that character in different situations each week.
  • Illustrations come back to the children via email or online sharing.
  • Over the 4 weeks of the project the children will compile a special book (either a paper book or an e-book) containing an illustrated story about themselves.

The primary aims of the project were as follows:

  • Children develop a strong relationship with the target words and recall them accurately.
  • Illustrators model good quality drawing and illustration for the children and the children develop their ability to draw figures and faces.
  • Illustrators gain experience creating a character and placing it in different situations.

Other intended outcomes:

  • Children get a taste of the collaboration of author and illustrator.
  • Children gain a better understanding of the work of both an author and an illustrator.
  • All children see themselves in the role of an author – they have written a book!
  • Children’s ideas are valued and celebrated.
  • Children themselves are at the centre of the story – they are important and interesting.

The project is now complete and you can see a compilation of our wonderful stories at http://bit.ly/StoryOM2.

There is also a summary of the findings and outcomes of the project against its intended aims.

I hope you enjoy The Story of Me!

Susannah Jeffries

Twitter @mrsjteaches

Instagram @MrsJDraws

 

Children’s Library Club

“Children can only aspire to what they know exists.”

Glasgow Children’s University, 2016

This statement illustrates the philosophy behind the Children’s Library club, offered to pupils of St Mungo’s Primary School every Wednesday from 3 o’clock, with students from the School of Education at the University of Strathclyde having full responsibility for planning, organising and running this experience.

St Mungo’s Primary school is located directly behind the university library, but the 5 minutes walking distance between the 2 buildings is ultimately a barrier between two separate communities. Although the physical distance is minimal, the distance metaphorically is immense and the prospect of the University campus was abstract to the pupils in St Mungo’s Primary, many of whom were actually unaware of its size, opportunities offered and even its existence. This is further highlighted in that I, as a student entering my fourth year of study, was equally unaware of the existence of the school.

This after school club enabled children to see for themselves the wonders of the huge library, specifically the vast range of children’s books covering a variety of exciting topics and the technology and research methods that could be utilized to help them make interesting and relevant discoveries.

Through inviting groups of pupils into our library, supporting them in researching topics of interest, and encouraging them in team work while being independent in their own learning, we hoped to enlighten pupils to the captivating environment offered in the University. 4 weeks of exploring informative resources, increasing knowledge and enthusiasm and co-creating presentations to display this, accumulates in a visit from parents, who are also invited to the library to see for themselves the experience their children have had.

We hoped the experience would reintroduce the university, the library, and further education as a whole, as things pertinent and accessible to everyone, regardless of their current social, economic, political or cultural status.

Being the initial organiser and key point of communication between the school and the university, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in an experience which has enabled me to develop, not only an enhanced passion for books and working with children, but professional attributes which shall be utilised in my future career as a teacher and which shall be strengthened throughout my professional life. I feel I have gained vital experience of leadership as I took responsibility for the creation of the club, planning and organising timings, resources, considerations of safety and “housekeeping”, recruitment of fellow students and lines of communication to maintain the efficient running of the sessions. This in turn led to attributes of resilience and problem solving being developed as several obstacles were addressed and overcome: lack of communication and issues regarding commitment being just some of these.

As I was undertaking my final 3 month block placement in the months from January – March, for me this meant keeping in close contact with the students who had volunteered to run these sessions, ensuring the club was of a sustainable nature, instructions and advice being passed to successive groups.

The benefits reaped from this project were not only apparent in the children who took part, but also in the students from the university who organised and supported the sessions. Students across all 4 years of study took part in various 4 week blocks, working together, liaising with other professionals and experiencing numerous obstacles and challenges throughout their work, implementing skills of cooperation, problem solving and communication in order to address these and maintain the consistency of the club. The success experienced in this first year of the clubs creation has evoked a huge sense of pride in me and has ultimately given me the confidence to continue with opportunities like this in the future, taking a leadership role in other experiences that I find exciting and worthwhile that spark my personal interest and passion. The sustainability of the Children’s Library Club means that students who have taken part this year can go on to carry the club forward, using their prior knowledge and experience to influence its progression.

I sincerely hope this initiative will continue for many years to come as we continue to work together to collaborate the communities of university students and staff, and the parents, pupils and teachers of St Mungos Primary.

 

Reciprocal Teaching

Recently two colleagues taught me all about Reciprocal Teaching as a way of encouraging literacy in the classroom.

Each member of a group is given a different role, Predictor, Clarifier, Summariser or Questioner. All group members are given a piece of text to read, with each of them looking at a different role within this, it means that when they go to discuss the piece of text, they all have different ideas and perspectives to bring to it and it structures the activity much better.

Not only does this encourage literacy, it also encourages group work and makes each member accountable.

I have created some worksheets that will aid each member with their role and tasks to structure their reading.

You can download them here. Free Printables- Reciprocal Reading

Reciprocal Teaching

Read More Here: http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/reciprocal_teaching

[Posted originally on Learning RMPS.]

Bringing Children’s Rights into the Classroom [Scotland only]

Are you looking for a way to incorporate Getting it Right for Every Child into your classroom?

Child Rights Launchpad by Unicef UK aims to help you do this. Launchpad is a ready-to-use, Scotland specific resource that promotes learning about rights and supports the Curriculum for Excellence. It covers all 42 articles of the UNCRC directly relating to children and, best of all, this award-winning resource is completely FREE to use!

Don’t just take our word for how good it is, the resource is currently being used by teachers all over Scotland and they’ve been quick to praise Launchpad:

“We have introduced all our S1 pupils to Launchpad and it has definitely increased the pupils’ knowledge of Child Rights.  One great aspect of the resource is its focus on personalisation and choice.  I have also found it a helpful reference as a teacher and have used it to look up information on specific rights which I have then used in my lessons.”

Mrs. Hoyle, Teacher at Douglas Academy, East Dumbarton

See what other teachers (and children) had to say about Launchpad in this short video:

 

What to expect?

Launchpad is designed at three different levels, broadly aimed at the following age bands:

  • Level 1: three to seven-year-olds;
  • Level 2: eight to 12-year-olds; and
  • Level 3: 13 to 18-year-olds.

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 09.27.40

Example of the site’s content.

At each level the ‘missions’ follow the same format. The exploration begins with an introduction to the right, before considering it in a Scottish context. The focus then switches to an international setting, exploring how the right is enjoyed in one or more countries around the world, followed by a related activity. Finally, the ‘mission’ is finished with an interactive quiz and a star for the ‘Super You’ character. After six missions each child or young person receives a certificate.

Detailed Guidance for Adults is available on the website- this will provide you with all the information you need about the resource. It’ll also help you to plan how you use Launchpad in your lessons.

Creating your free account is incredibly easy, simply follow this link, We’re confident that you’ll be glad you did – just remember to encourage your colleagues to create their accounts too!

 

ICT and Languages Conference 2016 #ililc6

 

It was not without a little trepidation that I headed to Dorking from Glasgow for my first #ililc event hosted by @joedale and @helenmyers at Ashcombe School Language College, sponsored by Sanako making it a free event for the first time, hence why I made the effort. Would my two tablets and smartphone connect, download the necessary apps and not show me up as still being at entry-level with regard to the wonders of the tablet-world? Would everyone be appsmashing over coffee as I remembered I’d forgotten to charge my gadgets? But no, I needn’t have worried, MFL teachers really are the best. Being a subject with communication and openness at its heart, MFL teachers are a chatty lot and so happy to share experiences.

Knowing Joe Dale’s inimitable style, we were all poised to keep up with his full-on whistle-stop tour of apps and websites as he set up a todaysmeet for us to post live comments on, as well as opening up a ‘top tech takeaway padlet, with Chrome ‘talk and comment’, ultratext and Speakpipe add-ons.I could have gone home happy after that first half-hour but there were four sessions with three presentations to choose from in each so, focussing on cross-platform sessions as we are not an ipad school, off I headed to Session 1 ‘Apps r us’ with Amanda Salt.

I would love to be in one of Amanda’s classes, her enthusiasm is infectious and the range of apps and websites she uses brings learning alive in so many ways. Far too many to list but a couple of key ideas I’ve taken away and have already used are

  • quizletlive which has engaged bottom set S3s (Y9), tested Higher Spanish (Y11) on the preterite describing a past holiday, and focused Higher French on the passé composé, (quizizz  and quizalize are similar)
  • creating a Department ‘brand’ to tag everything you create and share/upload

Some of the apps were ipad-only but looked great. I’m also the process of creating a loooooong list of website to request be unblocked by the authority firewall, sigh.

Session 2 was with Serena Dawson creating a storybook on the lines of a russian doll with layers, inserting audio Speakpipe again and sharing student work on Googledrive. I also loved the simplicity but attractiveness of pic collage  but have yet to access it in school. Serena gave the first mention to qr codes and how she sticks them in jotters for parents to access their children’s recordings.

Teaching in a school on the south coast in a community hosting a large number of refugee families, she also spoke with passion about inclusive education and making the MFL curriculum more relevant to current events by using websites such as 1jour1actu, which I do use with my Higher classes. The site has great cartoon video clips explaining all manner of questions sent in by French children. As I write this, today’s question/clip is ‘Why do we do tests at school?‘.

Session 3 was hosted by one of Ashcombe’s teachers, Anna Sichla, with different uses for apps/websites previously mentioned, in additions to  Zondle to make games, Kahoot  for more quizzes, using Vocaroo to generate a url to in turn generate a QR code. Anna is a big fan of youtubing and explained how to use Powtoon , although I think that’s one step too far for me just now. I’d love to use Chatterkid app but sadly it’s ipad only.

With my mind whirling I headed to Session 4 with Aurélie Charles on using Google apps for education. Very much a hands-on session with a helpful interactive ticklist of tasks to work through as she explained different aspects, allowing us to work at our own pace.

Short walk to the hotel and feet up for half an hour before heading back for the evening’s pizza and ‘show and tell’. Us MFL teachers are totally committed to our job! Amongst other presentations,

  • Charlie showcased the website for a school exchange he’s launching on Monday (before heading off to run the London Marathon!)
  • Alison described a very effective transition day, themed around arriving at an airport then taking a plane, with departments across the school contributing a linked activity. It sounded wonderful!
  • Jonathan described how his school has signed up to Global Learning through Global Dimension . Also how, post Y9 options, he keeps  pupils engaged by them making primary MFL language games.
  • Rachel shared ideas for making learning relevant by describing a module on ‘a new school for the Jungle’, the migrant camp in Calais.
  • Joe couldn’t resist playing with msqrd , another video/audio tool to take the focus of speaking for pupils, but serving an educational purpose.
  • David explained how he has built up a popular Duolingo club, celebrating the success of pupils at assemblies.
  • Maxime, and NQT, shared images of a practical homework he set which surprised him by how engaged pupils became, the task being to cook a French dish and photograph/record it.  Some of the pupils had gone to great lengths to produce the food and images.

At 9pm I headed back to my hotel, shattered, but of course I had to start trying out some of my new ideas…

Sunday morning’s first session was with Annalise Adam on QR codes. Inspiring isn’t the word! She showed very clearly how to use QR code generators such as Kaywa or qr-code-generator to link to websites. She gave a practical demonstration of how she created a simple listening exercise by recording German weather phrases on Vocaroo , generating QR codes and posting them around the room for us to scan, identify the weather and note down. Pupils could then use Padlet  to post key phrases as a plenary. So simple but so effective and engaging! Annalise also uses QR codes to bring worksheets to life.

Putting learning into practice.

  • The #ililc6 weekend totally re-energised me. I emailed my Headteacher before I got on the plane home, evangelising the wonders of ICT (when the internet isn’t buffering, the sun isn’t shining on my interactive whiteboard and the websites aren’t blocked) and offering to run a school Teachmeet.
  • Once I got home, I created a departmental poster of QR codes linking to activity websites such as Linguascope, reference sites we use such as Word Reference  and exam support via SQA . Copied, laminated and distrubuted Monday at coffee!
  • This week’s DM was dedicated to a handful of ideas and I intend for us to focus on one idea per month so staff don’t feel overwhelmed but they’re used to me getting carried away with ideas. Some staff have already tried out some of the new ideas and love them, as do their pupils.
  • Having been inspired Serena and Annalise, I created a powerpoint for my Higher French class on the death of Prince and also of David Bowie earlier this year, using QR codes to link to French tv news reports and a 1jour1actu cartoon clip on Bowie. P2 Monday morning was maybe a bit early for my poor Highers to appreciate my even more energetic enthusiasm for my new ‘toys’, but they too used to be getting over-excited now and then.
  • Quizlet live has been a big success and colleagues are similarly enthused.
  • We subscribe to textivate  and when I created an activity this week, I remembered to give it the dept tag ‘invacad’ so it’s easy to find again.

I really can’t emphasise how much I appreciated this weekend, it has easily been the best cpd-event I’ve ever attended and has had an immediate impact on my teaching practice and a knock-on effect on my colleagues. I’m fairly new to Twitter and have been using our Department account @invacadmfl to share the #ililc6 love. Thank you @JoeDale!

 

Developing the Young Workforce – Career Management Skills: One Primary School’s Approach

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)

Wellbeing 15-16 #teacher5adaySlowChat #ScotEdChat
December 30, 2015
2

I have been following the teacher slow-chat wellbeing posts this week with great interest and decided to have a go at a 15-16 wellbeing post myself.

I am a driven person. I am not sure when I became  slightly addicted to pushing myself; I think that it hit somewhere around the age of 14 when I decided that I wanted to go to Cambridge. I think that I failed, as a teenager, to ever get a real sense of myself and threw myself into models of what I thought I ‘should be’. The underlying psychological issues are not for this post but safe to say that at 46, I’m still working on it….

Thereafter the joy of childhood seemed to slip away and I became very goal driven.

But of course hard work is a GOOD thing and workaholism is one of those addictions that is secretly ok because it is about ‘achieving’. As is an addiction to exercise….. You don’t get the same criticism for being addicted to work or exercise as you do for being addicted to booze or heroin….or self-harm.

I am not sure whether genetics added to my driven-ness. My maternal grandmother, widowed while pregnant, was a Lithuanian-German who lived a guilt-driven existence as a slave to the Protestant work ethic. I never really knew her.

My paternal grandmother, the polar opposite to ‘Oma’ in many ways, was also unable to sit still for long and lived on her nerves; a sociable, generous soul who would do anything to keep others happy. I miss her to this day.

My parents both committed their working lives to teaching in the state sector and worked accordingly. Dad was better at work-life balance than Mum. He was lucky enough to be part of the generation to retire in his early fifties. Mum similarly retired early but on ill health grounds, probably related to being a brilliant Mum and teacher but not so good on the self-preservation. Both parents engaged in marathon running and extreme gardening as ‘hobbies’ and so there was never much time for down-time in our house.

I had vowed never to be a teacher myself, having felt that the long holidays didn’t really make up for the other stresses and pressures of the job. I vividly remember my Dad avoiding shopping in our local town for fear of a pupil sarcastically shouting ‘Alright Sir!’ across the square.

But somehow the plans went awry. I didn’t become a GP. Or a lawyer. Or an actor. Or a drama therapist. Because ultimately I decided that I was born to teach. That may sound corny but it is the truth.

Doing a PGCE while I was waiting to be snapped up by the West End confirmed that. It also confirmed that drama teaching was the ultimate thing for me to do in order to assuage a thirst to change the world, one child at a time, through the power of theatre.

I am a good teacher. Years of affirmation from pupils, parents/carers and colleagues back this up. But I have to say that I never feel good enough. That is partly down to my psychology, I know….but it is also because it is a job where culture, society and the processes for measuring my profession constantly put me and my job down.

Several voices in the slow-chat (including @robfmac) have called for the development and promotion of teacher ‘agency’ and I would agree that this is a crucial part of helping improve the wellbeing of the profession. We need to have educational leaders at national and local levels who understand teaching, understand education staff and protect and nurture them, rather than subjecting them to unrealistic performance measures.


@LCLL-Director asked, on day 1 of the slow-chat whether perfectionists become teachers or teachers become perfectionists? I stated that I felt that there is an interesting piece of research to be done here.

But whichever way round it is, teaching and perfectionism can never be a good combination within the current climate. It is a climate where, in Scotland, we are told that we can do our job in 35 hours a week when we simply CAN’T. The non-contact time we get is so frequently taken to allow other absent staff to be covered that it is almost not worth having. Hence a system where we are set up to struggle and fail before we even start. It is a climate where electronic management systems that were meant to reduce teacher workload are so unwieldy and user unfriendly that they cause excessive stress and add to workload. And it is a culture where a politician visited England to learn about ‘closing the gap’, was told there were no clear conclusions to be drawn from the approach adopted South of the border but then decided to impose it on Scotland anyway. (For more on that, ask @realdcameron)

If I cleaned toilets, I would have a specific number of toilets to clean and set working hours in which to do it. I might go home and worry about the standard of my cleaning but it is unlikely that I would be able to go back into my place of work out of hours…. Or be made to feel guilty for not doing so. Equally, I do not believe that there is a technical solution whereby toilet cleaners can clean toilets from home. Whereas, thanks to IT, teachers now have little excuse not to ‘catch’ up on admin, marking, report writing outside of the contracted 35 hours.

So, this new year I make 3 vows.

1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after better myself for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently….

2. To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.

3. To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….

So, Happy New Year. Let’s make it so.

Putting the ‘character’ in 140 characters: my first ScotEdChat

Last night I hosted my first #ScotEdChat on Twitter. It is the third chat so far having accidentally started the ball rolling a few weeks ago. The first chat happened on 5th November hosted by @MrsPert1, the second on 12th hosted by @athole. Next week the host will be @DrewBurrett. Having started with basically zero followers, the @ScotEdChat account has 625 followers as of this second. Not bad for three weeks worth of fun.

The theme of the chat last night was a meaty issue that I have been fascinated by for a few years now: Character, Values and Citizenship. Initially I was a bit worried about the idea of hosting a chat on a theme that I have a personal interest in – however I was reassured by various people that it would be of interest to others too and to just get on with it.

If you don’t know me, I work as a consultant for the charity Character Scotland and I recently curated a major international conference for them on the theme of ‘Character, Culture and Values’. I am now delivering a Pathway Project, which includes a call for evidence to practitioners, designed to build on the successes of this event. I have a range of other potential projects lined up in these areas for 2016 involving Character Scotland and other organisations. Hopefully you will see more developments on that front soon. Please get in touch if you want to know more: gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. That’s me.

Here are the questions I proposed for last night’s ScotEdChat:

scoted_questionsScotEdChatQ1ScotEdChatQ2ScotEdChatQ3ScotEdChatQ4ScotEdChatThankYou

It was a steep learning curve. I felt like I imagine the wee dude on the skateboard must have felt seconds after the photo above was taken. I have never hosted an online chat before and participated in only a couple, all the while wondering how on earth the host is supposed to keep up. So there I was with all my tweets scheduled (I used Hootsuite for scheduling and Canva to produce the images), and Tweetdeck open so I could follow the thread as it happened in real time and prompt as necessary.

It was another successful (I think!) and interesting chat that raised lots of issues and questions. You can view the summary on Storify here.

You will notice that I have proposed that the conversation carries on using the #SlowChat format unti Wed 25th November. There are a few reasons for this. When I was lucky enough to have a loose and completely voluntary ScotEdChat ‘team’ in place, we had some conversation about the format of the chats. Concerns were raised from the off that the one hour format can be too fast and frenetic. We agreed that a week-long SlowChat could be more effective and therefore worth a shot. However, you need a following to do that. So we’ve had three fast chats partly to establish a critical mass of followers. I think we have now done that pretty effectively. So you might see more ‘slow chats’ happening as #ScotEdChat continues to evolve.

The other reason why I think #SlowChat could work better for an online conversation about character, values and citizenship (among other topics) is that there is a danger that the dialogue only reaches a superficial level. There were sparks of engagement with deep questions and critique last night that I think we could build on in a #SlowChat format, such as:

  • What is meant by character, values and citizenship, and who decides what they mean?
  • If we can agree that the purposes of education extend beyond a utilitarian and economic model of individual ‘cashable’ capacities towards something that is about character, values and citizenship – what exactly are those purposes and to what extent are we fulfilling them at the moment?
  • What is the role of character, values and citizenship in a liberal democracy and just society?
  • Are ‘character, values and citizenship’ the right words to use? Does it matter what words we use? What are the dangers here?
  • What are the key influences on character, values and citizenship and what is the role of formal schooling in this regard?
  • What is the role of parenting, early years provision, communities, informal education and collaboration with 3rd sector organisations in this regard?
  • How could teachers address these issues safely in and out of the classroom? Constructivist approach? Psychological interventions? Enquiry? Critical pedagogy? Socratic dialogue? Aristotelian virtue ethics? Indoctrination? Experiential learning? Collaborative learning? Outdoor education?
  • A great question raised last night: is it easier to address the issue of character in Catholic schools? Why? And what does that mean?
  • What type of citizenship and what type of citizen? Responsible, global, local, social, digital, active…?
  • To what extent is it possible to discuss character, values and citizenship in an online environment? Is it useful to do so or is it just pain silly?

(I am aware that several dissertations could be written on any one of these topics…)

Sue Palmer from Upstart Scotland emailed me after the chat with this wonderful quote from Neil Postman, comparing ‘Brave New World’ (Huxley) and ‘1984’ (Orwell):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no-one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy-porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood, in a 1995 interview on PBS

I share the fears of both Orwell and Huxley regarding an exploration of the slippery issues of character, values and citizenship. I have had the thought in mind for a while now that the way forward with regard to this exists in the ‘spaces between’ various tensions.

As a musician, Claude Debussy’s comment appeals to me:

Music is to be found in the spaces between the notes

The spaces I am referring to might fall between tensions such as knowledge and skills; knowledge and character; progressivism and traditionalism; liberalism and conservatism; evidence-based and research-informed; economic, social and human capital; freedom and conformity; rights and responsibilities; globalism and localism; all of which could be false binary distinctions by the way.

So where do we go from here? As educators we often fall into the trap of trying to find the right answer when really we should be looking for the right questions, or indeed looking for the spaces between all of these.

Nobody can really comment with authority on any issue of remote importance within 140 characters of text, particularly and ironically, when the subject itself is character without the ‘s’. Having said ALL of that – and thank you for reading to the end – the other option of doing nothing about it, to me, is no option at all.

So why not tweet or blog as part of the first #ScotEdChat #SlowChat on this wonderfully bewildering theme. If you need a reason to do so, this image shared last night by @KatyKingUK during #ScotEdChat is as good as any.

BeAboutIt

How we could reform assessment and certification
Image by non-partizan

[Originally published on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 5th November 2015]

In my recent post ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘, I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

Whilst there may be many teachers who would wish for a return to the simpler assessment arrangements of the Intermediate 1 & 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications of the ‘Higher Still’ era, which have been replaced by the CfE courses, I feel that one of the major shortcomings of CfE is its failure in doing anything to fundamentally change the nature or the purpose of assessment.

The new system, as with all of its predecessors, places almost the entire value of the certified qualifications on the terminal summative assessment of the course – the exam. Though some courses have significant elements of coursework, and many include an extended project or research task, still the majority of what our students, schools and staff are judged upon happens in a narrow time frame of a few hours at the end of almost an entire year of study. The results of these high stakes assessments supersede those for the individual unit assessments completed during the courses studied, rendering them effectively worthless.

In addition to this, there is the issue of the complexity involved in marking and recording the results of the unit assessments (which I outlined in ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘) which makes it difficult for students to understand whether they have passed units or not and increases the administrative burden on teachers.

In order to overcome these issues I propose the following changes to the methods of assessment and certification.

Unit Assessment via online e-Assessment

The SQA currently makes use of its own system for online e-Assessment, SQA Solar, for a range of courses across Nationals, Higher, HNC etc. Centres and candidates have unique, secure logins ensuring security of the assessment, and the system allows assessments to be scheduled at a time when the student is ready to be assessed.

This system could be expanded to incorporate all unit assessments in all subjects at all levels, and could be set up so that students performance could be recorded against the many individual criteria necessary to achieve a pass in a given unit. Any reassessment required could automatically be tailored to the specific areas not achieved at the first attempt. Given a sufficiently large bank of assessment items, or a sufficiently adaptable format, allowing numerical data to change for calculation-based questions (as it does on Heriot-Watt University’s Scholar VLE), it might be possible for students to make multiple attempts at assessments until the required standard is reached.

As the system is fully automated, this would free up teachers’ time for teaching and supporting their students learning, rather than using it for the bureaucratic administration of data. It would also reduce the ‘data chase’ required to ensure that SQA data is kept up to date on school MIS systems for transfer to SQA systems.

‘Points’ allocation and certification for internally assessed components –

Most courses have individual unit assessments which must be passed by students in order for them to achieve a grade in the final examination. Although these unit passes are included on students’ certificates, there is no explicit value placed upon them in comparison to the exam grade achieved. By allocating all components of all courses a number of points at the relevant SCQF level, students could potentially build up points across a number of courses whilst being able to choose whether or not to sit the final examination. This would reduce the ‘high stakes’ nature of the final examination, and allow for students, departments and schools to be judged and compared over the full range of their performance.

Points allocation for units could be based on the ‘size’ of the units, whilst exam grades could be allocated points determined by the band of pass. In my own subject, Physics, for example –

N5 – points awarded at SCQF level 5

3 x units, each with 10 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands – A1 = 30 points, A2 = 25 points, B3 = 20 points, etc

Higher – points awarded at SCQF level 6

2 x full unit, each with 10 points + 2 x half unit, each with 5 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands as for N5

Revision and separate certification of assessed course ‘Added Value’ units and ‘Assignments’ – 

Many courses have an internally assessed ‘Added Value’ unit, which at N4 has to meet every one of a significant number of individual criteria. Teachers are allowed to provide feedback to students in order to modify their submissions so that these criteria can be met.

The equivalent component of most N5 courses is an externally assessed ‘Assignment’, a formal report which is completed ‘under close supervision’ after a period of research which may include practical experimental work. Though guidance is given to students from their teachers, no feedback may be given on the report produced which is sent to the SQA to be assessed. The final mark for the assignment, given out of 20, forms a small proportion of the final score and hence the final grade.

These arrangements make it much more demanding for an N4 student, who may find the task much more challenging than most N5 students. A poorly completed N4 AVU would not meet all of the critera, resulting in the student not meeting the requirements of the unit, and subsequently not receiving an overall award for the course. A poorly completed N5 Assignment carries no such penalty, and would simply give the student a lower final score – without denying the student an overall pass.

Revisions should be made to the assessment of AVU tasks to make them fairer on the students. Perhaps an AVU could be consider to have been passed if a significant proportion of the criteria for the task, say 10 out of 15, were met by the student.

In addition to the significant differences in the assessments of these equivalent tasks across SCQF levels, AVU and assignment tasks are often very similar in related subject areas. This results in significant duplication of effort and repeated assessment of skills across a number of a student’s subjects.

By assessing these tasks on a skills basis, rather than within subjects, a single AVU or assignment could be completed by a student studying more than one science, or social subject. Students could choose which subject or subjects their assignments could cover, potentially allowing more meaningful, challenging, inter-disciplinary work to be undertaken. Though this might make the assessment of students’ reports more complicated, it might offer an opportunity to make the assessment criteria more flexible, as they are for the Baccalaureate qualifications undertaken by some students in S6. If nothing else, a reduction in the number of these tasks would significantly reduce the workload on students and reduce the SQA who have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient markers for these tasks since their introduction.

I recognise that these proposals would require significant change to our current systems of assessment and certification, and that the Scottish teaching profession has experienced unprecedented change throughout the development and delivery of Curriculum fro Excellence. I further accept that one of the main reasons for avoiding radical change in the exam system has been concern that parents, employers, colleges and universities, might not fully understand the significance of new qualifications. In reality, it could be argued that these groups don’t fully understand the significance of the current qualifications system, and haven’t done so for a long time, if they ever have at all.

On a superficial level, it is easily understood that a student with an ‘A’ grade in a qualification is in some way ‘better qualified’ than another with a ‘C’ grade in the same subject, and that a student with five Higher passes is ‘better qualified’ than another with three Highers and two National 5s. But unless one has recently studied a course, or taught it, there is little chance of understanding what knowledge and skills are really involved gaining such a qualification, let alone how that qualification compares with other subjects or other levels.

It is often argued that we need these qualifications to allow universities to choose between applicants for places on their undergraduate courses. Without wishing to belittle this assertion, it does bear comparison to the ‘Sorting Hat’ in the Harry Potter novels – e.g. ‘AAAAB’ at Higher being the minimum requirement for a Law degree (Slytherin?). Increasingly, however, universities apply their own assessment requirements (BMAT, UKCAT exams), conduct entrance interviews, or consider applicants on the broader indicators of their personal statements, reducing their reliance on the crude measurement of ‘ability’ given by exam results alone.

In many ways the awarding of badges by organisations such as the Boy’s Brigade or Scouts to indicate the achievements of their members is a much more understandable form of accreditation. Indeed many professional and vocational qualifications are already ‘badgified’ in this way using industry standards, against which ‘badges’ are referenced and accredited. Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox we browser, support such a system for teachers to award ‘Open Badges‘ to their students using ‘open standards’ – where the criteria for which the badge is awarded are embedded as meta-data and awarded digitally. These badges can be electronically attached to a student’s digital profile via their blog, Google or other online account, and shared with prospective employers, colleges and universities.

Some work has already been undertaken by the SQA to develop this approach to accreditation, outlined in this press release from 2013, with small scale projects being adopted by some FE colleges, including Borders College, for accrediting both the work of students and staff CPD.

Open badges may not solve all of the short comings of our current system, indeed other, better systems may be in use elsewhere, or currently under development. Such a system, if combined with students’ unique Glow account could potentially stay with them throughout their schooling and beyond, perhaps even following them beyond further and higher education and into employment. The development of such a ‘Scottish Learner’s Account’, integrating assessment, certification and the accreditation of skills could form the foundation of a truly radical approach to these issues upon which students at all stages could build throughout the ‘Lifelong Learning’ that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the future of education.

Dyslexia Scotland – teachers welcome!

The theme of Dyslexia Awareness Week this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’, chosen to fit in with Education Scotland’s 2014 report ‘Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People in Scotland’.

Lots of people think that we just work with children and adults with dyslexia and parents but that’s not so. Earlier this month, over 300 delegates attended our Education Conference and heard about some of the important developments resulting from the recommendations of the report, including new professional learning resources for teachers:  a ‘Route Map through Career Long Professional Learning for Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice’ and interactive reading and writing resources that have been added to the Online Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit.

This year our branches across Scotland have organised a great variety of events for anyone to attend. Our branches organise meetings for anyone with an interest, but the majority of people who come along tend to be parents and teachers.  Often at these events,  parents will talk about their confusion and frustration about an apparent reluctance from schools to carry out assessments for dyslexia.  On the other hand we hear from teachers of continued cuts to budgets and classroom support and a lack of proper training to assess pupils for dyslexia. There is often potential for a heated situation but what’s interesting is how often both parties find it useful to hear the other’s perspective.

Parents are usually not being unreasonable and out for a fight for the sake of it – they are worried and stressed about the possibility that their son or daughter hasn’t had their needs properly identified or that they’re not getting the help they need. Teachers are facing huge workloads, increasing targets and are expected to be experts in all areas – but they do want to help every pupil they teach, whatever their needs.

Our message to parents is always that the best outcome for their child will be if they have a good relationship with the school. It’s true that both sides sometimes need to work on this but we believe that one of the most valuable things about our branches is providing a forum where both sides can meet in a neutral place.

So if you’re a teacher, why not come along to any of the events during Dyslexia Awareness Week and find out more about what we’re about?

Find out about individual and school membership of Dyslexia Scotland here.

Click here to see all the events and resources for Dyslexia Awareness Week on 2 – 8 November.

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