Still not convinced that emerging teacher agency, through Pedagoo and elsewhere, is key to Curriculum for Excellence?
Still not convinced that emerging teacher agency, through Pedagoo and elsewhere, is key to Curriculum for Excellence?
Having tentatively posted a few 140-character descriptions of learning experiences (from my remote Hebridean secondary English classroom) on #pedagoofriday since its inception (courtesy of the innovative and media-sociable Kenny Pieper), when I was asked by Fearghal Kelly if I would like to write a blog post about one of my #pedagoofriday posts for pedagoo.org I went into a bit of a panic. What could I write that would be of any interest to other English teachers? Why would anyone who is already so multi-media literate and so far ahead of me in their use of ICT in their classrooms be interested?
But then it occurred to me: It’s just sharing; it’s not about ICT or being innovative, it’s just about being a reflective teacher and learner and giving a little while getting so much more back from other teachers and learners in the online education community.
This blog-post was originally to be on an S2 series of lessons regarding building effective persuasive arguments, in preparation for a class debate leading to a piece of discursive writing. I had posted on #pedagoofriday brief details about using a short film entitled ‘Dangle’, available from the fantastic new ‘Screen Shorts’ on Glow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzRD59r2j2A – apologies but this has to be a You Tube link as Glow won’t allow a direct link – not getting into that discussion!), to get pupils thinking about the use of metaphor in making an effective strong point in speech and/or writing. The film speaks for itself and the pupils enjoyed and did brilliantly with it. Their responses to the first question of what the film was about ranged from: ‘You should never pull a piece of string when you don’t know what’s at the other end’ (liked this, even if it missed the point a little!) to ‘We should not interfere with what God has created’ (this IS the Western Isles after all) to ‘We shouldn’t abuse the earth’s resources’ – fantastic! A lively, sometimes surprising and very switched on (!) discussion ensued and, at the end of the lesson, pupils were asked to bring other examples of the persuasive use of metaphor in advertising to the next lesson. We went on to look at the power of iconic images, emotional and sensory responses to images used to persuade, rhetoric, the power of language, etc…
However, what I actually feel more inclined to write about is the impact being on Twitter, sharing in #pedagoofriday and witnessing participation in Teachmeets has had on me personally; as well as its potential for encouraging engagement and discussion, reviewing (and revising) practice and inspiring all teachers. In April this year, I reluctantly joined Twitter when Bill Boyd (@literacyadviser) convinced a group of Western Isles teachers at a CPD session in Stornoway to try it and see its usefulness as a CPD resource. Many thanks, Bill – it’s been a revelation.
A year earlier – as PT of a department of ten, at a time of change (with little clear guidance) in the Scottish curriculum and during a state of flux with the school’s SMT – I felt that English Department Meetings had become a source of dread and anxiety, not just for me but for everyone in the department: they had become admin-heavy and tedious, with a sense of being over-burdened / inadequate in the face of so many changes – we all hated DMs. It was hard to get through all the admin, find time and energy to develop new CfE courses, while at the same time encourage innovation, motivation and enthusiasm! We had also experienced a significant change of staff (nearly 50%) whereby several longish serving staff had retired or moved on and been replaced by an exciting array of NQTs, probationers and other younger staff. I had noticed that the best DMs were those when we discussed texts and other learning resources and activities, as well as sharing feedback on CPD regarding learning and teaching – when we gave ourselves time for professional reflection. Although some staff were stoically anti email / anything electronic, I decided to shift as much of the admin to email and sold this approach on the basis that it would free DM time for more positive and enjoyable discussions. I try now to limit emails to one weekly list of reminders and deadlines, and one brief daily bulletin of news, notifications, etc. I changed the focus of the DM agenda to Learning and Teaching first and foremost, leaving Administrative Issues as a lesser element of the meetings. Occasionally we do still have to have a meeting that is almost all admin, but, by and large, we now spend DMs discussing what we find more enjoyable and stimulating: sharing practice about the learning and teaching in our classrooms.
Twice per term-ish, the DM is in the form of 2 minute micro-presentations from all staff on something they are doing, are looking at, would like to try, new texts and text forms (‘Inanimate Alice’, Samorost’, ‘Machinarium’, graphic novels, blogging, wikis, etc), and also on ‘bog-standard’ English classroom practice. Here is a sample of one such DM Agenda from May this year to show the range:
1 New Creative Digital Media (Skills for Work – SCQF Level 4) course – AJ.
2 S3 Magazine Project – NM.
3 Scholastic Book Club, Reading Week and Readathon – MMD.
4 Issues involved in having 3 supported pupils (with severe and complex needs) in a mainstream Standard Grade S3 class – ES.
5 Experiences of a probationer teacher – LC.
6 Twitter and blogging – CG.
7 Online journal – ‘Crazy Guy on a Bike’ – DM.
8 S5/6 Literacy for Life (development of new Skills for Work) course – JF.
9 S1 Creative Writing project – KK.
10 Discursive Writing Focus S1 to S3 – LS.
These DMs have enabled newer teachers to showcase their innovative ideas and approaches. But they have also given a voice to older staff, some of whom were feeling sidelined, tired of innovation, under-valued – and, in some cases, downright offended by CfE – a sense that the good stuff still matters and their expertise is still very valid and very important. They have a forum at these practice-sharing DMs to describe activities that are more ‘traditional’, but are still relevant and are the bedrock of learning and teaching; for some previously cynical staff, they have discovered that they now have a role in leading innovation. I’ve been really impressed with the sharing that takes place at these sessions – we all get so much from them. In a way, DMs have become like a close-range teachmeet / #pedagoofriday type exercise. The practice-sharing model is so important.
As well as this, two years ago I set up an English / Literacy network group consisting of English Secondary plus Primary 7 teachers across the authority. It was mainly aimed at improving transitions – in the Western Isles as well as P7 to S1 transition, we have a number of P1 to S2 schools where pupils transfer to us at the end of S2, so we also have S2 to S3 transitions – focusing on sharing standards of assessment and moderation of reading and writing. As well as face to face meetings, because of our location and the remoteness of some of our schools and isolation of some of the teachers, the group has a Glow meet page and a Glow wiki for discussion, moderation and sharing of resources. (I can’t share a link here because it is an authority wiki and membership is by invitation – however, if you are a Glow user and would like to see the wiki, email me a request to email@example.com.) This network group was used by the authority as a model to set up CfE network groups – numeracy, health and wellbeing, expressive arts, etc – and we meet once or twice per term. The main focus of the Literacy Network group meetings has become sharing practice, sharing resources and discussion of English and Literacy in our classrooms and across the curriculum. We are fortunate to have had Bill Boyd commissioned by the authority as the group’s Literacy Adviser. This means he participates – in person or online – in all the network meetings and now manages the group’s wiki. Like DMs, these network group meetings have become like Teachmeets or #pedagoofriday sessions and all participants say they enjoy and value them. Again, the practice-sharing model is key.
Where I feel the real value of Twitter, #pedagoofriday, websites like pedagoo.org (and other blog sites) and the sharing of Teachmeets lies is in their power to draw staff from across all sectors and subject areas together in a supportive e-community where we can share practice across the curriculum. It is CPD at its best.
In order to adequately answer this question, I rallied up an army of exhausted yet enthusiastic fourth year students and probationers to answer me one question:
How do you feel about the Curriculum for Excellence?
No restrictions were placed upon the survey, no limitations or specification was given within the question; just an open canvas available for praise or reproach at will.
Soon into the two week time period, themes began to manifest themselves within the views of the group – as shown in the tagxedo above – and it is those themes that form the undertones of this article.
Generally, all we know is the Curriculum for Excellence. Unlike some who may feel like square products of a 5-14 curriculum being pushed through a round hole, we have no comparison. We enter schools full of E’s O’s and singing the 4 capacities from the roof tops, but many feel they are met with disgruntled sighs. It was felt that many schools could still be running their 5-14 curriculum with a mere “CfE” sticker stuck on top and equally many teachers could have already been running a “CfE” compliant classroom for the past ten years. Is the Curriculum for Excellence just a facade or is it making a real difference inside classrooms, on the front line?
Many felt that possibilities and opportunities open to a teacher were vastly more accessible under the new curriculum – “the Curriculum for Excellence rewards innovators” – and experimentation and creativity within the classroom was met with praise rather than scepticism; as one student commented “when I utter the words ‘I would like to take the class outside for this lesson’ I am no longer greeted by shock or derision”.
The flexibility offered with the new curriculum also resounded as a huge positive, alongside cross curricular benefits and the encouragement of ‘pupil-led’ learning styles. Many also felt the curriculum allowed them to further meet the needs of individual learners within their classrooms and supported the ‘real-word’ emphasis encouraged within the curriculum.
Support and enthusiasm was clearly shown for the Curriculum for Excellence; however most appreciate that there is still a way to go and improvements to be made. Interestingly, these comments also followed a common trend and I have taken the liberty of summing up these views for you:
Excusing the tongue in cheek, this – I felt – was an interesting representation of the themes that appeared during the short survey.
Uncertainty appears to surround the Curriculum for Excellence – many students, probationers and experienced teachers alike have expressed concerns alongside their praises – and all these concerns seem to fall into categories mentioned above.
There is no doubt that The Curriculum for Excellence has clear positive attributes and many have experienced a considerable ‘positive overhaul of classroom teaching’ since its introduction. From a personal viewpoint, I support the changes the Curriculum for Excellence intends for the Scottish education system – and although perhaps it isn’t perfect just yet – if we were able to successfully achieve, recognise and fulfil the genuine potential behind the new Curriculum, we could once again become ‘one to watch’ within international education. We are not there yet, but it’s one step in the right direction.
“Curriculum for Excellence is handing back power to classroom teachers, let’s use it before they take it off us again.”
Many thanks to all the Moray House students and post graduates for their time and efforts within this survey, much appreciated. Particular shout outs to: Shona Tait, Fiona Jenkins, Leith Whale, Ellen Henretty, Barry Fraser, Charles Thornton, Suzie Kerr and Anita Ann LeTissier.
(FYI – Tagxedos creatable here: http://www.tagxedo.com/)
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This year I changed…
This year I changed from teaching P5 to teaching nursery! It’s almost the end of the school year and a lot of the time I still have no idea what I’m doing or if I’m doing it right! Its been very good experience though and I’m doing it again next year to further develop my practice. I think it would be good for every teacher to spend some time in nursery (and more than a 4 week placement) as it gives you such an insight into how it all begins, and the kind of practice that maybe should be brought into further up the school.
I hope to do a significantly better job next year now I know the ropes a bit but I’m not sure if I want to do it forever, I don’t want to become pigeon holed as the nursery teacher as I still have a long career ahead of me.
This year I changed…
This year I changed my life. Glow led me to blogging with classes which provided my pupils with the opportunity to do some ‘real’ writing for a change. It led me to Blogging myself which has been the great epiphany for me. I found I could articulate thoughts and feelings about my classroom practice which have given me the confidence to be braver.
Digital storytelling, Inanimate Alice to be specific, was the most incredible learning experienece for everyone in the classroom. It taught me that if we can be brave in what we set out to achieve then our classrooms can come alive again.
And Twitter, my God, Twitter, has ben the greatest support system, advice centre, Departmental meeting and Inservice Day I could ever have dreamed of.
This has been the greatest year of my twelve year career. Of course, however, next year I’ll just want to be better.
This year I changed…
Trying to get kids more involved and engaged in their learning, I provided the group with big sheets of paper during the first week, and asked them to write down all the things they wanted to learn about. I have a group of 10 primary children with special needs, so they all did this on one sheet, with help to scribe or spell where needed. They came up with a really nice mix of interests – tigers, aeroplanes, police dogs, transport, football etc.
I put this up on the wall and refer to it in my planning – choosing reading books, maths contexts, surveys, invites to visitors etc. I also refer to it a lot with the group, so I can say , do you remember John wanted to learn about aeroplanes? How can we do that? Who could we invite to talk to us? etc.
It is a really simple way to start them thinking about what they want to learn, give them a bit of ownership over their curriculum and let them feel a bit special when it is their idea that is being studied.
Like many teachers in Scotland at the moment, I am trying to evolve my classroom practice to encompass the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence. Below is a little of what I have discovered in developing and delivering a new unit for S2 on vibrations and waves – sound, light and radiations beyond the visible.
Firstly, I set out to write an exemplar teacher’s guide covering from first principles, the route through and some resources supporting the course. I started with the experiences and outcomes within the curriculum suborganiser and then looked across to the other curricular areas to see what I could pull in to enrich the experience. Needless to say, it was a much bigger task than I anticipated.
Secondly, my second year classes are no walk in the park. One particular day, twenty minutes into a period, having failed even so much as to get the learning intentions shared, I finally blew: I don’t have time to recount the details here but I had the class write me an essay on why I should even bother trying to teach them. What came out of that exercise were several examples of passionate, articulate and intelligent writing.
One example worth quoting from had:
“… I was doing well in first year and now I’m doing worse than I was last year because people in this class have wasted my opportunities for my dream job as a chemist.”
These responses brought me up sharply as I realised that the children already had developed literacy skills, enough to express the frustrations some of them were experiencing.
I saw my task as being to provide them a context within which they could develop these, possibly to a higher order. Two things emerged.
Listening and hearing – active engagement in traditionally passive learning
I thought of Pauk’s Cornell method and set a variant of it in context in the new unit. I was intending on using video extracts to support the learning, including one small 7-minute piece from Julian Treasure on sound health. I had the children make messy, contemporaneous notes on the key things that struck them as the video played. I made my own at the same time, then used these to challenge the children on the content of the video they had just seen. I was impressed by the quality of some of the notes – some hadn’t bothered – and the ability of those who had the key points noted down, to answer even the most difficult questions on the content. This was a rich seam for assessment of developing skills, providing evidence and opportunity. A good example* was from a girl, normally not a big hitter in the summative tests, who enthusiastically used the powerful weapon of good notes to outclass the others in her responses. The point was well made. Many students now take notes as I am talking to them.
Using new media and HHD
The other thing that impressed me in the class response to the new unit was how the childrens’ literacy overlaps and includes digital media fluency. I had another enthusiastic response from several pupils who, when asked if they had anything to share for (optional) homework, produced mobile phones with recordings of sounds they had made, answers to questions and even a video* submitted by email.
It is clear to me that the boundaries are being reset on literacy. Our task as teachers is to make sure we ourselves are sufficiently competent in the new literacies in order to challenge and develop children within them.
I know, I know. The experiences and outcomes have been around for ages now. Surely we’re long past getting to know them? In my experience however, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us seem to have taken something from them first time through, but now that we’re approaching the blunt end of assessment and reporting we’re beginning to wonder if we got them right.
Through our work with Myra Young, we’re being encouraged to take another look at the experiences and outcomes – this time starting with the purpose. This can often lead to a quite different approach to planning. Rather than looking at the experiences and outcomes and jumping straight to the activities we’d carry out, we think first about what the purposes of the outcomes are in terms of learning, how this could be evidenced and what the success criteria are.
On our inservice days next week at my new school, we’re lucky enough to be receiving CPD from teachers at Cramlington Learning Village with a view to planning our lessons using the accelerated learning cycle. But first I’m going to suggest that we need to ensure we understand the curriculum before jumping into detailed collaborative planning of lessons based on the learning cycle.
This can be illustrated with one of our science experiences and outcomes. Whilst in the past this might have led to us planning a series of lessons covering all the various organs of the systems we feel we need to ‘cover’, a fresh look at the purpose of the learning outlined in the curriculum brings a different emphasis and therefore quite different lessons.
We often complain the experiences and outcomes are vague and complex (which they are…but do we really want a version of the National Curriculum instead?) but if they are how can we expect to be fully familiar with them already? As difficult as it is to accept from the perspective of development work (which is going to get worse when the new NQs start arriving), the reality is that our understanding of the curriculum is going to evolve over time and I’m doing my best to try to keep my mind open to that…
Cross-posted on Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts
The following are some notes I made during the first Education Futures : Scotland open meeting tonight. You can watch it back here. A huge thank you to everyone who attended and contributed!