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xmasparty
I’m not your Stepping Stone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Praise

In Praise of #PedagooFriday, pedagoo.org, Teachers Tweeting and TeachMeeting

My “remote Hebridean classroom”
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…
twitter
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 lsutherland1a@gnes.net.) 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.

Games-Based Learning CfE

I am a Secondary English Teacher, but first and foremost I am a Teacher. In my past ‘life’ I was a Software Engineer so I am a Bachelor of both the Sciences and the Arts.  In a way I am an embodiment of the tenets of Curriculum for Excellence – I should be, because I hated my schooling: it didn’t fit me, nor I it;

Around this time last year I was near to completing the excellent Postgraduate Diploma in E-learning at Edinburgh University; Digital Game-based Learning was one of the six modules of study that focused on the learning and teaching benefits to be gained from existing and bespoke software applications.

I stumbled upon Silent Hunter III, a World War II software simulation game for the PC, and purchased it for about 2 GBP from Ebay.  I did some thinking (and playing), noting that fans were creating montages of scenes from the famous Das Boot film, overlaying in-game footage with an accompanying narrative in the form of subtitles and posting these (as they do for many other games – especially ‘COD’, from my experience of all-boys Standard Grade classes) on Youtube. (#1 & #2)

Confirmed for me was what I had suspected in the re-definition of what is a ‘text’ formalized in the Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy and English – Principles and Practice (LTScotland, p. 4).  Here lay the opportunity to do cross-curricular with – at the very least – History, Geography and ICT.

So, for the past few months – most of which has been a very enjoyable, with the odd difficulty here and there – I have been trialing my development with an excellent S2 class and a very helpful Computing Teacher who facilitated in providing a room with enough PCs; the Technician deserves similar praise in installing what became 15 copies of S.H. (10 of which were at personal expense and all from Ebay/Amazon Marketplace) and the two ‘Single Missions’ I created using the program’s ‘Mission Editor’: dropping merchant ships in the Atlantic when recreating Patrol 4 (12th April – 22nd May 1941) against HX-121 and HG-61; placing a plethora of vessels, Swordfish aircraft, mines and a wolf pack of U-boats at the Straits of Gibraltar for Patrol 7 (27th October – 06th December 1941) against OS-10.

Pupils have immersed themselves (pun intended) in the life of a Kriegsmarine crewmember on board the U-96 during two of its Atlantic Patrols.  They have consulted non-fiction texts, personal accounts, diagrams, German Navy Grid System maps, clippings from Das Boot and re-creating (with the help of u-boat.net and Google Maps) two actual patrols undertaken by U-96 between April and December 1941.  Pupils responded through functional and imaginative responses, and choice was a key consideration, using non-fiction texts with diagrams as well as pure narrative to convey technical information; I plan to offer the same ‘carousel’ approach next year.  Pupils have read about the hydroplanes, but when they get a chance to command the ship itself and use the ‘external camera view’ they really see the causal connection – the planes in operation and the ship surface/submerge.

Assessment? I think that a metaphorical form of assessment suits Literacy Outcomes very well, adopting one that fits the context of the aspect of study.  For instance, a ‘Ranks and Awards’ metaphor was used to good effect, whereupon pupils progress from Submarine School and begin their careers across the ranks of Seaman (Matrose), Able Seaman (Matrose-Gefreiter) and Leading Seaman (Matrose-Obergefreiter); ‘Award Badges’ were also awarded when the pupil displayed competency or understanding in a particular activity or technical element. 

Outcome? Technical difficulties hampered the collation of in-game footage – a consideration for next year, should technical difficulties persist, would be to have a bank of event clips to cover all aspects of their narrative structure - but pupils superimposed their narrative against still images within Powerpoint.

Pupils have been working in collaborative groups (2-4) and thinking in the four dimensional space of their character’s ‘world’, both boys and girls alike experienced the frustration at plotting a convoy … undertaking watch… encountering a clear-blue horizon and a silent hydrophone; I have seen the most unlikely candidates express distress and excitement at an oncoming destroyer as it fills their periscope view.

With crews not exceeding 44 men for a Type VIIC submarine, the class teacher can have pupils draw names of actual navy men that served aboard the U-96, giving them an additional dimension to their imaginative and functional writing activities.  I am scheduled, with the History Department committed and perhaps offering in parallel a similar activity based on the Destroyer Command simulation game; other departments have expressed real interest but I think will need more convincing.  The plan is to fully implement what will be a 12-week unit during the January-April 2012 term for the next cohort of S2.

Today, complete with a couple of bottles of port for the aforementioned colleagues as tokens of my appreciation, I say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the excellent cohort from S2 (who, of course, signed and sent ‘Thank You’ cards) as we change timetable, and they enter Standard Grade and I contemplate the Microsoft Project plan, the directory of digital resources, the Revell Model Kit, the keyboard layout, the Leverarch folder of texts, the Kriegsmarine Map on the wall…

For my next project – English and Science – Orbiter!

Getting to know the E’s and O’s

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

*Excellence not Guaranteed!
April 19, 2011
4

Excellence; the fact or state of excelling; superiority; being exceptionally good. So does Curriculum for Excellence mean we have to build an excellent curriculum, then deliver an excellent curriculum and create excellence? This is what I find most daunting about CfE. Just by its title it doesn’t feel achievable and I don’t feel worthy enough to build, deliver or create it, and I know lot’s of others who feel the same. Last term, when discussing CfE in the staffroom, it was jokingly suggested that our school motto should be *Excellence not Guaranteed. I find it sad that one word can make good teachers feel they have to put a disclaimer under their teaching. So I say ignore the title and ignore the phrases; excellence groups, sharing best practice and building your curriculum that make us feel inadequate and focus on the fantastic learning and teaching that we are all capable of.

The ten point implementation plan was supposed to enhance teachers’ confidence in CfE, but I’m not sure these statements would make me feel better; “drawing on experience of teachers from neighbouring schools who have already fully prepared for the new curriculum” translates to ‘this is how you should have prepared’ and “excellence groups” translates to ‘if you are deemed good enough we would like your input’. I agree that the best way to move forward is to get out and about and see how other’s put things into practice but the focus put on this has maybe been more of leading by example rather than networking and building together.

The focus needs to be on sharing and realising that we are in charge of our own classrooms and if our children are happy, engaged and learning, and we are experimenting with different techniques and trying to make learning relevant, deep and enjoyable then we have our own perfect mix of non guaranteed excellence!

Collegiality is going to be one of the most important ways of building each others confidence and moving CfE forward. We need to talk, share, moan and develop together in safe and nurturing places, whether physical places or virtual places, such as here or twitter. The best thing we did at school recently was go out for coffee. At 3.15 on the last Tuesday of the month we ditch the folders, schoolbags and USB drives with our lives on them and just go drink coffee, eat cake and chat. It was great to do and reminded you that the best discussions, developments and ideas come in the least stressful environments! We need to work together in the way we ask the children to, we need to put our hands up if we are stuck and praise ourselves and others for the fantastic work we do! So leave a positive comment, go out for a coffee, introduce someone to twitter, compliment someone and feel good about yourself!

*Apologies for the very happy shiny circle time feel to this post but we need some positivity sometimes!

Involving Pupils in Assessment

One of the questions on the Suggested Themes page is:

How, realistically, can pupils be involved in both their learning and assessment?

This really reminded me of a practical example from Stoneyhill Primary School, where P3 demonstrated how they are actively involved in their assessment…

As a secondary teacher, I love this video. It exemplifies not only how it’s possible to involve pupils in assessment, but also that the Primary 3 pupils are gaining a lot from having this sort of opportunity. And if they can do this in P3, imagine what they could be doing in S1!