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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Boys Attainment or Superheroes need Super Teachers

Boys… They have it tough. The gender attainment gaps in Primary school result in a reduction of life choices and chances by the end of High School. In 2011  48% girls went to University whereas only 37% boys had the same chance.
At our INSET with Gary Wilson (www.garywilsonraisingboysachievement.co.uk) on Friday we were taken through the challenges of boyhood and the barriers to boys learning. From succumbing to the peer police (“Better to be seen not to be bothered by winning than to try and fail.”) to issues with independence; with parents who have been lured into the false impression that it’s easier to do everything for our boys rather than live with constant nagging, raised blood pressure and ranting that even the smallest of requests can result in. From low self esteem to the negative labels society puts onto boys from a very early age Gary is on a one man mission to change these negative stereotypes (once challenging British Home Stores when they advertised a boys T-shirt in their Spring Collection declaring “Lazy and proud of it!”).

So what can we do in our schools and classrooms to give boys the best opportunities to meet their potential? Gary’s main suggestions of the day were: 

- Promote breakfast – by not eating breakfast by 10.30am we have the reaction speed of a 70year old. 
- Promote a “can do” ethos  -  internal auditory is louder in boys heads.
- Positive visualisation ensures success – Imagining yourself doing well means you most probably will.
- Feed your brain! Giving children fruit and a drink prior to test helps with attainment.
- Assist neuropathways by ‘piggyback’ learning- teach someone else what you’ve learned. 
- Promote creativity- children who play instruments do better at school.
- Develop leadership capacity in boys so they get attention for the right reasons.
- Boys prefer active learning. Although there’s a need to balance approaches across learning styles make sure there’s enough active learning events in our lessons to motivate and engage so boys work to the best of their ability. 
- Superheroes! Tapping  into this genre helps to boys to make links to the real world. Staff should value play based on children’s interest whilst promoting order and boundaries. Superhero play = emotional intelligence = clear rules = structure = guidelines for success. 
- Ban setting! Setting reinforces negative stereotypes. The younger a child is ‘set’ the worst they’ll do at age 16. 
- Celebrate success by using hand written ‘I did great work’ style labels as success stickers to give parents a focus to celebrate success at home.
- Aifl- use those lolly sticks or a random name generator (http://www.classtools.net/education-games-php/fruit_machine) to ensure children are focused and expect to be included in the lesson.
- Plan the plenary! Don’t let the boys skip any part of Kolb’s learning cycle (http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html) in their rush to be finished.
- Focus on Fiction: it promotes emotional intelligence and 
          – exposes children to wider experiences,
          – aids understanding of what others think,
          – helps children identify with characters and their issues,
          – gives children strategies to deal with dilemmas.
-Set up Systems - When in doubt give them a system! 
- Think in the short term for long term success: Short term goals, short term targets, short term rewards = boys striving for success.
-Cut out the copying out – it has no purpose and is predominantly used as behaviour control. Out of the mouths of boys: “Teachers’ can’t be bothered to teach us when we’re copying out.”
-Make learning real and fun by giving children real audiences. Use Crazy Talk (http://www.reallusion.com/crazytalk/crazytalk_trial.asp) software to manipulate pictures and provide a purpose to writing. 
- focus on fine motor control development. Often this is an area of difficulty for boys (http://scotens.org/sen/articles/primary_reflexes.pdf) so praise for quality ideas when quality presentation is a mountain too high!
- Consider training staff to teach the children peer massage  (http://www.misascotland.org.uk/index.htm) or yoga (http://www.yogascotland.org.uk/findteacher.html). Positive touch  and relaxation helps to keep students calm, focused and motivated.

Through Gary’s work with groups of boys their top tips are:
- Choose the right time of day to teach important stuff- not when we’re excited.
- don’t criticise if you can’t read my handwriting, it’s not always the most important thing.
- be more persuasive!
- writing in small chunks is best.
- we want to write in any way we want!
- use mind mapping ideas.
- you start the story, let us kids finish it.
- give us basic ideas to get started.
- make it fun!
- use lots of props.
- find out what interests us
- use mind maps as a form of plenary/ help me share my learning with a partner.
- read to us – it helps us with our own stories and poems. 
- let us act stories out.
- give us time to think and talk.
- model writing – use visualisers to share pupil work.

All the approaches above are very much good learning and teaching and would benefit any pupil regardless of gender but with a focus on engaging boys and bridging the attainment gaps the whole class will benefit.

Other places to get Gary’s words of wisdom are:

http://www.oxfordschoolimprovement.co.uk/professional-development

YouTube:

Books:

http://www.garywilsonraisingboysachievement.co.uk/publications.htm

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!