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 firstname.lastname@example.org.) 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.