Author Archives: Fearghal

About Fearghal

Biology Teacher in East Lothian, Scotland and administrator of Pedagoo.

PedagooBook? – A Consultation

Things continue to progress with Pedagoo. We’re coming up to two years since we first started the site and there are many exciting developments. Our readership continues to grow, as does our membership. Lots of new people are sharing their practice on the site, and many more are now tweeting every #PedagooFriday. And our list of exciting new TeachMeet events continues to grow. It’s fantastic and phenomenally overwhelming. I’m just pleased that we seem to have created something which people find useful.

Those of us on the admin team are constantly trying to think of new ways to try and make Pedagoo even more useful to practicing teachers. For example, Neil is currently working on a new termly magazine which will have enhanced posts and tweets and be available as a PDF or in iTunesU. I think this will be a great way for us to be able grow our community beyond those of us who are on twitter.

Another exciting possible development, and my reason for writing, is the creation of a Pedagoo Book. Kenny has been in discussions with Bright Red Publishing who are interested in the possibility of a book filled with Pedagoo style sharing and learning. Again, we think this would be a great opportunity for those of you who wanted to be involved to share your practice further, and another great way of reaching out beyond twitter to grow our community.

In order for the book to happen though, Bright Red need something they can sign a contract with. Despite appearances, up until now Pedagoo has consisted of a group of enthusiastic teachers, a domain name and some generously provided webhosting. Nothing more than that. Having taken advice on the best way forward, we’re proposing setting up a small Social Enterprise (or to give it its proper name, a company limited by guarantee) in order to allow us to take forward the book idea. There would be no shareholders in this form of organisation and any income would only be able to be used to support the activities of Pedagoo. As Pedagoo began life in Scotland, we would restrict this Social Enterprise to Scotland to begin with at least.

We’re very aware that Pedagoo is a community and its strength lies with you. We don’t want this to affect what makes Pedagoo work for you, and will strive to ensure this is the case. We also want to make sure that everyone has had an opportunity to feedback on this idea. Although those of us on the admin team obviously like the idea, so far nothing has been agreed, this is a genuine consultation.

We welcome your thoughts as comments below…

A Selection of #PedagooFriday Tweets 08-02-13

A few of the many fantastic #PedagooFriday tweets this week…

It’s been yet another fantastic week! If you’re new to Pedagoo, join in next week

The Evolution of Professional Learning in the Social Media Age

It’s strange looking back now at when I first started teaching ten years ago. I moved a long distance to take up my first post, and so the only teachers I knew in my new area were the ones who worked in my new school. When I left three years later, this was still the case. In those three years, the only teachers I discussed teaching with were those who happened to occupy the same staff room as me. Even CPD events weren’t that great an opportunity to network as the population of teachers in the South of England, where I was working at the time, is so vast that I never a encountered the same teacher more than once at any course.

This form of professional isolation isn’t a big problem if you work in a large and vibrant school where the staff and the leadership team are innovating and have open minds to change. However, not all schools are like this. Too often teachers have found themselves in schools were innovation is a dirty word. Where to speak up and share your practice risks ostracisation from your peers. Where any attempt to change your practice is met with resistance, and even ridicule. In this environment, it’s not surprising that some teachers can eventually lose some of their motivation and willingness. I’ve heard many teachers, including myself at one point in my career, describing themselves as having got “stuck in a rut”.

This first began to change for me when I encountered blogging. Although I was sceptical at first, the geek in me was intrigued and so I was easily persuaded to give it a go. I soon discovered a whole new world of professional dialogue. Through blogging, I began to have stimulating and challenging conversations with teachers from around the world, but mainly in Scotland. These were like-minded individuals who I’d never met, and yet they provided me with huge amounts of professional support. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many of us, but in some ways that was nice as we were slowly developing into a sort of community.

And then twitter arrived. To begin with, twitter for me was just a sort of RSS reader. It allowed me to easily see when the blogs I already followed had published a new post. But gradually, it began to grow. Suddenly teachers were joining twitter who didn’t have a blog, and then the growth became exponential. Thousands of teachers took to twitter and my professional learning network exploded. Now, instead of interacting with a dozen bloggers, twitter was allowing me to share and discuss with hundreds, even thousands, of teachers all over the world – a far cry from those isolated initial years.

But after a while, I began to feel something had been lost with the growth of the network – we’d lost the community. I didn’t actually know many of my network very well. Teachers weren’t able to communicate the nuances of the development of their practice in 140 characters, so they didn’t. It’s hard to challenge someone you don’t actually know very well in 140 characters without offending them, so I stopped trying. And although there were thousands of like-minded individuals now networking, we weren’t able to ever speak with one voice. Our potential influence wasn’t being realised. We needed a community which could cope with the new scale of the network.

At the time of this realisation there didn’t appear to be many majorly successful online teacher communities which provided the sort of positive environment I was looking for. There were some noble attempts to achieve this in Scotland’s national education intranet, Glow, but there weren’t the sufficient numbers of teachers operating successfully within Glow for this to really work. Of course, there have always been websites aimed at teachers which provide discussion forums, but whilst these do attract a large number of teachers, they tend to be quite negative places. It is for these reasons that a group of fellow teachers in Scotland and I introduced this now blossoming community Pedagoo.org.

It is these sorts of positively orientated online communities of practice which now provide the genuine potential to affect real and meaningful change in our classrooms. In order to learn from each other, we need to have the opportunity to go into depth. We can’t just share the end product and hope other teachers can apply it in their classrooms also. We need to share why we did it, how we did it and what went wrong along the way. And we need to feel comfortable enough not only to open up completely, but be prepared to be positively questioned and challenged by others in the community. It’s through this rich form of interaction that successfully innovative real-world staff rooms are achieved, and whilst our online networks can provide us with the opportunity to interact with a broader group professionals, we will only realise their full potential if we can convert our networks into communities.

National Education Conference, Stirling

Are you a teacher in Scotland? What are you doing on the 2nd February? Check out the ACTS National Education Conference entitled ‘Progress through Professionalism’ at the Stirling Management Centre, University of Stirling.

Attendance is free for members of ACTS, but at only £15 it’s bargain CPD for non-members also. I’ve been attending these conferences for years now and I would highly recommend them for all Pedagooers whether you’ve had any involvement in the Chartered Teacher Programme or not.

The day always consists of excellent keynotes, highly interactive and challenging workshops and stimulating conversations with dedicated and innovative educators.

Plus, this year Pedagoo is going to be in attendance in the form of Neil Winton & Kenny Pieper! They’ll be mingling around talking all things Pedagoo and twitter and even leading a workshop entitled: “Taking Control: Genuine Collaborative Learning“. If that doesn’t convince you to sign up then I don’t know what will!

To find out more and sign up, head over to the ACTS website.

#PedagooResolutions

It’s almost 2013! What are your New Year resolutions going to be this year? Will they include making a change to your classroom practice?

The start of a new year always seems to be a great time to promise to yourself that you’ll try out some of those great ideas you’re constantly hearing about on twitter. But, all too often July comes around too quickly and before you know it the academic year has finished and you’ve not made any progress despite your best intentions. Not next year though.

We’ve got a wee idea we’d like to try. Why don’t we use the unused ‘Groups‘ feature on Pedagoo.org to form some electronic Teacher Learning Communities around shared resolutions? We’ll come together based on our shared intentions and support each other to actually implement them. We can each share our ideas and progress, and even seek input from other Pedagooers who’ve already had some success with what you’d like to try. For example, perhaps you’re wanting to try out SOLO taxonomy…you could come together with others who have a similar ambition and share progress and resources, and perhaps even have a Google Hangout with Lisa Jane Ashes?

However, that’s just one example to help illustrate what we mean, we’d really like you to guide this. So, to get us started please put your classroom practice resolution in the following Google Document and put your name next to it. If yours is already listed (or something quite similar) just add your name to the developing eTLC…

Click here to edit this document

A Bittersweet End to 2012 #PedagooReview

2012 has been an eventful year resulting in a lot of learning, achieving and frustrations. Although I’m ending the year in less than ideal circumstances with a long period of absence from work for medical reasons, it is inspiring to reflect on all of the great things that have occurred this year.

The growth of Pedagoo has been simply phenomenal this year. Involvement in the blog and #PedagooFriday has been spectacular, and our events have gone down a storm. We really seem to be reaching a critical mass of participation thanks to lots of support from many fantastic people – far too many to mention here (you know who you are 🙂 ). It’s great to see all the thought and effort paying off in terms of impact on colleagues, and ultimately learners.

I’ve also been lucky to have a had a great year in school. My classes have all been fantastic and their increasing desire to take ownership over their own learning and success has been heartwarming. This ranges from my S3/4 classes which have become increasingly confident in making use of the chromebooks we have access to as a tool to revolutionise the way we learn together, to our remarkable S6 students who took the PLWebLearn course I constructed to a whole new level which I’d never envisaged. It’s also been fab to see the use of the chromebooks and Google Apps spread across my department and school.

Obviously one of the highlights of my year has to be completing and passing my MEd. This is a very personal achievement of which I am, of course, proud. But, there’s a much more important outcome from my MEd which I would identify as my true highlight of the year. For the final phase of the course I had to lead a collaborative professional enquiry with colleagues from my school. I had to recruit this team on my arrival at the school due to the timings involved, and what a team they have turned out to be. Although I wrote up and handed in the dissertation in February of 2012, this team of highly positive professionals have continued to astound me with their willingness to try new things and share. Since completing our first enquiry, we’ve shared it with our colleagues in the school, to members of ACTS in Stirling and, most amazingly, to a packed room at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow.

But that’s not all! Not only are they enthusiastically participating in a new enquiry this year, now with the support of Stirling University, but they are also now leading other school staff in two new collaborative enquiries of their own – something by their own admission they wouldn’t have even contemplated this time last year. All of this is ultimately to the benefit of a huge number of learners in our school as the teachers involved feel that they are now involved in deep and meaningful professional learning which is directly responding to the needs of their pupils by thoughtfully and collaboratively changing practice.

Which leads me to my bittersweet highlight…as although I’m frustrated that I’ve been stuck at home for the last month, I’m still delighted to see the emails coming through showing that all of the enquiries are continuing happily in my absence. Amazing! Well done team 🙂

#PedagooReview

So, you all know how #PedagooFriday works now. Every Friday teachers share the highlight of their teaching week on twitter with the hashtag #PedagooFriday. It’s a fantastically positive way to the end the week and a remarkably great way of sharing ideas.

As next week is the last week of the teaching year we thought we’d do something different…introducing the #PedagooReview! Let’s end the year on a high!

For the #PedagooReview we’re asking teachers to share your teaching highlight of 2012 all this week! You can of course do this on twitter just like on a #PedagooFriday, but given this is your highlight of a whole year, you might want to consider sharing it as a blog post instead to allow you to explain it in more than 140 characters.

The idea of Pedagoo.org is that any teacher can share their practice on the blog. All you have to you is join and then click on new post and you’re away. It’s easy! What would be a better of way of writing your first post on Pedagoo.org than sharing the highlight from your classroom from the whole year?

So anytime this week, write a blog post or a tweet to share your best bit of 2012 and add the hashtag #PedagooReview!

Many thanks to @Lexi_Quest for the idea 🙂

The #PedagooAwards

In a random, and frankly quite odd, discussion on twitter the other night, Eddie and I began batting about the idea of having some sort of awards for/by Pedagoo…

I have to admit that I have an element of distrust about education “awards”. I think this is related to my emerging thoughts on good/best practice: http://fkelly.co.uk/2012/01/good-practice/ However, there’s something in this idea which appeals to me.

I don’t think we’d do anything web-focused, there’s quite a few of those sort of “best blog” type awards around already. And anyway, Pedagoo isn’t really about blogs and twitter as such, it’s more about making use of blogs and twitter to develop and share practice in order to improve the educational outcomes for our learners.

So, what would our awards be for? Well how about the following awards, each of which could have a number of categories: Educator/School/Local Authority/Student…?

    Innovation
    Positivity
    Reflection
    Sharing
    Support

So, there could be an ‘Innovation Award’ given to an educator AND a school AND a Local Authority and so on…

How would this work? I think we could ask for nominations from individuals as blog posts on pedagoo.org. The nominations would need to include an explanation for each category submitted. We could then either have some sort of vote amongst the community…or the formation of a judging panel…I’m not sure what would be best here.

Why does this appeal to me? As Eddie said…

@mrewhite: @fkelly a body of teachers awarding authorities & schools for their conduct. This is brilliant. Could never happen without a pedagoo though!

So…what do you think? Good idea or bad idea? If you think there’s something in the idea, how do you think it should work? And, given that we normally need a new #PedagooAdmin for each new Pedagoo idea…would you be interested in running these awards?

Would love your feedback on this…please comment below…

What did you learn from your NQT year? #NQTlearn

It’s been a while since we had a theme for posts on Pedagoo…it’s time rectify that. We asked for ideas on twitter and one of them was to ask for posts with advice for Newly Qualified Teachers. So, let’s make this a theme!

What did you learn from your NQT year? If you could send yourself one piece of advice before you started that year, what would it be, and why? Or maybe you are in your NQT year right now? What would you like some advice on? Or what have you learnt already?

Share your thoughts, advice or questions and add the tag #NQTlearn

Unleashing the Complexity

Assessment in the new Scottish Curriculum is still a hot topic for all involved. Obviously there’s the looming (or present for some schools) implementation of the new National Qualifications, but there’s still a lot of head scratching going on around assessment in 3-15. Whilst there are obviously many issues around the new approach, there are a particular group which interest me. These are around the complexities which arise from the new model of assessment in 3-15. I’ll broadly categorise these as…

We’re not as sure about where pupils are at. Without the National Assessments how can we be sure which level a pupil is working at? This for me is the wrong way of looking at it. Could it be that we were never sure? Perhaps the National Assessments provided a false sense of confidence as they papered of the complexities that were always there? People are complicated learners. We will never know precisely where one learner is on their journey and any categories will always be imperfect. This will be especially the case when the categorisation is achieved through a limited piece of assessment. Isn’t it the case that the 5-14 levels were originally supposed to be assigned by the teacher based on a wide range of evidence with the National Assessments used more as a secondary benchmarking tool? That sounds much better than the way it appeared to have ended up in many cases. If we are ever confident that we have a system that can simply and easily categorise something as complex and lacking in understanding as learning into a number of boxes, then we have gone seriously wrong. Learning, and learners, are complex. Assessment and judgements of progress should therefore be complex also, we should worry if they are not. We need to try and relax a little and revel in the complexity.

What do we do with pupils who haven’t achieved a level? Let’s ask this another way…what we do with pupils who haven’t progressed as much as others? This isn’t a new problem. Surely the issue of pupils progressing in different ways and at different rates didn’t arrive with Curriculum of Excellence? I’m not claiming that the issue of differentiating in a classroom is easy, I’m just trying to suggest it’s not new. It has, perhaps, been brought more to the fore as a result of what I’ve already discussed above. If complexities of progress have been brought out due to a more holistic approach to assessment, perhaps this is more likely to lead to the identification of a differential of progression in a class. Again, although this isn’t easy to deal with…surely this can only be a good thing from the pupils’ perspective?

How can we report to parents without “robust” evidence? For me, this question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of reports to parents. We are not the SQA. Our job is not to “assign” grades or levels which need be backed up with tons of rigorous evidence. The purpose of a report to parents should be to communicate progress in such a way to allow parents to support their children to make whatever next steps are required to improve. As such, I think it’s more important that the comment in the report reflects the complexities of the young person’s learning, than providing some sort of “reliable” level. In which case we need a holistic approach to assessment which allows us to validly access all the different forms of progression and not over rely on one particular form of summative assessment in our quest for reliability.

These thoughts reflect my own developing understanding of assessment in Curriculum for Excellence as a teacher and CfE Development Officer and I’m sharing them here in the hope that they help other teachers…however, I also appreciate that until those that hold us to account take a similar approach to assessment and progression we’ll always be a bit up against it. But, that’s not a reason to give up. We need to keep embracing the complexity and pushing others to do so too. Otherwise, we risk selling our learners short.