Author Archives: kennypieper

The Pick of #PedagooFriday 11-5-12

Another amazing day.  Too many great ideas to choose from. Each week I tell myself that the sharing going on here is inspirational and uplifting and every week it just gets better and better. Further proof that great things can happen when we share our ideas. Change can happen. Thanks everyone. Have a great weekend. You’ve earned it.

A day of 10 minute mini lessons ended with the question, "this is cool, can we have a whole week of this?" #PedagooFriday #SpacedLearning
@sarahtweetering
Sarah Garcia

Excuse Me? Can I Have a New Tail to Wag My Dog?

I’ll probably not make many friends by writing this post but it concerns something that has been burning inside of me for a while. Exacerbated by the increasing ‘doom and gloom’ scare stories over the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, I really feel the need to let this one out. Strap yourself in. Here goes. If you were to ask me what my concerns were over the eventual qualifications system of CfE in the upper stages of school then I would have to say, at this point, I don’t really care. There. I said it. I feel better already.

Alongside the dreary negativity which is churned out whenever the subject is raised in the media – a negativity which does not compare with my experience – there is an almost gleeful exuberance at times when a teacher, a parent, an individual expresses their hatred of the new curriculum. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t perfect. I’m no cock-eyed optimist. There is still a long way to go to really assess its success. I just don’t think it is constructive to constantly snipe at something which is here and here to stay.

As for qualifications, the amount of times I’ve heard teachers say to me that if we teach the children well they will pass any exam we put in front of them suggests that others would agree with me. That concept, however, seems to be slipping away now we have the opportunity, in many ways, to put it into practice. This needs to be a time where, as individuals, we are embedding our practice with outstanding, challenging, creative teaching. We should be developing the wonderful things we already do, enhancing those things with real life experiences and stretching, bar raising tasks.  And, for the most part, I think that is beginning to happen. For example, no English teacher I know sees the Curriculum for Excellence as an exercise in dumbing down, an excuse to avoid the prickly subject of grammar, or proclaiming spelling to be a thing of the past.

However, before you label me as some idealistic lefty who thinks examinations are outdated – you might be right but that is not what I’m saying here – I do think the qualifications will have their place. But if we are to wait until they are embedded before we can be comfortable with change then what does that assume about the profession? That we do indeed teach to the test? That we do indeed believe that passing school exams is the be all and the end all? If that is so I think we may well miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

A teacher said to me the other day, ‘why can’t they just tell us what the exams will be like so we can just get on with it?’ My heart sank.  If we teachers are truly to make the best of the most significant change in curriculum probably in most of our careers then we need to forget about what the examination may become and start to ensure our classrooms are challenging, creative, collaborative spaces which raise the bar for every student in our care; and we need to start now. Our society deserves young people who are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and an effective contributors. It is our job, our duty, our raison d’etre to ensure that happens.

At this point I can understand that parents and pupils want to know about the exams; schools should always be working closely with them for the best possible outcomes for children. However, as the curriculum is not new any more – it is what we now do every day – my questions is this: do teachers really have to?

More Teachers Need to Blog

Cross-posted from Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

‘How can I know what I think until I see what I say?’ EM Forster

I’ve always thought that, as a teacher and a professional, it was not merely my right to speak up about educational matters but my duty. When I started Blogging a year ago it was to share things I was trying in class with a wider audience and to attempt to communicate with educators who, perhaps, felt the same way about the way things were changing. Education is in a constant state of change in Scotland – and, seemingly many countries. It is not a new thing. However, what has changed is the ability for teachers to share these discussions with a wider audience through social media. I chose Blogging because I wanted to write.

Blogging does allow you to develop a thought, into a point, into a discussion. The disorganised thoughts flying around my mind during the week now find somewhere to go, instead of post-it it notes which get lost. When I write my blog posts I start by splattering any thoughts in no particular order, a sort of stream of consciousness. But when I see those disorganised thoughts I can ‘ see what I say’ and edit accordingly.. This has made me a better writer and, thus, a better teacher of writing. I can more understand the practical difficulties in structuring an argument, or reflecting some thoughts; something I ask my students to do all of the time. It also allows me to reflect on things I thought six months ago and adapt or even disagree with now.

And I want people to read my blog too. It is no vanity project (or is every Blog a vanity project? Discuss.) I think I have something to say but what good is writing without a reader. It is no diary, no keeper of secret thoughts. There is nothing more public and the Internet has become the ultimate leveller for the unpublished writer. I read other Blogs to find inspirational ideas, great thoughts and wonderful writing. And, as I do in school every day of my life, I look for those who set high standards and attempt to emulate them. Why settle for second best? Even though I often fail to live up to that standard.

Before blogging I walked about with an almost constant niggling doubt about what I was trying to achieve in Education. There are as many great things which I felt were not being celebrated in schools as there are bad ideas. I questioned everything, as I try to encourage my students to do, but had no focus, no burning pyre to get rid of those ideas. My Blog has given me somewhere to distribute the detritus of my everyday thoughts. Some of them I wish I’d spent more time on. Some of them I’m every proud of. But I wouldn’t change any of them now. A year of Blogging reflects my development as a teacher but also as a thinker. And that can’t be a bad thing.

There will be those of you who are very Blog and Twitter savvy who believe there are too many of us out there gassing on about our opinions. However, I want to be controversial here and say that, in Scotland at least, there are not enough. Social media has opened up a world once closed to us. A country full of great educators with things to say. I suggest that there is not enough discussion going on out there and certainly not enough relevant literature to inform, inspire and explain the changes occurring in Scottish Education.

Too many people who have great ideas often become stifled by school structures and the intimidating hugeness of it all. We are professionals. We are not fools. We can discuss the world of education in a positive and supportive, if often critical, eye without any of it becoming personal. You are a teacher. You have great things to say. Share them. Get blogging!

#PedagooFriday

Today is the first Pedagoo Friday. It’s a simple idea yet, I think, an important one. The principle behind Pedagoo Friday is one that encourages discussion, promotes success and, perhaps, simply reminds us of the great things we are doing in our classrooms every week, the things we simply accept as part of the routine.
 
There is no pressure to give details, no  expectation that you need to justify yourself. Just a chance to share the wonderful things that happen in our classrooms every week. Twitter is an excellent way to chat and share. Why not share the things you may never share otherwise? We are teachers and we are great at our jobs. Let’s not hide that.  
 
So go for it. Stick on the hashtag. #PedagooFriday . ‘In my classroom this week,…’     Let’s finish our week with a smile on our faces or a wee bit of inspiration. Remember this Japanese proverb:
 
‘Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.’
 
Have a #PedagooFriday!

This year I changed my life!

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.

What if we turned everything upside down?

Cross referenced from Just Trying to Be Better than Yesterday

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of four. I was at home with my family and everyone was eating bags of crisps – or potato chips if you want to get all American on me. The bag, I recall, had a little cartoon man on the front – perhaps made by Smiths or KP – and I had opened my bag from the bottom. The man was upside down. At four years old I clearly couldn’t accept that state of affairs so I turned it upside down to open from the other end. Disaster.
A clear learning opportunity, wouldn’t you say? I never lost another crisp in my life; so isn’t turning things upside down sometimes a clever way of making things better. Even different. Reading Guy Claxton’s ‘What’s the Point of School?’ recently I came across this passage;
‘Imagine a society…in which physical education, design technology and art are the three most highly esteemed subjects, and English, maths and science are obviously less important because they only merit one lesson each a week, and they became optional when you are fourteen.’
He goes on: ‘The outstanding successes of the school are those who are strong, fit and physically agile; who can solve practical problems by inventing and building useful gadgets; and who can make elegant sculptures and great photographs.’
Now I know there will be readers of this who will be thinking, ‘That’s Rubbish’, ‘Maybe’ or ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ but it has rattled my cage somewhat over the last few days. We may indeed mock Claxton’s suggestion but on closer inspection it could have some merit. What happens when we, the teachers and adults, become jaded, uninspired by work, and desperate for something new? Most of the teachers I know would fit into one of the following groups: we wish we could play a musical instrument in our spare time; we may start to enjoy sketching or ceramics as a creative outlet; we take a photography course and buy an expensive camera; we join a gym.


Quite simply, we desire all of the things which at the moment are, perhaps, the least respected subject areas in our school system, the things we value less. We actively discourage the skills we ourselves desire thirty years later. Ironic? Perhaps. However, what I think it does is suggest a great conversation to be had. I’m not suggesting we should change everything just for the sake of change but if we are to truly encourage engagement with Curriculum for Excellence we at least need to have these ‘out of the box’ conversations. In fact, we not only need to think outside of the box but, as again I read somewhere recently (apologies for forgetting exactly where), we need to create a new box that doesn’t even look like a box.
Whatever happens, whatever the Curriculum turns out to look like, let’s get talking. And we can start by turning things upside down and seeing what they look like.

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The X Factor and the Future of Assessment

Cross-posted on:  Just Trying To Be Better Than Yesterday.

This week my middle school S4 class and I looked closely at an article from The Observer, ‘Is Simon Cowell Essential to the X factor?’ where two prominent commentators debated the latest news that he may be leaving. Knowing nothing about the programme, I expected these kids to tell me all about the latest news and give me an Idiot Guide. They did so. I must say, very little surprised me and I tried not to look too appalled as they told me that the greatest glee they felt was

But Simon, I Thought It Was Higher, Not National 4!from watching the really bad singers humiliate themselves.

What did they think of the winners? They would be successful because they would be millionaires in a year. Hmm. At my age it is very easy to get up on the middle class moral high horse and condemn this ‘low culture’ as a lot of nonsense but I am beginning to think that there is something far more damaging than I first thought. It seems that the X-Factor teaches three things:

  1. If you are a winner then you are placed on a pedestal not necessarily because you are the greatest talent but that you have the greatest money making potential.

  2. If you are a loser then you are a loser. You will be mocked in public and treated like a loser. Why? Because you tried and failed in front of others.

  3. You can be a judge. Even the viewers are judges remember. Standing on the sidelines mocking the losers. Not commiserating or offering help – at least Cowell and his smug cronies occasionally do that – but wallowing in the humiliation of others, gleefully celebrating their rightful comeuppance. Who Do they think they are?

So is there anything really wrong with a harmless bit of schadenfreude on a Saturday night? Well, yes, actually. As an educator I see the kids who watch this show every day. I see kids who have learned that taking part means win or lose, that having a go must mean that success is the only option because reputation is on the line. I see kids who would rather sit on the sidelines and say ‘I don’t know’ to every question because being wrong in front of an audience, and an audience of peers at that, is too horrible to even contemplate.

And, do you know what? I don’t blame them. I would do the same. Because school reiterates that X Factor feeling every day of their lives. Humiliated into a ‘bottom set’ from the age of eleven. Pressed into an assessment funnel from even earlier and spat out at the end either a winner or a loser. If it was me, and I was given that choice, I would stand on the sidelines too.

If Curriculum for Excellence is to change things for kids in Scotland it needs to consider an assessment process which will help them get out of this X-Factor mindset. Success and achievement should not come in a certificate in August. It should come from us, the adults, every day of their lives.