A write-up of my keynote at Pedagoo London 2015. Summer Turner (@ragazza_inglese)
I am really honoured to be the final speaker today. Much like many of the people who have spoken today, I have a big place in my heart for Pedagoo and so it means a lot to me that Helene asked me to end this day.
Phil Stock spoke eloquently at the start of today about the power of this type of CPD and he also spoke about leaking roofs. Weirdly I had this metaphor in my mind about the two. I’ve always felt Teaching found me – walking into a classroom for the first time since leaving school and watching a commanding female teacher weave a magic spell over her pupils with literature – I remember feeling that I had found my home. Yet two years later, worn from an onslaught of behaviour management and an ill-balanced workload, it began to feel like the roof of my home was leaking. Seeping through were the negative images and words whether from politicians, the media or most sadly other teachers. And then my colleague, Chris Waugh, encouraged me to explore the world of Twitter. I was already online but unsure what I was doing (hence the silly Twitter handle) or what I wanted to say but with guidance I began to cut a path for myself. The next step was a TeachMeet – this one at Tom Sherrington’s previous school KEGS. Suddenly I felt that: yes the roof of my home had holes but the sun was shining! Being in a room surrounded by teachers determined to be better, to do better by their pupils was amazing but even more so was the generosity of spirit which I found there and which I find today. There is no keener example of that than Helene, who organised today, she is the embodiment of this generosity: someone who gives so much of their time to helping others in the teaching community find a voice, someone who works tirelessly to provide a space for this meeting of minds. For that I would like to thank her most deeply.
Today there has been some great sharing of ideas but, perhaps more importantly, there has been disagreement. One of the themes that has come out today is the importance of teacher autonomy. In the London Nautical English Department session they discussed the importance of this in terms of their approach to curriculum and assessment. Teachers are empowered by their ability to make choice and to therefore have a sense of autonomy. This prompted a debate about how how autonomous teachers should be – where is the role of leadership and whole school ethos?Recently bloggers such as Kris Boulton have started a discussion about whether teachers should have any say in curriculum design at all. Phil Stock provided an example of something which perhaps bridges this gap with his workshop on on collaborative teaching cycles in which there was a suggestion about the value of a framework provided by leaders but with some autonomy at department level. It’s clear there is a healthy debate to be had here, one which I have certainly begun in my own mind!
Another point of friction came through the discussion of assessment – including a continued argument about the importance of progress measures. In her session on assessment without levels Hayley Earl talked about the fear that schools have about developing a new system and called for leaders to be brave and to have conviction. It’s a concern to me that we are still discussing progress measures when we should be focused on valuable assessment systems which are driven by curriculum and by the desire to work out what our pupils know and how to help them make genuine improvement. I concur with Hayley that fear is the one thing that is holding us back. I’m not sure if it’s a hang up from previous criticisms levelled at teachers or from the accountability system and Ofsted but fear is the one thing that is going to stop us from making the change that we believe in. Fear is also what leads to some of the stupidity that still goes on in schools and results in people thinking that they can go to a PixL conference and pick up some hot trick that will make their school outstanding. There’s still this terrible culture of trends in teaching based on little to no evidence and usually ending up reducing the complex questions of education into a motivational laminated poster. If your thinking can end up in three words on a poster, I would suggest you need to think again. I think what all of the sessions shared was the importance of ethos, values and courage of conviction.
The reason this isn’t seen across school is I think a consequence of a fear of “the struggle”. We constantly encourage our pupils to embrace risk and struggle and that point between challenge and failure – yet half the time we run a mile from it ourselves. We run from the feeling that comes when you have to think about something complex and have to navigate the difficulties. Yet sitting in sessions today hearing ideas that I disagree with forces me to consider and refine my ideas. How do you know what you really believe until it is challenged?
These challenges are easier to face here because we are not alone. A number of people have talked today about the feeling teachers have of being ‘on their own’. It’s much less terrifying to take risks when you know you have this community and it also means you don’t always have to re-invent the wheel; I think we can put pressure on ourselves to always be original and be our own island of inspirational teaching. But it’s not cheating to work together, to collaborate, to use other’s ideas – with suitable credit of course. And that is just another reason why today has been so worthwhile. I lead on Teaching and Learning and after Phil’s session today I do feel a bit like he’s taken a year’s worth of thinking and work off my shoulders. Even in the divisions and differences and arguments that ensue as part of the profession we are truly united by the passion we have to do the right thing by our pupils – to provide them with the best education. Determining what that is demands argument but this can be achieved positively.
In my first ever blog post I demanded that we all face the education world with this unrelenting positivity. I now realise that what I wanted was for us to be positive activists. As the years have gone on, this positive activism has been realised through the grassroots movement from events such as Pedgaoo, ResearchEd, Headteachers Roundtable, TeachMeets, Twitter, blogging and more. We have seen curriculum, assessment, teacher training, behaviour management and even Ofsted be shaped by those within the profession. What is happening here is not only CPD it is this meeting of minds; a collaboration of ideas and an active pursual of change from the profession itself. It is the very best of what we are about.
What I also heard today was a plurality of voices. Even within the education community we can sometimes be self-limiting in terms of who we listen to. This is a problem, which we need to address. And I’m going throw in the F word now – FEMINISM. (Not a swear word but sometimes it feels like one.) 74% of the profession are women – yet think about the biggest voices in education when it comes to blogging, Tweeting and conferences. How many of them are women? How many women here today probably didn’t ask a question or make a comment out of insecurity or ‘imposter syndrome’. If we are taking charge of our profession then we need to take charge as a whole group together. We need to follow the example of Helene and work to allow a multitude of voices to be heard. In that space lies our power.
I recently re-read the book ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and there is a moment at the end of the book where the protagonist Charlie reflects on his journey over the time he has been writing. He says:
I don’t know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might
be too busy trying to participate. So, if this does end up being the last letter I just wanted you to know that I was in bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who’s gone through it you made me not feel alone, because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen, and there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen.
I know these will all be stories some day and our pictures will become old photographs and we will all become someone’s mom and dad.
But right now, these moments aren’t stories this is happening, I am here and I am looking at her, and she is so beautiful…I can see it.
This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story, you are alive.
And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder, when you were listening to that song, on that drive with the people you love most in this world.
And in the moment, I swear, we are infinite.
In the moment, I swear, we are infinite.
It’s that I feel when I am surrounded by my profession at events such as these; it is standing up and seeing the lights and it is beautiful. And everyone, every teacher, should feel this. So I urge you all to become positive activists for our profession, to contribute to the multitude of voices and to allow our passion to unite us. Together, we are infinite.
Saturday was a wonderful non-stop carousel of enthusiasm and inspiration. I had not attended a Pedagoo event, nor even a teachmeet, before and it looks like I will now be making up for lost time! What follows below is a brief chronological summary of my Pedagoo experience.
As the eighth floor of the Institute of Education was slowly filling up I found myself agog at the fact that so many of the teachers I follow on Twitter were in the room. One of my happiest moments was spotting the batman socks of a certain well-known tweeter!
Phil Stock gave a very welcoming speech and channelled Andy Lewis’ question of whether we were “Mugs, Martyrs of Fools” to be giving up a day to take part in CPD on the weekend. The question he put to us was “what is missing in our schools for this to be the case?” However, his positive summary that we can and are growing CPD from the inside out clearly resonated. Who could question the need to put student learning firmly at the forefront of our training?
I am currently part of a working party to look at redesigning the marking and assessment at my school, so it was logical to attend Dawn Cox’s “Assessment without levels.” Indeed this topic is very much en vogue and I have read many recent blogs with great curiosity. During this session I was very interested in the development of Dawn’s assessment system for Religious Education. Two ideas I particularly liked were:
The concept of students working back from a definition of a command word (e.g. explain) to the actual command word itself.
No stakes multiple choice question testing where one option is always “I don’t know” to see exactly what a student doesn’t know.
Two simple yet highly effective strategies to help students engage with the assessment process. I will be interested to hear how it progresses as it is rolled out next year, particularly the no stakes testing.
For the same reason as above I chose to attend another session based on assessment, this time Chris Curtis’ “The link between planning, progress and marking.” He started his talk by asking whether books actually tell the story of how a student is taught and of their learning. This again is a key topic in the days of work scrutiny and book checks. His use of the magician mastery and leaping up the ladder analogies were spot on and ones I will be using with staff and students alike. As part of an activity during the session I wrote down two very prosaic sentences on London and then managed to self-mark using a very clever grid of 15 targets to improve my work; unlike the famous Paul Daniels quote I liked this idea a lot!
The ever enthusiastic dynamic duo of Crista Hazell and Candida Gould were up next with their “Recipe for Deep Learning.” This was a fun session, but also one that made me question many of my core educational beliefs; although not specifically about this session Hélène Galdin-O’Shea put it brilliantly in her tweet “I guess when you are struggling to agree with some of what you hear, it helps you figure out exactly why you do.” During Crista and Candida’s presentation they had a slide with a scale from the seemingly interchangeable Nicky Morgan / Michael Gove Tory Secretary of State for Education to Sir Ken Robinson. Perhaps my difficulty in digesting the mention of “Shift Happens”, “jobs that don’t exists” and “digital natives” would put me squarely at one particular end of that spectrum? However, that is not the point and I took many fine ideas from this session. Indeed it was a celebration of enthusiasm, hard work and, above all, passion for the job. Whilst listening to both Candida and Crista speak the sheer love they have for student learning come across loud and clear. PS – many thanks for the sweets!
This was the session I was delivering, ostentatiously called “The one hundred one percents.” This topic is very close to my heart and was essentially a whistle-stop tour of ideas, gimmicks and thoughts to get the best out of teaching and learning. Since its first outing in March I have tweaked, changed and (I think!) improved the session. It was very enjoyable running the session and I am hugely grateful to Hélène for inviting me to do so and the wonderful people who actually came to listen; I do hope they took away a few ideas and look forward to hearing how they get on.
Grassroots Leaders and Research-Focused TLCs was next on my list from Athena Pitsillis and Keven Bartle. I particularly liked the idea of pedagogy leaders as “brokers” between SLT and teachers and this made me think how it felt to be in such a position. My initial thoughts of it being akin to metamorphic rock were allayed as the session progressed. One thing that struck me is the sheer volume of leaders that this approach develops, in some schools such opportunities are few and far between. This reminded me of the Multiplier Effect and echoed the theme that all teachers are leaders. Finally it was also inspiring to hear Keven talk about how they have broken down barriers between teaching and support staff; as a teacher that relies on two excellent technicians I heartily agree that we should be doing more to develop the roles of support staff within schools.
The final official part of PedagooLondon was Summer Turner’s summary of the day. This was particularly apposite as she called for more autonomy and empowerment in what we do as well as encouraging debate to help allow opinions to form. Summer also echoed Hélène’s sentiments when she said “how do you know what you really believe until it is challenged?” But I will remember this final talk as embodying the collaborative nature of the event as we look to maintain the positive activism.
There was also time to see Martyn Reah’s collection of #teacher5aday ideas in an exhibition on the seventh floor. Not only were there some great thoughts and reflections but this also distilled just how connected we can be and was a lovely way to leave PedagooLondon.
The Marquis of Cornwallis
This led nicely to a nearby pub where I was lucky enough to meet some extraordinary teachers, chatting for hours and reflecting on the day. Certainly I hope to return in a year’s time to PedagooLondon16, but until then I will be keeping in contact and trying to get to as many events as possible.
Thank you to all who were involved in organising such a fantastic day!
This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting London, not to take photos of architecture, nor to experience the pomp and circumstance of our great British institution. Interestingly, despite the fact that one of the biggest tennis tournaments was taking place in London, I wasn’t anywhere near Wimbledon either. I was a delegate at Pedgaoo London, a TeachMeet organised by Hélène Galdin-O’shea (@hgaldinoshea) that I hadn’t been aware of until quite recently and, honestly, if my ATW (@hayleyearl) hadn’t been presenting there (which now makes her the Most Amazing Teacher Wife!) I wouldn’t have attended nor would I be blogging tonight (sorry Hélène). However, I cannot express my delight in attending and my gratitude towards Hélène for organising the event, supported by Kevin Bartle @kevbartle, to the many speakers and to the delegates also, many of whom I have started to follow and extend my own professional network.
Whilst my ATW was nervous about speaking to her peers, I housed my own anxieties: I would be in a room with delegates with extensive levels of knowledge and experience compared to my 7 years as a TA, Unqualified Teacher and Student, how could I participate in the anticipated discussions? Listening to Phil Stock (@joeybagstock) and then Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net), I was filled with awe; these two guys could hold an audience with musings of wisdom, and evidence of practice that I hope to achieve one day in my career. Maybe I had a right to be nervous, these people were eminently worthy of their podium position at the front of one of the IoE’s classrooms, what could I offer in discussion?
However, these fears were somewhat alleviated when I entered the room and realised that everyone was there for the same reason, to learn, share and develop professionally, a common expectation. What’s more, when I shared opinions, I found I was not alone, nor were they dismissed, people were interested in my thoughts and could relate and, dare I say, agree.
The day was a resounding success for everyone involved, for my ATW with her new-found desire to speak publicly (see www.musingsofateacher.wordpress.com) but selfishly, for me too. I’m lucky enough to have lots of CPD opportunities, formerly as a Schools Direct student, now as an NQT and as a Teacher at a forward thinking, staff investing school. Notwithstanding the existing opportunities, I cannot advocate enough the professional and personal rewards available from attending TeachMeets. The TeachMeets don’t have to be as big as Pedgaoo London or Northern Rocks (which will be in the diary next year!): try to meet locally in cluster schools to discuss progress and experiences. Meeting with colleagues of various levels of seniority, form varying backgrounds (primary and secondary) and with different levels of experience is an invaluable form of CPD. I’d even go as far as saying that I would happily organise PedagooGlos if enough are interested (will book ATW first!)
Finally, from this weekend’s experience, never underestimate the value of your own knowledge too: everyone has an opinion, everyone has experience, everyone deserves a voice.
So, I sit on the train home like Cinderella having to leave early in case she turns into a pumpkin, or fall over! After an amazing day at Pedagoolondon, I am trying to be reflective on all the amazing inspirational ideas I have heard to day. Whilst also getting my head around the fact that the people I have been tweeting with for the last six months are actually ‘real people’, who like me have their insecurities of meeting the real life versions of their avatars.
The keynote by Keven Bartle was inspiring ( I think I am going to use this word a lot!). We have to be ‘Trojan Mice’ bringing innovation, focus and above all “pedagogy, pedagogy, pedagogy ” to our classrooms. Bravely we need to use ‘Guerilla’ tactics to push up standards and improve the outcomes for those pupils in our classrooms. Only by doing this from the ground up will we show the government, senior leadership, OFSTED and the media that we are truely are a profession who take our practice seriously. One by one our numbers will increase and we will make a difference which, if shared slowly, will percolate our everyday practice and we will encourage more risk taking to push our learners forward and achieve their potential. Bring on the MONKEYS, let the mess begin.(http://dailygenius.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/bring-on-the-trojan-mice/)
From there, I went to Rachel Stevens @murphygirl, looking at how to do ‘Group Work’ better. The reasons for not doing it are often due to our relecutance and nervousness in handing over learning to the children . It’s messy, how do we manage it, how can we prove they have learnt what we want them to, how do we evidence that elusive “progress” ?. She gave us some amazing strategies to setting up ‘Habits of Mind’.to give us as teachers confidence in managing group work effectively. If you want “a bag of tricks” then you can DM her for the contents. But these “tricks” will allow risks to be taken with some “gurillela” teaching thrown in.
Then on to planning with the exceptional Hayley Thompson @HThompson1982 the 7E’s of planning. The focus was ‘How to ensure we focus on the learning of the students rather than the teaching.’ Making sure we are focusing on the concepts, ideas in more detail, and how we will engage them from the start to ensure that you carry them with you through the ultimate goal, of making independent learners who know how to investigate and develop learning and knowledge gathering, rather than those who rely on us to give them the information needed to pass the exam. (http://educatingmatters.wordpress.com)
The atmosphere as we moved around the corridors of the IOE was amazing, teachers sharing, talking, smiling about what they are doing and learning, plus lots of wide eyes looking like they couldn’t possibly absorb anymore information but still two session to go!
I opted for David Fawcett and his PBL/ SOLO mash up. This has triggered more brain cells and neural pathways being fired up than I thought possible. Getting the big question, purpose behind the why you are doing this project, getting the buy in from community, locals and experts to show the value of the project. Do something that might have an impact on the community rather than some made up scenario. I am inspired to move forward with my ideas for my disengaged Year 9. The wonderful Hayley Thompson has happily offered to do work together on ideas. This is the true impact of these sessions where teachers from far and wide come together to share, offer support, extend our thinking. (http://reflectionsofmyteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-big-solo-and-pbl-mash-up-part-1.html?m=1)
We are on to session four by which time I’m exhausted and a little sweaty but going for a SOLO experience with Joe Freeman@biomadhatter. Here I got to spend a lovely 30 mins chatting with Andy Knill @aknill about how we have used SOLO in our classes and where we go from here. (http://goo.gl/q8STF).
This is where I need to digress to one of the many highlights of the evening as Andy route marched us around London in search of the Holy Grail that was Macdonalds. We passed the ‘Green Man’ noting location for the later more traditional Teachmeet. Only to get a frantic tweet from Helene to say it’s the wrong ‘Green Man’. We noted new location and set off on our route march up Great Portland Road, with Mr. Knill leading the way almost getting us run over!
We arrive at the right ‘Green Man’ this time to discover a relieved Helene and Kev who had ten minutes earlier thought they’d be presenting to an empty room. Very quickly the room filled up,and there was a palpable buzz about the room and this wasn’t just the noise of all the phones and iPads being put on charge as they were exhausted from the earlier events of the day.
The beers, wine, and some soft drinks were purchased and the TeachMeet in its truest form started with Andy Knill starting us off and then the steam train that is the wonderful sharing of ideas, suggestions flowed with some memorable performances from Jenny Ludgate @MissJLudd with her Monster Cook Off, @ICTmagic, magic video session with a voice made for radio, many others who I lost track of, and then just as ’The marvelous Kev Bartlett’ stood to do his thing, the quickest ever departure ensued and I was gone, like Cinders, running towards the tube, to catch my carriage to whisk me away from an inspiring, challenging, fun and exhausting day home.
My abiding memories of today will be laughter, sharing, meeting great teachers and believing in a profession that has at its heart the welfare of the children that walk through our doors, ensuring we are doing our very professional and personal duty for them everyday. Thank you Pedagoo.
Friday 8 March saw one week on from the brilliant #PedagooLondon event. It’s been great to see all the ripples of impact from the event. The many attendees going away inspired by the wide variety of amazing sessions on offer and the subsequent blogs talking about what teachers will do, what students have done and the ideas taken from the event.
As always, the #PedagooFriday hashtag was busy with the uplifting stories of amazing teaching, learning, pedagogy and impact in classrooms across the week. Here are a few of them:
The quality and frequency of CPD that teachers receive can be measured on a scale of dismal and seemingly pointless hours of INSET days (see a great post on this from @learningspy) right through to those memorable experiences that can offer a true and real impact on both pedagogy and practice. I am not claiming at this point, that all such experiences are without value, far from it, just that some need to reach far beyond the traditional notion of ‘inflicting’ it upon teachers and engage the willing audience in an honest way in areas that really matter. Unfortunately, I’m certain that we have all experienced both; which is where @pedagoo comes in to its own.
Like a superhero in the throws of a crime wave, pedagoo breaks through the (sometime) monotony of CPD and actively encourages teachers to invest their own time and passion into an event which brings them together from afar. Such a simple idea and one that we try and embed within our pupils every day, the desire to learn, be better; yet too often forgotten and left to others. Having been to two of these events, I have been lucky enough to see some truly inspiring teachers who, in a situation where role and responsibility are left at the door, are simply enthused about the things that work in their own classrooms (yes, they do still teach – a telling point!) and are willing to share, help and foster their own passion within other teachers.
Personally, I think that Pedagoo and its champions Kenny Pieper and Fearghal Kelly[Ed. there’s more than the two of us!] have a great deal to offer to teachers; regardless of their experience or knowledge; it is there to ‘open your mind’, engage your passion and challenge you to be the best that you can be. Pedagoo is, in its most simplistic form; by teachers, for teachers and regardless of your input, be it #pedagoofriday on twitter or travelling 100 miles to experience the event, pedagoo hits the spot that other CPD often does not.
Well, at a time where the word ‘outstanding’ has perhaps the most loaded and misinterpreted meaning in education right now, there is an unreasonable pressure for teachers to teach in a super-human way. We are
seemingly required to promote visible learning as their students make rapid, sustained progress; we need to provide enjoyment at the same time as rigour and probably add extra calcium to their little bones as they do so.
But we are human; we make mistakes; we cock things up (royally sometimes). We have great lessons, great days, great weeks even; we inspire some students and we occasionally make lives a tiny bit better. And I can’t recall observing a lesson or supporting a colleague or visiting a school where the teachers aren’t trying their hardest to be better. It’s just sometimes they don’t know how.
One of the ways to support teachers in doing this is to instill them with the confidence to try new things out. And also to learn to structure their strategies so they can recognise where good-quality learning is taking place; reflect on what works and what might not and why.
At #Pedagoolondon on March 2nd, Tom Bennett warned against junk research in education. Imagine my little face just 15 minutes after presenting on group work in the room next door when I saw Tom’s ‘Rogue’s Gallery’ of the worst offenders in educational guff, with Group Work placed just a few places below Thinking Hats. Oh the shame! Oh the irony!
But after suppressing the desire to immediately run away to sea to be a sailor like Piglet when he realised his Terrible Mistake with the Heffalump, I reflected on what we were being asked to think about. As with most educational medicine, we’re sometimes too eager for a cure to all classroom ills to swallow it all in one go, without a thought for the side-effects or long-term damage.
The mistake is to assume that group work is THE best way for children to learn. I certainly don’t think this is the case. However, the ability to use group work well and where appropriate is an extremely useful string to your bow as a flexible practitioner. After using lots of group work in my teaching repertoire over the last 5 years especially, I also believe strongly that it can increase students’ confidence in quality discussion; their ability to work well with others and it presents lots of opportunities to problem-solve, consider alternative viewpoints and work under their own initiative.
I would imagine that every teacher that presented at #Pedagoolondon gave those who attended much food for thought, some practical ideas and, most importantly, the confidence to try some things out that they may have considered too risky or lacking in worth. I expect some critics might feel that the Box of Tricks is just that: a collection of gimmicks that promise much and devalue skills. Maybe so. But it also strikes me that the Box of Tricks can also act in the same way as Dumbo’s Magic Feather.
Remember Dumbo, the elephant that could fly? He was convinced that his magic feather gave him the ability to do the things he never believed he could do. One day – rather inconveniently, when he was plummeted towards the ground during a perilously high launch – he dropped his feather but before he hit the ground, realised that he COULD fly unaided. He didn’t need the feather after all, but it had given him what he’d originally needed: confidence.
I don’t use my Box of Tricks much these days. (Except the Euros. I love the Euros! Some of my students have insisted on roll-overs and bank accounts before now.) I don’t need the tricks because my groups are well-versed in how to behave in a range of situations: groups, pairs, solo, upside-down, etc. They’ve been trained and I feel confident.
So I’d argue that the Box of Tricks could well give a colleague the confidence to try something that might refresh their practice; encourage them to re-think a mindset or support them in giving opportunities to students
who might otherwise slip under the radar, I’d say there’s nothing tricksy about that.
Here is the Prezi I used in my presentation for #Pedagoolondon.
And here’s a guide to group work that our Teaching & Learning group created when we made our Box of Tricks, updated for 2013.
Why do Group Work?
Students with good team working skills are likely to be better at problem-solving and resolving conflict. It is an
important skill throughout school and beyond and is valued highly by universities and employers.
Vygotsky’s hypothesis makes a link between social activity (the ‘intermental’) and individual development (the
‘intramental’). In human language, if students are encouraged to ‘rehearse’ their thoughts aloud before committing them to paper or becoming stuck in their initial thoughts, firstly, they recognise how to refine and clarify ideas. Even better, if they are challenged or supported in these vocal ideas, they are
encouraged to extend ideas further.
Many subjects are mastered through dialogue and discussion
Good group work promotes inclusivity. Many FSM students (and other students) that under-achieve lack confidence when working with others. They are often exposed to poor quality levels of discussion and mostly colloquial levels of dialogue. Exposure and access to technical language and higher order speech on a regular basis is crucial in raising standards for these students.
Many FSM students underachieve as they lack confidence with others; they might seem to lack effort in the attempts to slip off the teacher’s radar – give them opportunities to grow in confidence and take ownership in the way more confident students take for granted.
Mercer (2000) states that engaging in collaborative talk improves ability of children to think together critically
Good group work also gives G&T students the chance to reinforce knowledge, to consider alternative interpretations through ideas of others (an A* skill in English) How do we make sure our groups function effectively?
Studies have shown that the most effective groups are ones in which high levels of communication and organisation are found.
Here are a few of the issues that must be addressed in order for a group to function effectively:
Establishing success criteria
Agreed allocation of roles (preferably by the students themselves)
Starting Group Work
Sorting the groups
You decide: You could, of course, sort your classes into groups that you have carefully decided on. This might help eliminate problems when potentially disruptive students end up together or you end up with a group of very quiet/shy characters. You might be tempted to sort by personality or maybe by ability (but ability in what? Try to avoid making assumptions on students’ performance in other areas).
I usually sort groups completely randomly, using the animal cards or more often than not, just numbers scribbled on desks with a dry-wipe and giving the students numbers as they troop in. This also usually stops friends bunching together as they come in in their packs and numbers immediately split them up.
Random groups have very often resulted in the most surprising of collaborators that on paper seem the very definition of chaos, but in reality produce surprising and very pleasing results. Try it. And if it goes wrong, just move someone. It’s your classroom, your task. You’re the boss.
If you change the groups on a regular basis, it will allow students opportunities to become more flexible and willing to adapt; it will mean that ‘problem’groups don’t have the chance to get used to one another; and it will discourage complacency and laziness from others who know that other students will do much of the organisation and hard work.
Sorting ‘Random’ Groups – some ideas
Give them out and ask students to write their names on the end of their lollystick. You now have a class set of sticks that you can pick out of a hat to sort groups. (Also good for no-hands-up questioning – AfL)
One set is sellotaped to the desk assigning each place to a number. Use the second set in a hat for students
to pick as they enter the room to determine their place for that lesson.
Give each students a category card (we’ve provided animals!) and then get them to find the rest of their group for the task.
Co-ordinating & Monitoring Group Work
Aims in group work:
Students to create sufficient self-regulation and responsibility for teachers to feel confident about using
active and interactive learning strategies for students to feel that they can take part enthusiastically in whole-class and small-group activities without fear of negative consequences from their peers
Focuses and Frameworks
Use the “Successful Group Work” laminated posters:
One for each group to keep them on track. They could use whiteboard pens to tick off where they are.
Remind students of the skills they need for successful group work. You could also use the “Working Together” statements in the same way as above: collecting/allocating statements when they feel they have achieved them during or after the task.
For formal assessment of oral skills/speaking and listening:
Create cards with specific assessment criteria on. As previously, students ‘collect’cards when they think they have
hit that criteria. Can be done during or after; individually or collectively.
Use tokens/Euros: Allocate a set number of counters, button, post-its to group members. They give one away each time they make a contribution, to ensure each member makes an equal contribution.
You can also use tokens to reward good group work as it goes along: don’t just reward the loudest, most confident
students; praise a reward the ones who listen well, who negotiate, who scribe, who mediate, etc. The Euros can also be used for this, and added to the final tally for the lesson’s work.
Use Euros (or whatever reward tokens you’ve chosen) to reward good ongoing work but also be prepared to fine groups if their members aren’t on task. If they want to ask you a question, let them. They are often questions that could be easily answered themselves, so offer the answer the question but charge them for your answer (I charge 10 Euros, which I think is a bargain but the students don’t tend to agree!) This will cut down the amount of ‘lazy’ questions being asked.
Use coloured markers:
When asking them to contribute equally to a mind-map, posters or flip-chart, give students one differently-coloured marker each, which they are not allowed to swap. Easy to see how proportionate the contributions have been.
Quick tip: It’s easy to dedicate too much time to any particular group as you circulate. It’s sometimes necessary to intervene but you need to keep moving to encourage on-task behaviour and promote independence. Avoid turning your back on the majority of the class as you circulate by imagining you’re wearing a hospital gown with no pants on. Still want to turn your back on the class? Skirt the edges instead –for obvious reasons!
Evaluating Group Work
This is probably the most important element of group work. Students need to be able to reflect on their performance; understand what went well and what didn’t – and why.
They need to know how they can improve on their roles and responsibilities in group work and thus improve on their self-esteem and confidence when working with others in a range of challenging activities.
(Good for when groups are in categories). Create a little league table on the board for each of the named groups. As you circulate, award each group a smiley at different times of the lesson to indicate how well they are
working on task. If not all members are on task, they can’t get the reward.
It’s even quicker to use the Euros like this too. Even better, ask a student to conduct an audit by standing up and
observing the groups’ behaviour. Can they identify what an ‘on task’ group looks like? Who would they like to reward as a result?
A ‘wheel’ divided into 16 wedges. Groups assign each member a colour and shade it in to show who has taken the most responsibility for the work. You can use little individual ones or big ones between groups. Can be completed together or individually, although filling it in together allows students to take responsibility for their
roles/contributions and encourages group ownership.
Little sheets of paper divided into quarters and headed: “How I helped my group”; “How I hindered my group”; “How others helped my group” and “How others hindered my group”.
These can be completed individually without sharing. It’s very easy to get students to copy this format onto
post-its if you show them the frame on the board. Collect the post-its at the end of the lesson and you have feedback that you can compare to your own understanding of the success of the lesson, ready to pick up with students at the beginning of the next one. I actually get the students to divide post-its into quarters and head them up themselves – much quicker and saves on the photocopying. This can help if some students feel they are taking too much responsibility for the bulk of the work. As with the pizza charts, eflect on the findings and act on them next lesson so students know you follow things up.
It’s important with this to name behaviours, not names.
Pay Day Money!:
Euros – or whatever tokens you decided to use – to be divided up as payment for contributions to task – group to jointly decide on pay. The tangible nature of the money and the doling out of it at the end of a task works very well in my experience; the students are scrupulously fair!
Post-its: Secret or public evaluations on post-its by group members.
Traffic lights / target charts / blob trees:
To show success in group tasks according to set criteria.
Peer or teacher-led, using official assessment criteria.
Now this is a post that has been brewing since the London Olympics but has taken some time to compose. To set the scene and give a bit of background to this post, imagine back to the brilliant summer that we have just had in 2012. We were privileged to be a nation that watched one of the greatest spectacles that I have had the pleasure to see. We were immersed with stories of determination, commitment, motivation, bravery, hard work, fair play…. and blessed to see role models and stories that inspired and moved us. The London Olympics was filled with euphoric moments and had the whole nation caught up in its brilliance and moments of magic.
But after watching the Olympics, something changed within me in regards to the way I view sport. As a PE teacher I now cringe at the number of Football examples and stories that I use with my students, particularly in my theory lessons. I now think were these the best examples to share with students? Did they provide enough variety? Did they best explain the topics I taught. Are they even the best role models to warrant recognition in students exam answers? There was one part of the Olympics that caught my attention in particular: Track cycling. Now I remember back to Beijing and the success that we had, but London 2012 took this to a whole new level. I was in awe of the professionalism of the athletes. I loved the stories that they brought. I was engrossed in the technological elements of the sport and the minute detail they focused on in order to gain a marginal advantage over rivals. Watching this, I thought “Could I use cycling with my students and use it as a rich example that covers many of the topics we cover?”. And with that, a plan began to hatch.
So, as any normal teachers does whilst relaxing in their summer holidays, I thought about school. I knew in the back of my head that the topics coming up in my GCSE PE theory class where ICT in sport, Science and technology in sport, sponsorship, role models and media. Everything that I had seen through the track cycling had effortlessly provided me with examples that I could use in my lessons. But this wasn’t enough. I didn’t simply want to replace my Football examples with Cycling ones. Instead I wanted to go bigger.
It was at this time that I had also re-read Ron Berger’s mind blowing book called ‘An Ethic of Excellence’ (recommended to me by the excellent Martin Said). The book is a must read if you haven’t already and explains his vision to make learning more whole and strive for a culture of excellence in the work students produce. He uses well structured projects that bring in the real world/community to develop secure understanding of content knowledge. He refers to this as Project Based Learning (or PBL for short). I could really see myself putting together an eye opening project which covered all of the content I needed to, gave rich examples for students to put in their exams and was both inspiring and challenging. But with anything new, I also had the worrying doubts as any reflective practitioner does such as:
What if it goes wrong?
Why try something so radical with students when they’re in Year 11 and have exams at the end of the year?
What do I know about cycling and should I just stick to normal ‘content lessons’?
Will they gain secure content knowledge in all of the topics or will the project hinder this?
What happens if what I create isn’t PBL and doesn’t work?
Will what I do have a negative influence on my departments/colleagues plans?
With these in mind I used my Twitter ‘mentors’ in the form of @DKMead, @Totallywired77 and @saidthemac. I bombarded them with these cautious questions and was overwhelmed by the support and guidance that they gave. They helped with many aspects of my planning and posed further questions for me to think about in an effort to create something that was not only driven by content, but also incorporated as many of the elements of a good project as suggested. It is this collaborative culture that Twitter has created which is so helpful when trying something so daring.
Finally, I have also been a firm user of SOLO in lessons and as a non classroom specialist, this has been an excellent way for me to structure lessons and develop learning. I had been thinking in an earlier postthat I could use SOLO as part of a bigger scheme of work where each topic in itself would be a multi-structural element of a big picture. I therefore decided to incorporate SOLO within the project in order to measure and look forward for opportunities to secure my students knowledge of the content.
So what did I do? What was my aim?
It would probably be best if I explain the process that I took with the project using the structure from Berger’s book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’. In it he describes an essential toolbox that should be incorporated when planning a project. These elements ensure that the project is planned meticulously and is detailed enough to ensure all of its aims are met. Following these steps also helps students to develop a culture of excellence with their work. Although I promote students to take pride in what they do, I felt taking it a step further would enhance the quality of work that students were creating.
I also (rather shamelessly) wanted to make the experience of learning this topic to be memorable. I wanted to ensure that students worked with the topics over and over again and so reinforced its understanding. I wanted students to be able to sit in an exam and specifically remember the content because the information had been covered in detail numerous times.
Berger’s toolbox for designing a project
1 – Powerful projects
‘It may sound obvious, but the first step in encouraging high-quality student work is to have assignments that inspire and challenge students’.
Using Berger’s advice and guidance it was easy to come up with a brief idea. I wanted students to undertake a project that meant students learnt the content of my subject whilst drawing out this information from the world of Cycling. Using specific examples in PE exams has been a weak area in the past and I wanted to ensure that students gathered as many as possible as they went. I wanted examples at every opportunity. I also wanted to develop students extended writing as this is a skill that is tested twice in the AQA PE paper and again has been a weak area. Finally, I knew I wanted students to really demonstrate their knowledge of the subject, but at first I couldn’t think how.
This is where the excellent Darren Mead, Martin Said and Tait Coles came in. They allowed me to bounce ideas around and kindly offered advice, eventually coaching me to an answer. Martin in particular helped create the idea for the driving question and final product (details on this below). Now I had a starting idea, how would I ensure that I put an actual PBL plan into place, rather than just an end of unit ‘project’. Believe it or not there is a big difference.
‘Projects don’t generally have a great reputation in schooling. This poor reputation is often deserved. I need to explain that the project model we use (in PBL) is very different from the models of my youth. When I was a student in elementary school, doing projects meant getting ready for the annual science fair. This was the structure: My teacher would say, In one month we’re having our Science Fair. Projects are due May 1. Good luck.
Here are some problems I have with science fair model. The projects had nothing to do with what we were studying. Instead of being a culmination of our learning that could inspire dedication and quality in our daily work, the fair was like visiting a carnival, disconnected from school learning.’
I too have run projects over the years. I have even run enquiry based learning projects through our L2L course. They did what they needed too but I never felt that students gave them their full effort and there was always a mad rush the lesson before the deadline. Hardly ever did a four week project resemble the work of four weeks. In class, presentations never really felt as professional as they could have been. But PBL is completely different. The way it is designed ensures that students get completely immersed in it and begin to take pride in the work they create. They learn how to complete a project successfully and pick up many new skills such as critique, time management, presentation skills, research and much more. They key is to design a thorough and authentic project. One which isn’t seen as an add on to learning, but itself becomes the vehicle for it. What you create needs to inspire students to produce work of the highest standard. It also becomes a team effort where everyone in the class supports each other. So what are some key points in designing a project?
First of all is a strong aim, driving question, purpose or authenticity. I tried my hardest to ensure that I included all of these elements. Too many times I have conjured up ‘fake scenarios’ that I wanted my students to work through a project on. Needless to say that students didn’t ‘believe’ the process and never gave it their all. PBL is different though. If you can address an actual issue or link the project to a real world/community problem, the authenticity of it will help drive it forward. I was very aware that cycling had very little media coverage despite the fact that we are world leaders in many of its disciplines. The sport has numerous household names like Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton, yet we rarely see them race outside of the Olympics. Is there a way we as a class can campaign or argue for more media coverage? Can we take it to the media or create an audience to actually hear our arguments? The topics we would be covering would support this. And from this came the brilliant driving question from Martin Said:
‘How can we persuade the media to give more weight to cycling?’
To make the project authentic, we enlisted the help of British Cycling, Calshot Activities Centre, Eurosport’s David Harmon and local journalists from the Western Wards Gazette. By having these organisations involved and actively helping us create our final pieces of work, it would only help increase the quality of the learning and drive up the final outcome. It would create numerous experts who we could call upon and create an actual real life environment for the students to work in.
After deciding on the aim of the project I wanted to ensure that I planned for students to develop the very important content knowledge. In PBL, it is the project that drives the learning and this can be achieved in various directions. The process can be very organic and primarily is driven by the students and the class. If needed, actual content lessons can be taught to ensure that there are no gaps in knowledge and key/difficult topics are understood. I had a few of these up my sleeve if I needed them but planned to let the project drive itself to begin with. I wanted the project to run similarly to how the SOLO levels are structured. I wanted time for students to acquire knowledge (multi-structural), time for them to link them and apply them to Cycling (relational) and then use all of this information in an abstract way to put forward a case for Cycling to get more media coverage (extended abstract).
Once I now had a draft idea to work with, it was time to start putting together a detailed plan. As this was my first time using PBL I probably over planned and factored as many possibilities that might happen during the project. Because I would be working with Year 11 students in the final year of their GCSE, I really needed to be sure that I would not hinder their learning and miss out important content. To help with the plan I used the many downloadable resources from the Buck Institute for Education (click here). This is an excellent site that gives numerous pieces of guidance, exemplars and free resources to help structure your own project. The BIE planning template I used allowed me to identify how and when I would certain aspects such as key skills, opportunities for formative/summative assessment, resources needed and other key criteria. By unpacking my ideas and using the template to logically order them, I began to feel more confident about the project.
Another aspect that I had to consider was the length or timing of the project. With previous projects I have used in the classroom, students have a deadline and there is that usual ‘rush’ to get it finished the night before. As I said earlier, very rarely did a 4 week piece of work resemble a 4 week piece of work. Ron Berger and teacher Jeff Robin from High Tech High both have one clear message before starting a project:
“Do the project yourself!”
This is a highly important part of your planning as it allows you to see what students will have to do, what pitfalls there are, what resources they might need and so on. The general rule of thumb is – ‘However long it took you to do it, times it by ten for students’. With this in mind I set off and created my own final product which I would share with students at the start of the project. It really opened my eyes and I knew exactly what was needed if students were to also be successful at it. From this I decided to run the project for just 10 weeks (which included 2 weeks suspended timetable for Mock Exams). This would be ample time to learn, prepare and create an outstanding final product.
‘Projects are structured to make it difficult for students to fall far behind or fail. They are broken down into clear components and students progress through checkpoints to insure they are keeping up’.
One other key aspect of PBL is having a clear timetable or calendar. Although I wanted the project to be organic and drive the learning itself, I needed to plan in various checkpoints along the way when tasks either had to be completed or critique sessions would take place. These were shared with students at the very beginning and with their help, we then filled in the gaps with a mature dialogue and honesty. Because they were involved in the creation of the time line, it meant I felt confident students deadlines would be met and work flow throughout would remain high.
So what did I decide to do? What was the final outcome? Students would endeavour to answer the driving question through the form of a newspaper article and a ‘Teachmeet’ style presentation evening. Each student would have to construct an article that used one or more of our five PE topics to convince the reader to support cycling’s call for more media coverage. Students would also have to work in pairs to create a presentation that would be shared at our exhibition. The presentation would come in two forms. The stronger arguments would be shared as 7 minute presentations and would attempt to gain support from the audience to get more coverage of cycling in the media. The remaining students would create expert presentations that would cover one of our five PE topics and these would be shared at the mid interval ‘Genius Bar’. Now I had an aim, a driving question, a detailed plan, a list of experts, a calendar, authenticity and now an end product, time to look at the rest of the key ingredients.
2 – Models
‘I want my students to carry around pictures in their head of quality work. It’s not enough to make a list, a rubric, of what makes a good essay or a good science experiment. This is an important step, but it doesn’t leave a picture, a vision, an inspiration. It’s not even enough to read a great piece of literature together and analyze the writing, or to look at the work of great scientist. If I want my students specifically to write a strong essay, to design a strong experiment, I need to show them what a great essay or experiment looks like. We need to admire models, find inspiration in them, and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. We need to figure out together what it is that makes this work strong’. Berger is very clear about the importance of good models. I’d always know that showing a good piece of work to students is a good benchmark but I had never actually thought about how analysing it could form a strong part of the learning process. I never thought that I could dissect this and give students an aim, goal or aspiration. After reading Berger’s book I suddenly understood that a carefully selected model is different from showing students a nice example which is brushed aside in a few minutes.
Berger used a lot of previous students work as good models. As this was my first attempt I didn’t have any to share. I therefore had to find them myself. As I stated in the earlier section, it is vital that you do the project yourself. By doing this not only had I learnt what the project would entail, but I also had a model to share with students. My model was the presentation. I decided to create exactly what students had to but change the topic I was talking about slightly. Instead of using one of the five topics to talk about cycling, I instead use ‘gender in sport’ which was a topic we had studied a few months earlier. I did this so I wasn’t giving away any possible arguments that students could use in their work. Whilst creating this model I undertook some in depth research and found articles and evidence to support my work. I spent a long time carefully selecting quotes and gaining opinions from various viewpoints. Although the topic I was talking about was slightly different, I eventually had created a piece of work which I felt could be shared, dissected, analysed, pulled apart and learnt from in a lesson. I felt that it could really benefit students work in the project and give them a clear example of what they should be aspiring to create. And what if they just copied this? Well Berger calls this tribute work where an idea or structure from a model is borrowed. It is up to us as the facilitator to ensure that students put their own spin on it. It isn’t copying, it’s getting inspiration.
For the articles which students would have to create, I decided to use actual articles written about cycling. I took these from numerous websites and newspapers. To teach students the variety of styles of writing, I ensured I took articles covering actual news stories, insights into the sport, scientific analysis and so on. This variety would help my students analyse the various styles that they could approach their own article. A list of articles we used can be found here. Students would spend designated time learning how to write like the professionals and understand the differing ways this can be approached.
3 – Experts ‘In my school, teachers meet with outside experts during the planning stages of investigations, bring the experts into the classroom to help guide and critique the work, and take the students to meet with them at their office or lab or at a fieldwork site. My students often contact experts through email, letters and phone calls during the course of a study. We treat our experts royally. We honour them with respect, courtesy, genuine interest in their field.’ In terms of the content of my subject I am very confident in my knowledge. I could therefore call myself an expert. But part of this project required specialist knowledge to be brought in. Rather than attempt to teach these elements myself to a satisfactory standard, I decided to get in a number of experts to share their professional knowledge. This allowed my students the opportunity to learn new skills in their authentic context, rather than in a fictitious environment that I would have had to create.
Now I was very fortunate. When I analysed my project plan, I identified the need for my students to get real life examples from the world of Cycling in order to relate the subject content to. I also knew that I would need some expert advice on writing articles as close to those in the industry as possible. And finally was the need to have some expert guidance on delivering presentations to an audience in a professional manner from someone who did it on a daily basis. And why did I need all this? Well purely to make the project as close to the real thing as possible. I simply didn’t want to recreate a fake environment, I wanted students to actually to be in it.
For the Cycling element, I was very lucky to have contacted British Cycling once and instantly be put in contact with two of the most inspirational people I have met; Mark Adams and Dave Jowett. Mark is the Regional Development Manager of British Cycling and has been involved with the British Cycling programme for many years. He has had experience working from the world class programme, all the way to the grass roots (which is where he found gold medallist Dani King). Dave Jowett was the Go Ride coach for the southern region and was involved in increasing participation of the sport, running clubs and coaching youngsters into the first steps of cycling. I was very hesitant to meet them as I knew I wanted their help and generosity but didn’t want to be too demanding on their time and resources. Within five minutes of explaining the project to them they both offered to be involved above and beyond my expectations. Dave offered actual cycling sessions in school for my students whilst Mark would run a seminar to my students to link all five PE topic areas to the elite world of British cycling. He would bring along various pieces of equipment and materials to give my students a deeper understanding of how our course linked to the real world.
I had planned to take students to our local velodrome at Calshot Activities Centre. The idea behind this was twofold. Firstly, we would be able to get on the track for an expert session for 90 minutes. This would give students an insight into the demands of the sport and what it is actually like to ride in a facility like this using actual track bikes. Dave Jowett would prepare us in 5 cycling sessions at Brookfield so that we had experience of how to ride before we made the visit. Secondly, it would also allow Mark Adams an opportunity to deliver his 90 minute expert seminar and teach students the five PE topics with very specific examples from GB cycling. And underlying all of this, I wanted the students to feel the excitement of the sport which would hopefully motivate them to argue harder for more media coverage of cycling.
Dave Harmon was a stroke of genius from Darren Mead. I had a Skype session to Darren with Shaun Riches to run some ideas and alleviate some worries I had about the project. When discussing the use of experts, Darren suggested using Eurosport’s David Harmon to Skype into our classroom and chat through some of the road cycling elements and how they link to the five PE topics we were covering. A tweet and an email later and David was on board. I shared with him the content we needed to cover and he began to put an expert session into place.
One element of the project which I didn’t feel confident about was the creation of authentic newspaper articles. I know how to write as any teacher should be able to. What I was missing was knowing how to create a piece of writing that resembled that of a professional journalist. I was unsure how to structure opening paragraphs and how to ensure readers stayed interested throughout the entire article. I could have used some of our amazing English department but was very concious of time and burdening them with extra work. Instead our Deputy Headteacher solved the problem by putting me in contact with our local contact at the Western Wards Gazette. Rachel Fraser is a journalist who had worked closely with the school and agreed to come into our lesson and run an in house expert article writing/presentation session with the help of her editor Kevin Briscoe. Both had also agreed to come back in during our first in depth critique session to offer expert advice. Having this authentic element to the project would really help drive up standards.
4 – Genuine research
‘There is almost nothing more exciting in education than being engaged in genuine research – research where the teacher and students are exploring new ground together’ Berger talks about the need and the importance of conducting genuine research when undertaking a project. He talks about replacing text books and encyclopedia’s and instead use resources such as local public records, journals or allowing students to conduct their own experiments or research interviews. He states that the excitement and energy that students get from real discovery, rather than from a prescribed source, is unparalleled.
For this initial attempt at PBL, I had to analyse the opportunities and facilities that my students would have to conduct this research. Contact time with the group as well had a factor to play. The driving question we chose had a real need for students to find out information and gain viewpoints from various individuals. It also required students to get a deep understanding of not just the topics, but also the vast world of cycling. To ensure that something resembling Berger’s idea of genuine research happened I had planned to both model genuine research taking place whilst providing the opportunity for it to be carried out. I chose a number of ‘lead in articles’ which I shared with students in our very first lessons. I would use these to show students how rich these resources could be and the variation of content from various media outlets. I would also directed students towards the Victoria Pendleton and Road to Glory documentaries which gave a real insight into the lives of elite cyclists. I had lined up a number of experts who shared email or Twitter names which students were able to contact. All of these experts were booked into our lessons and were open to answering probing questions. We had access to the internet in most lessons so students could go away and researched very specific examples of the topics we covered. This may not have been to the level, extent or depth that Berger talks about in his book, but it was the first step in our PBL journey and felt sufficient enough for our students to achieve the project outcome.
5 – Building literacy through the work
Part of an outstanding project involves the development of literacy skills. This can come in many forms and Berger lists a number of excellent examples of how he has implemented this into his students work. For me, I decided to really emphasise the use of literacy in our work and created a number of opportunities to help students develop this aspect. I didn’t want it to be a add on to the project with meaningless tasks, instead I wanted it to be at the core of what we did.
There was a substantial requirement for students to immerse themselves in reading within the project. I had a strong connection with driving literacy in our subject and planned to develop the skills wherever possible. I had chosen a number of lead in articles for students to analyse in an effort to develop their understanding of the world of cycling. I would also require students to independently research the link between our topics, the sports and our project aim. This in itself would require detailed reading using specific analysis tools.
Students would also be required to write an article as part of their final piece so I planned to spend time dissecting real ones to learn the skill of doing it. We booked in local journalists to help us do this and offer expert guidance on writing something as professional as they were. This skill combined with specific terminology taken from the world of journalism would also increase the literacy element.
The use of Mark Adams and Dave Jowett, combined with Eurosport’s David Harmon and Team GB cyclist Andy Hargrove would also help develop the specific terminology that my students would be using.
The last part that I catered for in my planning was getting students to present at our exhibition evening. Some of these would be 7 minute Teachmeet style, whereas some would be Genius Bar expert presentations where guests would be able to question students on their knowledge. Student would obviously need to have the literacy skills to formulate such presentations, as well as having the specific speaking skills to present to a real audience. The use of key specific terminology from our subject and the world of elite cycling would therefore be essential.
So why do all of this? Deep in the back of my mind is the dreaded thought of exams. Traditionally, many students struggle with answering the two essay styles questions in our final exam. They require students to link a number of very different topics together in a constructive way, all the time relating it to a ‘fake scenario character’. This is tough for many and the thorough focus on literacy in this project (in particular the ability to write an extended piece in the form of an article) would be a key skill for students to take away to the exams machine.
6 – Multiple drafts ‘What could you possibly achieve of quality in a single draft? Would you ever put on a play without rehearsals? Give a concert without practicing first?How much editing went into every book that we read?
Drafting is a term that I had never actively used in my classroom before, and if I did, I didn’t use it in its correct context. For many years I have asked students to do a piece of work. It gets written once, I mark it, it gets given back with feedback and we move on. Feedback was only intently acted upon when I required it. Normally this was during pieces of GCSE PE coursework and that happened only once a year. My reflection on this prompted me to write this post earlier in 2012. Now like Berger, away from being a teacher I have a secondary interest/job. I design gardens and run my own company. Don’t believe me then click here. Every time that I meet a client and then design their garden, I create numerous versions of the design. I take them back and forth to the client for their opinions and run them past my old mentor Simon Foster. Each time I would amend or redesign the design and then carry on with this cycle. Only after multiple ‘drafts’ did I have a piece that was commissioned and perfect in my clients eyes. It was when I read Berger’s book that I realised that this approach to producing excellent work was essential and is something at the centre of PBL.
I planned to refer to all work as drafts until students felt confident that they had produced their best final piece at our deadline. The word draft immediately makes it clear that the work isn’t finished. I would try and embed the culture that because of the authenticity of the project and the way the final outcome would be shared, it was in our best interest to do our driving question justice and create stunning work. I would get students to create multiple drafts of their final pieces and using critique sessions, provide clear instructions on how to improve it. I would also use these sessions as a chance to develop specific elements and teach new methods to produce the work. I would aim to take away the fear of the word drafts and demonstrate how these small amendments and developments would eventually result in work to be proud of and not be seen as rejection or failure. As Berger explains in his book, I had clear deadlines on a class calendar to ensure everyone would keep up to date. Many of these deadlines were our actual critique sessions where drafts would be reviewed and then taken away to be reworked. So is this time consuming? Well in my opinion I hoped not. If critique is providing specific feedback and this is being acted upon in redrafts, this incorporates the learning of content and actual becomes the driver of it. And ultimately, with such high stakes in terms of our final outcome, I wanted students to see how their work had progressed over time (linking to Dweck) and how they were all capable of producing excellent work. Producing multiple drafts which were kept in their portfolios clearly would do all of this.
‘Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking and polishing. They need to feel that they will be celebrated, not ridiculed, for going back to the drawing board’.
7 – Critique
By far the biggest revelation in my teaching career and it all stemmed from one Tweet sent by Jamie Portman whilst he was on a visit to High Tech High in America. The picture was a very simple one and showed pieces of work which had feedback pinned under them on a cork board. Now this image wasn’t in a classroom but instead was in a normal corridor within the school. This single image really got my mind thinking. Students were clearly displaying draft work and wanted their peers to suggest specific improvements. All of the drafts were in well presented frames and there was no evidence of other students damaging them.
This image led me to Berger’s book and opened my eyes to the power of effective feedback that was actually acted upon. He took this process and embedded it into his practice in a way that I had never thought about. The process he used was called critique. Critique is more than just an activity that we place in our lessons to get students to peer assess each others work. Of course critique involves that, but it takes it a step further and makes the giving and receiving of this feedback a culture, habit or classroom norm. Now Berger takes this process beyond a 15 minute type activity and dedicates in depth sessions to allow students to unpick each others work and suggested areas for improvement. This can then be redrafted by the author. He uses a very simple cycle which is initially led by himself as an example and good model of how to undertake the process. He then allows students to critique before the redrafting of work takes place. The work then returns for more critique, then a redraft, then a critique……. So what about the time constraints and opportunities to teach content? Well Berger explains….
‘When teachers ask me when I could possibly find the time to fit in critique will all the lessons I need to teach, I explain that these critique sessions are the lessons. Rather than talk in the abstract about how to write well, how to compile a good bibliography, or how to prepare a data analysis, we sit as a group and critique examples at our attempts at this work, refining our criteria and vision of what constitutes excellence’ Critique sessions can run in two distinct ways. The first is an in depth critique where individual pieces of work are analysed as a whole class before students critique work for themselves. The other method is called gallery critique and involves students work being displayed and individuals are invited to give feedback. All of these methods follow 3 simple rules. All comments in a session must be:
Kind (Focus is entirely on the work. No sarcasm or personal comments)
Specific (Refined and precise dialogue with detailed explanations on positives and steps to improve)
Helpful (If it doesn’t benefit the work, the learning, the learner or the class, don’t share it)
This process really appealed to me and with the final outcome being a public exhibition, it was essential that work was completed to a high standard. I therefore decided to have critique at the core of the project and as suggested by Berger, I timetabled critique sessions into the project calendar. This gave students clear deadlines to drafts and raised the profile and importance of giving well structured feedback. I decided to run the critique sessions as suggested by Berger, holding an in depth session first to demonstrate/model the process, and then opt for more independent critique sessions using both the in depth or gallery model. I also played with the idea (in a chat with @pekabelo) of taking the gallery element further and maybe putting students work online for Twitter users to critique, or even post students work up at the local Velodrome so the local Cycling club could critique it. If work was going to be outstanding, these critique sessions were vital and careful accumulation of support materials such as assessment criteria and expert help sheets would be essential. I also knew that I had to work hard to make critique the culture of the class and demonstrating its impact to students would be vital to this. Finally I was also conscious that I had to refine the comments, terminology and feedback that students were giving and planned time in lessons to support students in doing this.
Now there are numerous other elements to critique which make it stand out from normal assessment lessons. These range from the protocols, the critique rules, the way in which the teacher structures the session. To make it easier to understand, I have included a video of a session that I ran to our whole staff during a morning briefing.
Berger makes a very valid point that a lot of the work that students produce is for a very singular audience. Usually work is completed and handed in purely for the viewing of the class teacher or maybe just an examiner. Understandably, because of this, work isn’t always completed by students with a sense of pride or completed to the high standard that it could be. If I am honest and look back at work I have set my students (even the creative bits of work), I know it could have been that bit better. Berger again takes a bold step and plans to have every project piece end up being displayed in a public setting/forum where it will be viewed by numerous people.
“There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way”
Berger also talks about the fact that if you can make the work link outside the classroom and tie in with local life, it again takes on a greater sense of importance. Is there a task that locally needs to be carried out that your class could do? When writing a biography in English lessons can’t you interview real local people and present the work back to them? In fact Berger offers a number of examples where the end result of the project has close links to the outside world, the real world. Now this isn’t possible every time but knowing the final piece of work will be publicly viewed is a great driver of quality, pride and excellence.
“Not every project or assignment can have life importance, but when students know that their finished work will be displayed, presented, appreciated and judged – whether by the whole class, other classes, families, or the community – work takes on a different meaning”
Collaborating on ideas for this project with various Twitter teachers led to Martin Said giving me an amazing final product. With the project aim being students ability to argue the case for more media coverage of Cycling, Martin suggested having a ‘Teachmeet’ style exhibition evening. The night would consist of a number of 7 minute presentations that answered the driving question and aimed to persuade the audience to give us support. During the mid evening interval, the other half of my class would run expert sessions at our ‘Genius Bar’ and would go into detail about the five topics we had covered. This would be a less formal presentation and would allow for guests to question my students. It would also tick off my ‘are they learning the content’ worry I had.
The other final product would require every student writing a newspaper article that used a range of the topics we covered to again highlight the case for more media coverage of cycling. These articles would be displayed on the evening and invite feedback from our guests. As the articles would be the first final product to be completed, it would also allow us to decide who would do the main 7 minute presentations on the evening, and who would be best suited to lead the Genius Bar.
The final piece of the puzzle would be the guests that we would invite. To once again raise the stakes, we would need to have a range of people that covered the world of cycling, media and the general public. I therefore decided to invite journalists, members of the cycling world and parents and students from all of our GCSE PE classes. The importance of doing this meant that we had an authentic audience with all three key groups catered for, and students could expect some extremely challenging questioning which meant their knowledge needed to be high.
Hopefully this authentic and genuine outcome to our project would ensure that every student produced work and developed knowledge way beyond what I would normally have expected.
9 – Using assessment to build stronger students
Quite a clear and obvious outcome for most work with students is a grade. Some form of summative assessment usually follows a unit or piece of work and usually tries to quantify the level of learning that a student has achieved. Berger talks quite passionately that through a good project, there is more than a final grade outcome that is on offer. He worries that this branding of grades doesn’t always reflect students abilities. He offers a different view and looks at alternatives to grades and talks about the use of portfolios to reflect the work that students have done. There is much that I agree with Berger on this point and feel that I could incorporate strategies within the project to allow students to present their achievements away from a final test or grade. I do however have to be conscious of the structure of our education system and exam specification where ultimately a test will take place. So, to merge Berger’s thoughts within the constraints of our subject, I decided to incorporate the following systems:
A portfolio system: The portfolio idea instantly appealed to me. As a garden designer as well as a teacher, I know the importance of a portfolio. My qualifications confirm my secure academic knowledge, but the portfolio is what prospective employers or clients spend most of the time looking at, analysing, discussing, questioning and so on. The portfolio shows my audience how I work and what I can do. I always keep every draft and design for each garden as well so I can talk through my process and show people how ideas have evolved. It’s always nice to see the route I took to get to a final piece. I really wanted students to see this as well so decided that every paired group in my class would receive an A3 portfolio wallet which I would keep centrally in a file. Students would be required to keep all of their work in here. Every draft they do will be put in here. This A3 wallet would be the main reference point for students. It would allow them chance to look back through previous drafts and ideas, analyse what to do next, hunt out any previous research, check to see that they haven’t made the same mistakes and so on. It would also help students see at the end of the project, the amazing journey that took place. I wanted the progress from draft one to the final pieces of work to be extremely visible and the upkeep of a portfolio would clearly do this. Something a simple final grade wouldn’t.
SOLO Rubrics to assess students content knowledge.
Use rubrics: Grades are important in our education system. I know that because of the nature of the system, grades have become increasingly important to students as well. Sometimes I feel they value this too much and seek out the grade before the more important feedback. But certain grades for some students can be seen as elusive. For some categorised as C/D borderliners, the dizzy heights of an A* seems unattainable. In this project I am trying to get students to break free from this grade labelling and am expecting all students to produce work of excellence. Although I need to be aware of data and previous scores, I aim to pitch Berger’s notion that ‘If it isn’t perfect, it isn’t finished’. But how can I convince students that they all can create great pieces of work? I have thought carefully and plan to use well structured and detailed rubrics/assessment criteria. I plan to keep this visible so students know what to do to create outstanding work. I plan to make the criteria detailed enough so students know what to do to get that grade rather than hope to get that grade. Having this framework for the two final pieces will be essential. Using the process of critique and redrafting, comparing work to examples of excellence/models and using the criteria to structure comments will all serve to help students push their work forward. I also plan to integrate SOLO levels into assessment as my class have been using this all year. This is an ideal way to stay away from grades and purely focus on the quality of work that students will be creating. Luckily, due to the English nature of the article and presentation, I have had some excellent help from @huntingenglish and @hgaldinoshea who constructed the assessment criteria for the final pieces. By merging their suggestions I feel that students will have a criteria that can both help structure students progression and drive the quality of the work up.
Test: Finally I have written in a unit test at the end of the project to ensure that content knowledge is secure. This will also allow me a chance to assess any areas of weakness from the project and address them before we move onto new topics. Finally this will allow me the opportunity to gather data which I can compare to previous units (not taught through PBL) and evaluate the impact this method has had.
10 – Project tuning
The final element of an effective project is called ‘Project Tuning’. This involves sharing your initial plan with a group of individuals. In the first part they listen to your pitch before unpicking it as a group and finding any areas needing improving. The set up sounds scary but is essential if we are to produce projects of clear value. I was lucky enough to have been offered a tuning session which would include Jamie Portman, Darren Mead, Simon Brown and Tait Coles. The plan was to work this through a platform online and allow these teachers a chance to scrutinise my plan. Unfortunately the time element worked against me so this session couldn’t be set up in time. I therefore ran my plan past my Head of Department and line manager. I also had a Skype session with Darren Mead from Cramlington which alleviated a number of concerns and fears. Having the plan talked through allowed me to develop any weak areas and include clearer structures and systems where needed. With this I could make any amendments and set the wheels in motion.
So now that it was all planned, how did it go? Well the next post will provide a reflection of some of the key elements of the project and tie together the theory behind the plan.
The Trojan Mouse in the picture above is an adapted Logitech device used by online security firm Netragard to penetrate the networks of one of its clients. The mouse was fitted with malware that, although harmless to the network, demonstrated the power of the seemingly unimportant end-user within a large-scale organisation. The full story is here but the essence of it is that Netragard used information posted on social networks to circumnavigate antivirus wares and to identify employees who might be most likely to unwittingly assist in uploading the virus. They sent the modified mouse to just such an employee and the rest is history.
But what on earth has this got to do with education and why have I chosen it as my theme for this Pedagoo London keynote address? Well actually the rather sad thing is that it has all too little to do with education. You see in education we still fetishise our Trojan Horses: big gifts brought into our closed network by outsiders such as governments, academics and even – dare I say it – Senior Leadership Teams. Consider the last fifteen years and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies (Troy sings), Brain Gym (Troy dances), Assessment for Learning (Troy drinks), Mocksteds (Troy collapses). And whilst our Trojan profession sleeps off its cavorting from when the times were good and the money flowed as freely as wine at a Bacchanalian festival (oops, mixing my ancient metaphors there) the horses have opened themselves up and out have poured powerful forces that have wrested control of our education system from the hands of classroom teachers. And we let them do it by singing, dancing and drinking at every bloody Trojan Horse that came along.
Why? Why does a profession that is committed, educated and not unworldly let itself be duped time and time again by these great behemoths of educational promise, only to be shocked when we wake up the next morning and find that we have ceded yet more of our professional integrity and agency? I blame Sir Isaac Newton!! A bit weird maybe but you see good old Newton was so damn influential with his notions of “cause and bloody effect”, “equal and bloody opposite reactions” and “standing on the bloody shoulders of giants” that we still labour under the delusion that his principles for such scientific simplicities as gravity have anything to tell us about the leadership of educational change, whether that be at a systemic or institutional level. We have come to accept almost uncritically that there are magic bullets out there somewhere that will make everything right, and that once we have identified our tautological ‘universal panacea’ then it is all about the application and the way in which we pull the levers and push the buttons to generate the guaranteed effect sizes. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Michael Gove is representative of the fetishisation of “cause and effect” in education. Take for example his unswerving belief that making exams harder will result in system-wide improvements. No, please, take it. But he isn’t the only system leader to do so. Sir Michael Wilshaw believes that if we run all schools like his (tight ship, hard on uniform, etc) that all schools can be as brilliant as his was. For David Milliband it was ‘personalised learning’. For Tony Blair it was merely repeating the word three times like some odd version of Candyman. And so on. And so on. And so on.
Unsurprisingly then this notion of educational “cause and effect” at a policy-making level has gained significant traction at a policy-implementation level through headteachers, senior leaders and other school leaders. Like Moses, these prophets make their way up the mountain of NCSL-accredited courses, Ofsted training and SLT Conferences and lay their hands on the next tablets of stones whilst their staff continue to worship and venerate long-since abandoned former pedagogic, curricular or accountability idols (and by God are these Moses angry when they get down and see that their people haven’t “got with the programme”?).
And the net result of this propheteering? Way too much testosterone coursing around the upper echelons of our education and school systems. And we all know what a surplus of testosterone does to a body don’t we? Don’t we? Just me then? Increased muscularity. Increased bone density. Deepening of the voice. Increased hairiness. Virility. Alcoholism. Smoking and STIs. If you don’t have a picture of some leaders of education in mind right now – telling us all how they are going to root out failing teachers, failing heads, failing schools or failing authorities – then you probably have no imagination. And yet their whole premise is phoney! Like the emperors many of them come to resemble their clothes are not actually there and we all know it, even if we can’t bring ourselves to be innocent, naive and childlike enough to see it and say it out loud.
Because the educational world is not a linear place. It is not about “cause and effect”. There are no levers and buttons. There is no such thing as a guaranteed effect size. There is no panacea. We live and teach in what is known as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) and the interrelated elements of it, each of which has its own agency, behave in unpredictable ways that mean no tablet of stone can ever contain enough rules to ensure we all survive and thrive.
Take the weather system as one of nature’s finest Complex Adaptive Systems. Each element of it follows Newtonian paradigms, but the sheer variety of factors (temperature, wind, air pressure, clouds, etc) interplay dynamically to ensure that at best we can only predict (guess) on the base of past experience and sophisticated computer modelling processes, most of which will be proven wrong more often than they are proven correct.
A murmuration of starlings is another wonderful example of a CAS in action. The variety of factors at play (each individual bird, wind, light, noises, proximity to the ground, etc) mean that the patterns they make in the sky are ever-changing, eternally unique and utterly unpredictable. What’s more, why on earth would we want to see these wonderfully erratic displays straightened out to fly right?
Which brings us to human beings. The video above shows us at our complex and adaptive best as the failure of a set of traffic lights brings about an initially uncertain, haphazard and utterly unpredictable emergent pattern of movement that may, given time, become more effective than the ordered and regular ‘command and control’ model it replaced.
So, if we are to embrace our complexity and adaptability as a profession what do we need to do? What does an educational world without heroic leaders looking to fire off their six-shooters of magic bullets look like? Well first of all it needs to realise that ‘connectivity’ needs to be embraced and that we live in ‘nested systems’, meaning that we need to create opportunities for teachers (within and across schools) to meet and talk, even if much of that talk may seem unproductive or possibly counterproductive. That means not doing away with staffrooms or staggering lunches and break times and, heaven forbid, school days because it is at these interchanges, these circles on the tube map of our lives, that people can see how they need to change trains to find their way to their chosen destinations.
Secondly, in embracing our CAS-ness we need to welcome ‘variety’ in all it’s forms, even (and perhaps especially) where they can seem to be on the ‘edge of chaos’. We all know those teachers for whom the Ofsted/NCSL/DfE playbook, if there is or ever was one, goes out of the window and who generate amazing levels of engagement and achievement even though their rooms are messier than their lesson plans and their ideas more off-the-wall than their non-beautiful display work. And yet we are squeezing the older ones out of the profession and squeezing the younger ones into one-size-fits-all models of pedagogy through our institutional and systemic demands of homogenisation. We need to stop it.
Thirdly, we need to stop overcomplicating what we do and ask ourselves to follow ‘simple rules’ in ‘iterative’ patterns so that we can see our students learn more and more effectively and our teachers teach better and better. The first rule of teaching is good pedagogy. The second rule of teaching is good pedagogy. Repeat ad infinitum. And stop chasing learning through curriculum changes, or assessment vehicles, or whatever else we keep changing to improve results but not learning. The third rule of teaching is good pedagogy.
A fourth factor that will help us make the most of our complexity and adaptability is to recognise that our system was, is and always will be ‘self-organising’ if we only let it be so, but that in order to do so it may perform ‘sub-optimally’. In other words “every lesson an outstanding lesson” is a ridiculous development plan target, just as “every child to make four levels progress” and “every school to be above the median” are cynically pointless as targets even as they are beautifully naive as aspirations. Instead we need to be seeing how the system, schools, staff and students are developing (or learning) and clear the pathways to help them to do so better and better, trusting them to do so and helping them when they don’t, won’t or can’t.
The final element of making a virtue of the necessity of our complex and adaptive nature as a system is to welcome that we are ‘co-evolving’ alongside one another. Whether as students, teachers, leaders, ministers or HMCIs the most precious thing that comes from this co-evolution is ‘emergence’, the relatively unplanned and unpredictable outcomes of our interactions that we see initially out of the corners of our eyes and that, if we scrutinise them too closely or make them the focus of expectant observation will cease to cause us wonder and amazement.
And so it is that I come back to the title of this presentation. We need to send our Trojan Horses packing and stop singing, dancing, drinking and collapsing when we encounter them. Instead we need to unleash our Trojan Mice: our small, relatively unloved and completely underestimated change agents. We need to unleash our classroom-based teachers and, through them and with them, our students. But what will that mean in the reality of our schools and how will it be different to the former unleashing of Trojan Horses.
Well first of all it will involve cultivating the butterflies amongst our staff, knowing that in complex adaptive systems that exist on the fringes of chaos theory the ‘butterfly effect’ suggests that minuscule turbulence in one part of the organisation can be magnified in unexpected ways. And the only qualification for becoming a butterfly should be a willingness to flap ones wings because that’s all that is needed to potentially cause constructive chaos. We should be giving permission at all times for teachers to take risks, especially those very risks that scare the life out of leaders, and not pillory them when the risks fail or fail to deliver. We should let them start small fires and praise them when they ignite, however few people they actually bring warmth to. Who knows the fanning of the flames with praise may just help them to kindle larger fires elsewhere.
Secondly, it will require us to embrace disequilibrium: to suffer spells of vertigo, motion sickness, dizziness, nausea and bloodrushes on an ongoing basis as we lose track of the horizon and become disoriented. This may mean learning to embrace student leadership at a radical level or find pedagogy leaders from amongst our newest teachers or reevaluate the importance of direct instruction as a perfectly valid and effective pedagogical approach or disentangle ourselves from an over reliance on assessment data and plunge into the messy world of qualitative finding out. Or. Or. Or. There are so many ways to be disorientated that we are only limited by the scope of our imagination.
Thirdly we must welcome the unpredictable, embrace the uncertain and surrender to the serendipitous from time to time (or even at all times). Like the Danish football team recalled from their summer holidays in 1992 to take part in a tournament for which they had not qualified we need to be able to switch gears to respond to “events, dear boy” and make a virtue out of necessity. The Danes may not have liked the fact that the partition of Yugoslavia, and all its ensuing horrors, presented them with their opportunity to participate but they certainly took their chance, winning the tournament outright. How often have we, particularly at leadership level, failed to respond to the serendipitous because of the unknown threats it had posed, somehow magnified in comparison to the many threats we live alongside on a daily basis?
And finally we need to remember that when we work with the Trojan Mice of our own staff rather than the Trojan Horses of leading academics and politicians that some of their work will be less polished and slightly scruffier than those glossy national strategy binders that happily are easy to wipe clean of the dust that currently adorns most of them. Above all else we need to resist the temptation to ALWAYS ROLL OUT things that work for one Trojan Mouse as a Trojan Horse to the rest of our staff because the one almost certain way to kill a newly hatched chick of an idea is to remove it from its hot house, pop it into the light and cold and noise of public scrutiny and ask it to sing and dance for an already suspicious audience.
And so THIS diagram is the recipe recommended on the best Trojan Mouse website you will find on the Internet. Innovative members of SLT reading this will be pricking up their ears and getting their iPads ready to rumble at the sight of a diagram. All you have to do is ‘check the field’, ‘deploy your mice’, ‘observe, cajole, nudge’ and ‘add or remove mice’. Done. Job’s a good’un. No cause and effect crap here!!! Just good clean SLT fun.
But here’s the deal and here’s why I’m bringing this to Pedagoo, not to an SLT convention. The model above talks about Lab Rats not Trojan Mice and there is a world of difference between those two types of rodents. Remember the Complex Adaptive Systems of earlier and the importance of agency. Well, guess what? That makes you the agents and if James Bond is what does it for you then go be that kind of agent. Go seek out adventures for yourself. Go keep Q on her toes by seeming to go rogue. Or even go rogue if you know what you’re doing. Go use the gadgets M gives you to cause a tear up, so long as there are no bodies (except those of bad pedagogy) in your wake.
Or if you don’t like the Bond metaphor go and be a Guerrilla Teacher. Just be careful which one you choose. And if neither Bond’s or gorillas float your boat because they are just way too testosteroney for you (all dense bones, and super-muscly and alcoholic and clapped out) then maybe you could become more of a creative Guerrilla Teacher. Maybe you could make love not war.
Perhaps you could be like this Guerrilla Artist, making a mess and with no degree of certainty what will come out of the choices you make other than something new and different (and maybe that’s enough for a Guerrilla Teacher every once in a while).
Or perhaps you might be like this Guerrilla Gardener who likes to fill in potholes beautifully, creating something utterly impractical and yet unarguably poetic and ingenious (because maybe that’s enough for a Guerrilla Teacher every once in a while).
Or perhaps you could be like this Guerrilla Marketer, devising something that stops and makes everyone think twice because nobody has ever done anything quite like it anymore (because maybe that’s enough for a Guerrilla Teacher every once in a while).
Or perhaps you could be like these Guerrilla Dancers, using social media in innovative ways to convey excitement through collaboration whilst making people’s jaws fall to the flashmobbing floor (because maybe that’s enough for a Guerrilla Teacher every once in a while).
Or maybe you already are a Guerrilla Teacher on twitter, interacting on a regular basis with people in other staffrooms to pick up little ideas to help you start your own little fires and flap your own little wings and roll up your own little carpets. Maybe you pass on ideas for free that your Head would rather you sell. Maybe you help people pick themselves up after Ofsted. Maybe you print off blogposts and slide them under the doors of members of SLT. Maybe you create Dropbox account for nationally shared resources. Maybe you blog about what worked and didn’t work for you last week. Maybe you contribute to a hashtag chat. Maybe you agree to something awful and disagree with something brilliant just to keep people thinking.
Maybe you already are a Guerrilla Teacher at a TeachMeet or a Pedagoo event or some other after school or weekend gathering to celebrate the best of pedagogy for which you are not paid and which just might put paid to your marriage (or at the very least that pile of marking you really must get done). Maybe you’ll hook up with a virtual colleague and form an amazing professional and personal relationship. Maybe you’ll bring a colleague to the next one you go to, who’ll bring another colleague to the one after, and so on. Maybe you’ll take one idea that will work so well that colleagues will come and see what you’re up to. Maybe you’ll blog about how amazing (and good-looking) the keynote speaker was. Maybe you’ll run your own in-school TeachMeet or your own ‘open to all’ TeachMeet. Maybe you’ll have a brilliant idea for something beyond TeachMeets that will inspire the next wave of Trojan Mice and Guerrilla Teachers.
All of which brings me back to my original Trojan Mouse, the virus bringer. Perhaps not, on the surface, my most positive metaphor for teachers (although I have deliberately strained courtesy on the metaphor front today). And yet I actually think it is the most positive example I have used today. Remember the context: this non-harmful Trojan Mouse was brought in to to challenge the assumptions of infallibility made by organisational leaders and the illusions of security for the whole organisation that followed.
School leaders, at both a systemic and institutional level, have been making assumptions for a number of years now about the infallibility of certain heroic and top-down strategies for affecting school improvement using a ’cause and effect’ approach. Many of these leaders disagree with each other on the specifics of the cause even though they almost all want to see largely the same kind of effects. But it is the Trojan Horse, Tablets of Stone, Newtonian, Testosterone-Fuelled and ultimately Heroic approach that is wrong, and the surface differences between them have become dangerously reassuring to teachers generally. As a result we have arguments with each other about which Trojan Horse was, is and still could be the saviour of our schools when the complex and adaptive nature of our education system actually means that none of us is completely right and yet, paradoxically, all of us are potentially so.
And so the final message of this post is to you, the proles of the system. Forget about waiting for the ancient Greeks to come bearing gifts and instead be the change; be the Trojan Mice that our schools, your colleagues and our students so badly need you to be. Because remember that (courtesy of @JamesTheo) at Pedagoo London we are 100% TeachMeet and 0% Trojan Horse Meat.
Right now, the first ever Pedagoo event in London is taking place: #pedagoolondon
Pedagoo events take the “traditional” TeachMeet format and try to inject a greater degree of collaboration and dialogue. We’re also aiming to develop a sense of community which can continue online through Pedagoo.org and twitter between events.
Follow the action today on twitter below…
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