Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Shootout: GCSE History vs GCSE RS


For those who don't know, I love Westerns. I really don't know why anyone makes any other kind of film to be honest. As my Twitter bio states, if I wasn't a teacher, I'd be a cowboy. However, I am pretty rubbish at horse riding and have fallen off a few times, so I don't think I am really all that cut out for it... 


I decided that actually, instead of just watching Westerns, that I should actually try to learn something about the period so I understood the context of the films a little better... as well as working out fact from fiction. I put out a tweet:


There were a few responses, but I learnt that Alex Ford had written a GCSE textbook for the OCR specification. I thought this was an ideal place to start - surely if a 16 year old can master this content, I could!?

I was going to skip all the blurb at the start as I felt I didn't really need any of the exam info stuff. However something caught my eye, this book represented 20% of the GCSE course. Now, it is worth noting that the book is 108 pages long, of this, page 8 to 95 are filled with content. There are some pictures and images, but there is a lot of text - I would estimate at least 800 words per double page spread. To cut a long story short, there is a lot to learn here for just 20% of your grade. 

It got me thinking about some of the criticism made about the new GCSE in Religious Studies:
  • "There is too much content." - History seems to have as much, if not more.
  • "It is not relevant enough." - This is relevant to me, as a Western lover, but this unit only takes the student as far as 1900 - not far enough to fully embrace modern American culture. A 6th former the other day asked me, "Did cowboys even actually exist?" 
  • "The interesting bits are no longer there [abortion/euthanasia]" - This is certainly not all gunfights and shootouts! 
I know the aim of OFQUAL was to try and make GCSEs, as close as possible, comparatively hard. RS GCSE has had a steep, step up. I believe History has got harder, and to ensure RS matched up, it has perhaps had to get much harder. There is much more content. there are far more tougher theological concepts, there are Sources of Wisdom and Authority (SoWA) to learn. We can certainly not teach it in an hour a week any more.

I guess we need to think smart, preempt difficulties and take action with the new spec (like Blondie). Otherwise we will be left running around after a lost cause (like Tuco) or completely out of the [GCSE] equation (like Angel Eyes). No-one wants to lose the shootout...


X Years of Expertise - GCSE and A-Level RS Working Parties


The new GCSE and A-Levels have caused great anxiety to many staff. The climate has changed since the last changes (2009 and 2008 respectively) whereby there is greater accountability, greater focus on exams (and technique), greater use of data, the introduction of performance related pay, more in depth exam analysis, ALPS, RAISE... all of these things necessitate changes to the class room teachers approach to Key Stage 4 and 5 teaching. Teachers are demanding more SAMs - but so are the students! A few comments / emails that I've had from my own students, with no prompting I hasten to add:
  • "Sir, how can there only be one SAMs? We need a bank of possible questions to practice." [GCSE Student]
  • "Will there be an examiner reports produced for us on the SAMs to read before the final exams?" [A Level]

Exam boards have been under pressure given the speed of exam reforms, but there are few and far opportunities for teachers to get together and use their collective expertise. So I thought I would organise some, thankfully backed by my school who lead a Teaching Alliance.

The affirmation I needed, was sending a colleague on a course for A-Level preparation (not exam board, and not the best), where one of the key recommendations was joining the respective Facebook groups, the A-Level one I admin myself! [GCSE Edexcel and A-Level Edexcel].

My rationale was this:
  1. Most examiners are experienced classroom teachers.
  2. All examiners are human beings, who need to interpret a mark scheme.
  3. Teachers can do the same - in fact they do exactly this on a regular basis!

I did some Maths.... If I could get 10 teachers in the room (sums done using GCSE figures)
  • 10 teachers X average 5 years teaching = 50 years total
  • 4 unit tests + 1 mock marked per student per year = 8 exam questions marked per student per year (the reality may well be far higher!)
  • 40 students taught on average per year (some schools only having an option group, some schools teachers having 2 classes in full cohort entry)

50 x 8 x 40 - Approx 16,000 GCSE questions marked by those in the room

That has  to count for something. Those teachers have sat with an exam board mark scheme, interpreting student answers time and time again. I'd also recon they have done that with a reasonable degree of accuracy - how often do you get your students grades to within one?

We know, from the desperate adverts, that some of our students' marking will be done by NQTs in the real thing. We know the exam boards will put in place fail-safes with their marking teams to ensure marking is as accurate as possible. We know some students will need to challenge their result and to have their marking checked. We know we will be pleasantly surprised with some students, and bitterly disappointed with others. We have to keep faith that the system works, reasonably well. 

However, I thought it was important to create an opportunity to sit around the table and discuss with other experienced colleagues. Therefore:
The Agnus Dei Teaching School Alliance are hosting two events where teachers of the new Edexcel A-Level and GCSE qualifications in Religious Studies can meet to work collaboratively, discuss current issues and support one another. The sessions will include:
  • “What we know” - exam board published resources, including updates
  • Discussion of mark schemes / assessment objectives
  • Discussion of current marking - teachers to bring samples of work / marking
  • Sharing our resources
  • Writing our own exam questions
  • Final conclusions - including compiling a list of questions for the chief examiner
The A-Level event would cover all study options
The GCSE event would primarily be for schools studying Spec A: Catholic Christianity
The sessions will be run at St Bonaventure's School in Forest Gate, East London (E7 9QD) at a cost of just £10 to cover refreshments.


HOWEVER a number of colleagues from around the country have said they can't come due to distance. Why not arrange your own? There are companies charged hundreds of pounds to provide what is freely available from exam board websites. Is it possible to have enough confidence in our own professionalism? Yes there are things that will need clarification, but talking it through with other experienced colleagues will hopefully help regain some of our confidence. We are able to deliver these new specs, and we are currently doing a bloody good job given the circumstances!

Edexcel are now offering some online and face-to-face training for next academic year. These are £240 (or £118.80 online). The fact you pay to enter students for the exam is not enough to expect free training to mark! Book via <here>

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Pope Francis on TED: Lessons for Schools


Today the first Papal TED talk was published. Recorded in the Vatican rather than with the instantly recognisable black backdrop, Pope Francis shared his "idea worth spreading". He touched upon ideas of solidarity, hope and tenderness. Some have suggested our world leaders were at the forefront of Francis' thinking when he wrote this, however, I think there is genuinely something for everyone in the talk; my focus is looking at a message for schools and school leaders.

"None of us is an island"

The first point is a reminder of how we all need one another. As someone who has lead teams within schools, it's been made evident that you need to be working together, always. To be a year team, a department, an SLT, you need to stand together. Francis points out, we need to "restore our connections to a healthy state" - connection and interaction makes us happy; this is in our human nature.

I enjoy our short weekly morning briefings as an RE Dept, and as an SLT we meet on the other four mornings. At first it seemed like lots of meetings, yet it drastically cuts down on many emails over smaller matters. It also means we get a catch up, know everything that's going on - and share personal news too... we even have a laugh and share a joke on occasion! It means issues are dealt with quickly.

As a department, it can help with 'buy-in' and ensure a shared experience. I try to speak in person to every member of my department every day, but it doesn't always happen - that's the life of a teacher - it's always busy! However, if I don't talk to them, I won't know if they are happy. And this is important. Anyone who feels like a island in a school is unlikely to be working as the best teacher they could be.

"Solidarity"

"How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries."

I believe that, in general, schools do have the 'default attitude' of solidarity - we fight for equality and social inclusion on a daily basis. Yet Francis goes on to say that each person is "not a statistic or a number." - and this is something we do need to fight in schools. A culture has been created (Ofsted? DfE?) where we have little choice but to focus of getting students to a 4 - or a 5? It is vital we don't lose sight of the individual human being..."a person to take care of."

Pope Francis then retells the story of the Good Samaritan; familiar but often overlooked despite it's richness. The paths of our students are riddled with suffering - anxiety, bereavement, housing issues, self harm, divorce. As are our colleagues too. School leaders need to ensure they are not like the "respectable" people in the parable; we cannot 'walk on by' ignoring the suffering, we cannot leave anyone on the side of the road. School leaders need to be constantly looking to the 'side of the road' - who is there? Students? Staff?

Thankfully, I think schools are genuinely places where we do we do not let the system "nullify our desire to open up to the good". Schools do show compassion, every day.

This leads to hope:

"Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution."

Schools are places of revolution; it happens every day in classrooms everywhere.

The Revolution of Tenderness

The third and final point from Pope Francis is one of listening. One of the most important things for school leaders to do. Listen: intently, carefully, attentively, relentlessly. 

One group that stuck out to me was, "listen.. to those who are afraid of the future". This is our students - do they need a 4 or a 5? What will it mean having a mixture of grades and numbers? What do universities want? Employers? Will I be able to afford a house? This is also our teachers - what do budget cuts mean? Will there be redundancies? Will I have a heavier workload? These worries are real. 

Francis points out the language of tenderness is one of shared communication. How do we speak to the students? How do we speak to those in our team? How do we explain complex concepts? How do we share difficulties without over burdening? 

This particularly resonated for me, as a relatively new school senior leader, "the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly". There is a real importance to ensure you connect your power with humility and tenderness. Power may seem like an over-exaggerated term within the school context, but in every moment we have the power to make or break a students day, and likewise with colleagues. Francis hints at the model of servant leadership, evident in Jesus' ministry (see more on this in a previous blog post  <here>).

He concludes with more hope: "the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a "you" and themselves as part of an "us."" - this is our job; as teachers, leaders and human beings. 

Read the script in full <here>

Watch the video in full here:









Image courtesy of TED

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Jesus Was An Only Son


"One of the first things that is shocking when you have a kid is that suddenly there is this thing inside you... that says there is nothing, nothing you wouldn't do to keep them safe and protect them from what the world is going to deliver, which of course you can't do... the choices that we make are given a value by the things that we give up for them, the parts of life we pass by..."

Bruce Springsteen may not be a practising Catholic, yet in his own words, "he is still on the team" and "once a Catholic, always a Catholic". His songs present a relentless optimism, hope, redemption and resurrection. Bible imagery often features heavily. If you are interested in reading a little more on this, try these: Catholic Herald or Christian Today .

The Holy Family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus are introduced to us in the Nativity narratives. They present a model, an ideal - God could have picked any woman, and any man - in the whole of history - to bring up his Son; He picked these. By Jesus' Passion, Joseph seems to have died and is no longer there to support his son, and his wife, through the pain and torment. Mary was there, and this is her story, according to Springsteen:

A mother prays, "Sleep tight, my child, sleep well
For I'll be at your side
That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell,
Shall pierce your dreams this night." (Full lyrics)

This song is not just about Mary and about Jesus. It is about fatherhood, motherhood and all that goes with that. My life changed on 8th October 2015, when my son was born. I underwent the transformation Springsteen describes in the introduction to playing 'Jesus was an only son' live. A friend of mine had his daughter just a few months before us, and when I asked how it felt, he simply said, "ontological" - a phrase that has stuck with me. In his Confessions, St Augustine describes ontological feelings as being beyond conception, without condition... and connected to the heart.

Naturally fatherhood changes your working outlook and practices.

Instead of getting into work at 6.30am each day, when I can I like to stay at home and spend a bit of time with T in the morning. I try to get home as early as I can too, especially one or two nights a week. This usually means a few late nights catching up on work at home, something I never used to do when I did 6.30/7am to 6pm in school each day. Yet the trade off is worth it - getting home and giving T a bath, putting him to bed is a highlight of my day. 

I'd only ever left school once in the middle of the day in 12 years teaching, the day my grandmother died, but I've already had to do it once this year when T had been sick at nursery. The students at school remain important in my life, but they are not my own son. The needs of my wife are also greater than ever before, I need to be there to help and support her too. 

There are many reasons your colleagues may be finding life tough outside of school (bereavement, illness, divorce to name but a few). Although I never fully appreciated what colleagues who were parents may be going through. When you son is ill or teething, you may have got one or two hours sleep. You may have been woken on the hour, every hour. You may have been sat in the nursery at 3am. These things naturally have an impact on your ability to function on a given day! Especially as it so often happens when you have that 5 period day.

Your evenings and weekends become far more precious. I am reluctant to give up my Saturday morning to do a revision session, as this is when I take T swimming. I will be very selective on which Saturday conferences I will attend, as that is one of my full days with T. I try to avoid too many evenings out as I don't get to see T and put him to bed, plus it makes a very long day for my wife.

Importantly, it has changed my outlook to dealing with students at school too. You look at the students differently knowing how you care and protect your own child. I think I speak to fellow parents a little differently. I am not softer, if anything tougher, as I would want my son to be treated - I wouldn't want his teachers to tolerate mediocrity or have low aspirations for him. I would want him to be loved, cared for and treated fairly. I now always try to make it even clearer to parents that this is why I am trying to help, this is where I am coming from - even if it means the use of sanctions. 

Working in schools is a great privilege because you know exactly how great kids are already. The other day I read this by Matt Coyne who blogs on Facebook as the brilliant Man vs Baby:

When my son Charlie turned one we took him to a wildlife park. While we were there we taught him the noise that a lion makes... and he hasn't stopped "rraaahhhhrrring" ever since. And every time he roars, it occurs to me that we could just as easily have taught him that a lion "moos" or "quacks" and he would have accepted that as truth. And it further occurs to me that there is real power in that and a responsibility that comes with it. (BREXIT! TRUMP! ISIS! TERROR! HOW FATHERHOOD WILL FIX THE IMPENDING APOCALYPSE)

This is the power and responsibility that we share in as teachers. We are already in loco parentis for a significant part of the day - maybe we even feel we do more parenting than the actual parents! Certainly our pastoral responsibility can often go beyond the basic teaching of our lessons. This can be a rewarding and really worthwhile part of our jobs. Those with pastoral leadership roles will (hopefully) real feel this - we do make a difference. We also get to share in the many of the joys, laughs and happy moments.

Does becoming a parent mean you should be treated differently at work? Not really, but you can hopefully expect a little compassion and understanding on occasion. Does it mean you are a better teacher? Not necessarily, but I feel it has helped me be even better. Is it great fun? Absolutely. Is it for everyone? Not at all. 

I do now know that although my job is important, and that it still feels like a form of vocation, that my own family is my highest priority. I have undergone that 'ontological transformation' whereby there is nothing, nothing, you wouldn't do for them. I'm a husband, dad... and then teacher.


Image courtesy: Intensity Advisors

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

GCSE RS: Extended Writings Questions


"We are all teachers of literacy"
(Every English teacher / literacy coordinator, ever!)

Many RE teachers have been panicking about content and delivery time with the new GCSE in RS, quite understandably. However I have come to the conclusion that actually we also need to explicitly focus on literacy, namely writing good 'argument' essays. There is a potential situation where we allow only our students with good knowledge and understanding of RS AND good literacy to succeed in our subject. 

I teach the new Edexcel RS GCSE and I realised in my first few assessments a number of students were not even attempting the D style essay questions. These carry 12 marks (or potentially 15 with SPaG) and this meant losing 12 out of 24 marks. On questioning, they shrugged and said they were too hard. Upon further probing, it was clear that they knew some key bits of knowledge; this was not the fundamental problem in their lack of response. 

Firstly, it is vital to get away from the 'old part D' mentality. For Edexcel, that meant "3 points for, 3 points against". We can't just tack a conclusion on it this and hope for the best. Yet I understand why this may be a reasonable start point for less able students. They can pick up some marks for this, which is better than achieving nothing.

Secondly, I admit that my thinking has moved on from when we were under pressure to complete my textbook and devise strategies to help students write Part D questions. I am looking forward to working in future publications to provide more help and guidance to students and teachers with this. We initially looked to a approach similar to above (with developed, rather simple points), as more information trickles out of Edexcel, I am sure we will review for future editions.

Thirdly, we need different teaching techniques to our marking techniques. We cannot use the old Edexcel system of "simple point = 1 mark, developed point = 2 marks". The exam board keep repeating the fact that we need to be looking at the level descriptors. If I am honest, I as an A-Level teacher, I am finding this an easier adaptation from a marking point of view. However, I feel that are not particularly accessible for GCSE age students. As such, I have produced a resource in a format that I have used for A-Level before:

(Please comment on the document if you can see ways to improve)

One Size Fits All?

Different questions may require different approaches. Edexcel published some timing guidelines and suggested that "2 minutes thinking time" was built into each question. I'd suggest this is thinking and planning time, considering what the multiple views are, or what the different religious perspectives are. A simple template, especially "FOR, AGAINST, CONCLUSION" just won't work for some. Sadly, a one size fits all writing frame also will not always work.

Preparation
Some activities I have completed in class to help students:
  • Providing a list of statements from Part D questions and getting them to identify what the multiple viewpoints may be - and linking to various religious views.
  • "Walking Talking" (PiXL) practice - talking the students through answering it, before getting them to write themselves.
  • Drafting questions as a class / in pairs / with textbook and then redoing in timed conditions.
  • Providing the content, and getting students to focus on literacy skills (see below).
I am conscious of the cognitive load placed on students while completing these questions. If we are asking them to recall information that is not secure (in their long term memory), given we are completing the question in the lesson where content has been delivered, plus asking them to do some relatively advanced essay writing, it is likely to overload their working memory. Therefore, for many D questions in class, I give the students the basic content and ask them to construct a good answer, focusing on their literacy skills. (Read more on CLT <here>)

Edexcel Spec Language
  • Deconstruction: Putting in your own words as to show a full understanding, including the separation/identification of key ideas
  • Logical Chains of Reasoning: Accurately using key connectives such as: therefore / as a result / in contrast / however / this shows that / this means that / this demonstrates that
New Info
Edexcel have released an 'update' with some further guidance; download <here>. A few things are apparent:
  • Unless all bullet points in the question are referenced, it is limited to Level 3 (which is what mark scheme does suggest)
  • A lack of clear conclusion does not mean an award of zero marks (thankfully!)
SPaG
The "Double Advantage / Double Disadvantage" of SPaG has always annoyed me. The way I see it, the student who can write well (a generally good proxy for intelligence and exam success in humanities) can get an extra 12 marks across the paper, which is more than likely an additional grade. Additionally, the level criteria in D already factor in elements of SPaG with "coherent and logical chains of reasoning".

Less able, SEND and EAL students therefore are put at a disadvantage I believe. Additionally, I have no idea how such a subjective criteria will be consistently applied. What is the difference between reasonable, considerable and consistent accuracy? The only one I'd be confident on is awarding 0 if nothing was written.

We are not using on unit tests, ie 24 mark questions; 3 mark SPaG is too significant. We will have to use on the mock no doubt. I am aware of some teachers who totally ignore throughout, therefore any marks they pick up for SPaG are a bonus.

I believe the inclusion of SPaG was a DfE requirement, not the choice of Edexcel.



Arguing: A 'New' Approach?
It was helpful that Charlotte Vardy shared this video from her GCSE training course detailing her suggestions for attempting AO2 questions. It is worth watching for yourself, and it is generic, but most exam boards share a similar structure:



She points out that these extended questions are not just looking for two views, that is simply information (and therefore presumably just AO1). This would be the mistake of using techniques from old Edexcel spec.

She argues that the best approach is to see questions as looking for a view (thesis) backed up with various reasons. Students should work out their position before starting to write (remember the 'thinking time'!). This allows responses to begin with a view; this fulfil the Level 1 requirements for a conclusion. It is not simply a personal response, but a confident belief in the right answer. It is necessary to have counter arguments, and it is vital to link to particular religious beliefs. 

The structure suggested is therefore:
  • View
  • Reason 1
  • Reason 2
  • Reason 3
  • Religious groups / Denominations who would agree
  • Religious groups / Denominations who would not agree
  • HOWEVER / BUT...  - this is the evaluation, allowing a counter claim, but dismissing it
  • SO in conclusion, repeat initial view (backed up by most significant reason)
This avoids a simple description of different points of view.

I'd recommend watching the video rather than relying on my notes / interpretation.

Conclusions
I used to often use exam questions as consolidation at the end of one lesson, or a starter of the next. I more frequently use them now as a teaching tool. We don't write notes and then use them answering a question. The exam question is often their 'notes'. This may help them actually remember the material better if Dan Willingham is correct in his belief that students remember what they think about (read an overview <here>). They need to think far more deeply answering a Part D than just copying notes down. 

I also think this is excellent preparation for A-Level RS study. It is not easy, and certainly a challenge for less able students, but if we reduce the cognitive load in the first instance, we can be teachers of literacy, getting them to write well, in the context of our subject. For me, there is a great joy in this. A joy that was not there in the previous Edexcel spec. Even now, some of my most able students are writing essays that are enjoyable to read! 



Images courtesy of TimeSlip Blog

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Portsmouth 2017 with Jonathan Doyle

Jonathan and me via Jonathan's Twitter

I was fortunate to be invited to Portsmouth Diocese during a week of talks by Jonathan Doyle. On Monday 20th March 2017, I travelled down to St Jude’s Catholic Primary School in Fareham.

Jonathan is an internationally renowned speaker on Catholic education. He has spoken to over 300,000 Catholic teachers to date, 400 schools sign up to his weekly formation programme and he has produced a wide variety of resources to help Catholic teachers. These are my notes on his presentation. They hopefully reflect the meaning and spirit of his work, but they are my notes and interpretation.




  • Cynicism, burnout and exhaustion are sadly a key feature in all schools. How do we ensure our teachers keep turning up?
  • It is not surprising as we spend all day dealing with people, getting blamed for stuff… teachers are on the front line.
  • However, every teacher has their first day; no teacher starts off cynical, exhausted and hating what they do! (Jonathan spoke about how his dad had a job that he hated all his life)
  • Even if you don’t feel it, someone you know does. And you probably know about it.
  • Mother Teresa spent her life on the front line - she didn’t only survive, she thrived!


The Simple Equation:  The demands and complexity in teaching will continue to increase; time and energy are finite
  • In education, your job is only going to get harder; it will get more complex, more demanding, more pressured, greater expectations, new initiatives.
  • As our culture loses sight of God, people become more aspirational about material things - they want more stuff! More education, leads to more money, and therefore more material gains - or so people believe.
  • Where will better and better outcomes come from? Where will we find this energy? Especially as our primary vocation with a family, as a mother or father, son or daughter, also continue to place demands on us.


In Australia, only 5% of students from Catholic schools step into a church within a year of graduating. There is nothing compelling enough happening in Catholic schools to make students want to keep going to church. These schools have good outcomes, producing good young people… but government schools can do that just as well. Have we failed our mission? Why do Catholic schools still exist?


Jonathan spoke about a Catholic-based sex education talk he and his wife gave in a Catholic school and the Principle pointed out that theirs was “just one story”. If we present the Catholic story as simply one among many, we are failing in our responsibility to present an authentic Catholic vision. If you don't agree with it, why are you doing it?


The 3 Objectives of Catholic Schools
Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975), “The Catholic Church does not have a mission; she is a mission.” We do not belong to a Church that ‘looks for things to do’, such as education; Jesus certainly didn’t say at the Ascension, ‘Make sure you create big, complex institutions’. There is simply a Body of Christ. We cannot separate our mission from this; quite simply we are looking to bring people into a relationship with God. Therefore…


  • Objective 1: To create disciples - If students have an encounter with the real and living person of Christ, they will want to have a relationship with him in an ongoing way. The school needs to ask,  how effectively are we creating an example of Jesus? Or at least, how are we creating the context to allow that to happen? Catholic teachers in the school must be living catechisms… no student is going to ask to borrow a catechism to read! Yet a good Catholic teacher can be a catechism, a book that is lived out. If students do not see that Jesus matters to us, there he won’t matter to them - “set yourself on fire, and the world will come and see you burn!”
  • Objective 2: Integral Formation - “Christ is the foundation of the educational enterprise in a Catholic school… The fact that in their own individual way all members of the school community shares this Christian vision makes the school.” (The Catholic School 1977) - a school with 10% Catholic teachers is different to one with 25% or 50%. Integral formation is not just an evangelical mission; students have a wide variety of gifts and talents (music, art, athletics etc) and these must be fostered by the teachers in the school. All those little moments where you give help, guidance and encouragement are vital in this too. Be proud of using the best teaching methods and most effective pedagogies as you are helping in this formation. “The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education.” (Lay Catholic in Schools: Witness to Faith 1982)
  • Objective 3: Philosophical Anthropology - This means to form an authentic Catholic vision of the human person, the person created “in the image and likeness of God” - what you think a person is, will determine how you treat people. Jesus went to Calvary for the person you like the least, the person that annoys you the most. Catholic schools are quite good at social justice, good at being nice… but have we lost our Christology? When our young people go into business or marriage, how will they treat people?


Tools and Fuels - Jonathan’s new book
Jonathan is an obsessive cyclist but one day, for the first time, he didn’t finish a race. It had 3 hills. On the first, he didn’t set up his gears correctly, then for the second he didn’t hydrate properly… and ended up calling his wife to pick him up. He had the wrong tools, and the wrong fuel.


We can’t do a big task with the wrong tools and wrong fuels.


Generally speaking, we have the right tools; our pedagogy is good. Most teachers can teach, even with the impending budget cuts, they will be able to deliver a lesson. Our fundamental problem is our fuel.


The 2nd Equation: You cannot do a supernatural task, with just natural resources
  • How do we survive? Do we just keep trying harder? Are we just “people of goodwill”? (Saint Pope John Paul II) Do we just rely on our personal effort, energy and psychological strength? You cannot out muscle a system that will just expect more and more.
  • John 15 outlines a personal and intimate exchange between people that knew each other well: Jesus and his disciples. He makes it clear, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (15:5) - either he is right? Or we are right - and he is wrong? Was Jesus joking? Metaphorical? There is nothing to suggest this; it is direct.


The Solution: All you have to do is become a saint.


  • The only thing that will fix this and allow you discharge your vocation is become a saint - the ultimate suffering is to not become a saint!
  • The Pre-Vatican II Church was a manual focused, teaching people to be holy through a list of ‘do’s and ‘do not’s. Holiness was only for a subset, the bishops, monsignors, cardinals etc.
  • Jonathan’s dad used to say, “If I can just sneak in the back…”
  • Vatican II gave the Church a universal call to holiness. It is for everyone. Sanctity is for everyone. It is heresy to claim that it is just for a subset!
  • The Catholic Church does not make saints, it simply recognises them - we often have an association with the Saints in our stained glass windows, hands together, not having any fun.
  • There are a great variety of Saints: St Augustine had an illegitimate child, St Mary of Egypt was a prostitute - to be a saint, you need to have really lived! God is not looking for people who “creep” through life.
  • God is able to help strip away everything that isn't you - your projections, your fears - this is when we begin to understand sainthood.
  • Life shifts - we stop doing certain things in our lives because we want to give, love and contribute - we recognise we are in love, and when you are in love, you believe you can change the world.


Our Vocation: Called to be saints
  • Primary Vocation - This is the modality of life: married, single, priesthood etc - we need to be asking how can I be a better husband/wife/father? How can I love them better. Often the things that you resist are what God wants most for you. God comes disguised as you life! “Do I love my wife as Christ loves the Church?”
  • Secondary Vocation - This is the work you do. This creates a paradigm shift… but whatever Jesus did he elevated. He worked, but he didn’t have to. Work is a good thing; through our work, God makes us holy. When you say the one word that a child needs to hear, it is important to remember that nothing you do will go unnoticed. Our society and culture allows these things to go unnoticed, but God does not.


The Venerable Solanus Casey
He was one of a family of 11 from Chicago. He worked as prison guard, train conductor… but wanted desperately to be a priest. He was kicked out of seminary for not being bright enough. Eventually the Franciscans gave him another chance, and after some time became a simplex priest - he could not perform public ministry. He was given the job of sitting in the front room of the Franciscan house and answering the door to guests. He let them in and made small talk until the person they had come to see was ready.


He spent 22 years doing this.


However he developed a supernatural gift of listening, he heard “the deepest wounds of the heart”, and miracles began to happen as he prayed with people.


All he did in life was the one simple thing asked of him, open the door.


The Solution Continued
  • The way is a person.
  • Others will devise systems or programmes…
  • The only thing that will do it, is trying to be saints.


The Path of Dependence
  • The sun will come up tomorrow - will you rely on you or will you reply on Christ?
  • A real person who rose from the dead, will give you supernatural capacity to become most fully what you already are.
  • We can rarely beat problems on our own.
  • God’s grace builds on our very nature.
  • We need to learn a path of dependence on God and realise that we cannot do this with God


How do we practically do this?
  1. Return to the sacraments
    • We need a deep desire to be with Jesus in the Eucharist, the “source and summit”. The Saints all know this, it grants a supernatural grace.
    • Our students often do go, because we don't go - you cannot give what you don't possess; you cannot share grace you do not have.
    • In Eucharistic adoration we can say “I am here, I am going to keep coming”
  2. Return to prayer
    • We need to give time to God - can we find 10 minutes?
    • Pray for your students
    • Find a chapel, do you pass a church? Can you come in 5 minutes earlier?
  3. Return to an encounter with scripture
    • This is how God will most likely speak to us


We may end up cranky, anxious, depressed and exhausted as teachers. How can we not only survive but thrive? By being saints.


As Jonathan says, “the Catholic Church has the best product, but worst marketing department.”




I'd like to thank Edmund Adamus, Professional Advisor to the Episcopal Vicar for Education/Schools Commissioner in Portsmouth Diocese, for the invite.


I'd also like to say a huge thanks to Jonathan Doyle for his generous and inspiring witness - it was well worth a 2hr+ journey each way to hear what he had to say (and he had come from Australia, so that kind of beats my journey!)


I hope my notes are useful; “The hand is the conjoined instrument of the mind” (St Thomas Aquinas)



Further Questions

Upon reflection on this, I will be blogging more on some of the ideas here. Questions that have already come up in my mind are...


  • How does this help our non religious colleagues / colleagues from other faiths?
  • How does it enable us to help our non religious colleagues / colleagues from other faiths?
  • How do we best deal with resistance to these ideas?



Portsmouth 2017 - Day 2

Jonathan filmed his second talk of the week. This covers some similar themes, but also introduces and touches upon some other key ideas. I recommend Catholic teachers everywhere to watch:





Jonathan also features on the ARC website with some videos on Theology of the Body for teachers. View <here>

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

GoogleForms


"[Dylan] Wiliam’s central point: multiple choice questions can be made to be extremely difficult and challenging, and they can certainly test higher-order learning objectives." Daisy Christodoulou on Principled Assessment Design by Dylan Wiliam

Since moving to a 'Google school', while already being a convert, I have been using GoogleForms extensively since they introduced their new 'quizzing' feature. MCQs that prompt the revisiting of key words, ideas and knowledge can only be a good thing, right?

Workload

These are self marking. You can create a copy of the quiz, set via GoogleClassroom and then copy and paste results into your mark book (in GoogleSheets of course!). I am working on a system for students to record in their books - they often forget! (Does this matter? For whom are they writing in their books? Ofsted...?)

Spaced Learning

All tests are available on our department website (see <here>) we are ensuring regular retrieval practice, and using principles of distributed practice. I am introducing a "Quiz Master" - I will pick a quiz at random each week, the last student who has completed that quiz will get a prize (chocolate).

Informing Planning

I can get insights into what my students know, and what they don't. For example, so far, it is clear they know exactly where Moses received the 10 Commandments, but not the book containing the 613 Mitzvot. This is can be used as a indicator of what areas to focus on. Over time, this could be far more focused. It could also inform what to put on assessments, knowing students will have to review after the test and 'fill the gaps'.



What next for students?

Unlike feedback based on prose, MCQs give instant feedback on what they don't know. They can look up what they got wrong and redo the test. I've found students hate getting less than 10 and will often redo over and over until they get 10.

MCQ Problems
  • Clearly they can't assess everything.
  • They are time consuming to produce (but can be used over and over)
  • Good MCQ are hard to write - there is no point in 'silly' answers
Further reading on MCQs by Daisy Christodoulou
Samples

I have set up all quizzes on our website as being for our students only - they need to be logged in. This is because I want to have data on just my pupils, and so I can see who has completed them! I am sharing a sample here:
I aim to write quizzes for all sections of the new GCSE RS spec (Catholic Christianity, Judaism and P&E Edexcel) and A-Level (Edexcel Philosophy, Ethics and NT). I am willing to share with people who wish to genuinely collaborate.