Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The SHoM Family Learning Project (FLP): Part 3

Part 3 - What Did The Students Say?

This is my #TeachTweet video from 31/10/2013 about the project. It gives a some student opinion and views. I have 122 forms to read which will allow me to further update this post:

The SHoM Family Learning Project (FLP): Parts 1 & 2

Before I launch into this blog post, I want to thank Tom Sherrington aka @headguruteacher for his help, encouragement and support with this. I first heard about the idea at #TMEssex last year and decided it would be a great thing to do at my school. Read Tom's blog post <here>.

Part 1 - What We Did

What is the Family Learning Project?

Quite simply we asked Y6 students and their parents to go to the British Museum over the summer and show us what they learnt. It was completely open and students were encouraged to 'dazzle us'.

I had to play hockey the night of the launch with the parents, so I had to hastily make this:

Parents were given this letter at their information evening: <download>
Students had this in their welcome pack that they filled in during the first few days: <download>

Why did we do it?

I tweaked Tom's rational, as included in our letter to parents:
  • School is all about finding things out and exploring new ideas.
  • Learning is something that happens beyond the school gates.
  • Families have a key role to play and can enjoy sharing in the learning process.
  • Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning.
  • Learning takes many forms and there is not always a ‘correct method’ or specific goal.
  • Creativity, resourcefulness and independence are all key attributes for learners.
  • It is important to take an active interest in culture; museums are wonderful places to do that.
  • Rigour and scholarship are important to us in our learning.
It was organised by our ACE team, but mainly me! It was a dream to start with, that people were quite sceptical about. I was given the go-ahead by the headteacher; the AHT lead of the ACE group and the Head of Y7 were very supportive too.

Ultimately the aim was to improve the independence of our students, get them to strive for academic excellence early in their school life, plus show staff what they were capable from the word go! 

Part 2 - What We Got

We had projects from 117 out of 122 students... I had quoted 97% return rates from other schools and I raised a few eyebrows. They were kind of right, as we only got 96%. Do not underestimate your own students; they are just as good as anyone else's!

The standard was also very high. We produced a microsite which you can look at here:

I also produced this video (using photos from one of the Y7 form tutors): 

Blogs Coming Soon:
  • The Prizewinner
  • What I learnt
  • What students and staff said

Monday, 28 October 2013

BLOGSYNC: Marking With Impact

I like my Facebook stamp, but it's only real impact is a smile!

It's come to that time of year; the time when I train up my A2 students in peer marking... I do a lot of peer marking with all my classes, but until last year, it was my biggest challenge with 6th formers. How do you do something meaningful with a tough to comprehend mark scheme? How can I ensure marking with impact takes place? What kind of marking has the most impact?

Last year I posted a #TeachTweet video on how I started doing it last year:

This gives an overview of what I started to do. Please excuse the video quality and my slightly dull presentation! I've got better at making videos since then...

I realised that at Key Stage 3, criteria can be simplified to enable structured feedback. This doesn't necessarily give an accurate level, but generally speaking it can be a meaningful exercise and easy to help students go beyond, "I like your work".

At Key Stage 4, I work hard at drilling exam technique. The EdExcel GCSE allows for students who have mastered the formulae of questions to use 'S' and 'D' for simple and developed points, and along with the mark scheme accurately mark questions. Tim Shelton, after seeing my video, tried it out with his GCSE class, see <here>.

However Key Stage 5 was the one that escaped me. I wanted to give students an opportunity to master something of the mark scheme so they didn't go back to Y7s... "I like your work!".

By A2, students are able to write something that constitutes a reasonable essay. However, moving to the next level can often be a challenge. What is the area that lets them down? What precise feedback can be given to enable them to work at improving for next time?

The grid was key to me. To break down the criteria into a table form that students could begin by ticking off. This illustrated what would be a limiting factor on their progression and that, for example, not using enough technical vocabulary, could really limit their final mark. This was hard to do, and I'm not sure it is perfect even now. It did give a clear area to base a target around for next time, i.e. structure, knowledge.

I uploaded copies of the grid so you can see what I am talking about; they are uploaded at TES <here>.

As you can see from the video, last year by March, my A2 class were getting the marks very accurate (I think I said 'spot on' about 48 times in the video). This was through perseverance and getting them to do it for every essay they did. They didn't like it at first, but I noticed over the time they were putting better and better feedback, as well as accurately indicating which level the response fell into.

I still marked the essays and added further comments where necessary. I did ask them one day, which comments did they take the most notice of; they all agreed that it was their friends! Yet they only really looked at my mark and not their peers.

To begin this process with Y13 this year, I have produced some essays from last years' Y13. I told them to get in full mindset of the teacher... some of them were cruel! The essays were literally covered in corrections and improvements.

We then had a frank discussion about whether or not we felt we could do this with one another. There was a slight hesitation; it's far easier to do when they are not your friends in the room. However a few started saying that actually it was all for the best interests of the class and they would try to be as thorough with one another. We shall see.

I am going to try and begin this process with Y12 too. The step from GCSE to AS is huge in RS and a real focus of me this year is working on this transition, especially for the less able. Their first essay is a draft and I will be getting them to redraft before handing in (based on this <this> blog post). I will introduce a grid for their second essay and we will work from there.

So to return to the original question (like any good philosophy essay!), I have found that by using structured collaborative marking I have had a significant impact on the quality of my students essays. They really take on board the comments of their peers, and by using this structured method, the comments can be meaningful and inform targets. I can then add to these if necessary and give a final grade which reflects their progress.

Please make sure you read the rest of the BlogSync-ers here:
Maybe join us?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Marginal Gains Project: My Introducation to Staff

I had 5 minutes at a staff meeting to launch our small-scale action research project to staff. It's based on the concept of marginal gains. Here it is my script (which I kind of stuck to):

Could you be better? How can you work out what could make you better in these very specific, and special, surroundings ?

Will Gove's latest idea make me a better teacher in Y13 philosophy lessons? Will the latest idea I see on Twitter help me teach 9L better? Will the new initiative from SLT improve the number of A*s I get with 11/1?

What do I know? I know for a fact that my Y13 class, results wise, have performed as well, no better, but no worse, in a unit they self taught in the summer term. I've got some feedback, some really enjoyed it and got a huge amount of satisfaction, others were indifferent and some felt worried but are pleased with the results. Last year, I firmly believe Y12 were not convinced - and nor were we - that this would work and we'd have to reteach, but it did.

What do I also know? I said to the ACE group that at another school, they had a 97% return rate on the Family Learning Project. I raised a few eyebrows, no one thought it would be that high at Sacred Heart. They were right, it was only 96%.

Research is not just about data. It's about predicting, testing, reflecting and changing to see what works.

Ben Goldacre, of TV's 'Bad Science' fame was a key note speaker at the ResearchEd conference. He drew parallels between us and our fellow professionals in medicine. How would you feel if you doctor said, "Try this, I've always suggested it and it's been alright." You then find there have been no trials or tests of any kind of evidence to back it up. Would you take that medicine? Would you go back to that doctor?

Research needs to take place as part of a community. What works for me, may not work for you, but when we share ideas we may find something that works for both of us. How can we teach our students better? How can we react to the very individual environment in which we work? How can we help our departments? Year groups? The wider school community?

If you fancy trying something, there is a mini-project we're launching. We're asking staff including teachers and support staff to consider looking at small parts of their teaching, small things that might give small gains. Then to come back to share with us what they've learnt. What's worth putting time and energy into, and what's not? Over time, we start to build a picture of teaching in Sacred Heart, one that helps both us and the students achieve more. The mantra of marginal learning gains is “Tiny Changes, Big Difference”, let's try and work out what those tiny changes need to be in Sacred Heart of Mary Girls' School.

To download the document given to staff <here>. Big thanks for Kev Bartle for sharing his schools' work on this.

This is a very interesting TED talk about how just 30 days can change habits... can our staff do this?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Teacher Nemesis

I think it's safe to say everyone wants their classroom to be as disruption free as possible. We all want to give our students the best of our teaching rather than the best of our crowd control and discipline techniques. I am very fortunate enough to be working at a school where I can develop my craft of teaching rather than spending all day scraping students off the floor and pushing them back out the door.

A univeristy friend of mine today published a very interesting telegraph column, <here>, on the possible need for students to have their nemesis. It brought back memories of my own school days at Southend High School for Boys. Some teachers inspired me for life, others scared me, others I saw as simply unkind.

My French teacher was an absolute legend. He was an excellent teacher but equally very very scary. His results were exceptional with all students. There was no tolerance for a lack of homework or failure to learn vocab. Equally his punishments were always extra 1:1 lessons. Crucially, it was easier to be a success than a failure; good scary right? I think a fear of failure can be healthy in the right doses, and from the right people. He obviously cared deeply, and people that have seen him since school have said he is really nice chap. Very sadly, he had to retire early on health grounds.

On the other hand, a maths teacher who never liked me (and I genuinely have no idea why) told me in the last lesson before my GCSE exam that I'd "get a C at best" and laughed at me. This moment has never ever left me. 'C' was a failure in my Set 2 Maths at a Grammar school, she told me I was a failure at Maths. Yes be realistic but also fair and constructive. This comment was none of those three things.

I got an A and just a few marks below an A*. One if my main aims on results day was to find her. She wasn't there.

Ever since, I've been determined to do well at Maths. I even took up 1:1 Numeracy lessons with Y9 students to prove "I have got it"; HEAR THAT, I have taught Maths! Even now I try and do maths in my head and 'enjoy' working out department data. I use logic in philosophy and bring Maths into RE where I can, all with confidence.

She was my nemesis. She was unkind to me for no real reason and I've spent the rest of my life trying to prove her wrong.

I hope none of my students will ever feel like that about me.

It has helped me on rather, than held me back. I've been determined.

How do we manage that? I'd quite like my students to be spurned on 10+ years after my lessons... Just for different reasons. We want an encouraging and supportive environment where teachers believe in their students. Yet oddly, this nemesis can actually help us to succeed.

Make sure you do read Mic's column <here>.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Teachers Want (Useful) Feedback Too!

One of the things I do when I am struggling to sleep, is find a TED talk. If you've not heard of TED, you should have done! It stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and has become a global network of talks under the slogan "ideas worth spreding". It actually began as a one off conference in 1984 (the same year I also began), but has grown hugely with the popularity of YouTube. It's worth Googling things such as 'TED education', or there are iPhone apps etc. I digress as this isn't the main point of my blog post.

I came across the above video by Bill Gates and it highlights one of the key problems I have had on numerous occasions during my teaching career. This is the blurb about the video:

"Until recently, many teachers only got one word of feedback a year: “satisfactory.” And with no feedback, no coaching, there’s just no way to improve. Bill Gates suggests that even great teachers can get better with smart feedback -- and lays out a program from his foundation to bring it to every classroom."

I am always willing for people to come to my lessons. Whatever is going on, there is an open door policy and I welcome any member of staff to 'come along for the ride'. However I have never worked in a place where this has been successfully and constructively done.

Even as far back as my PGCE and NQT, I got odd bits and pieces of advice but I want to improve, always. As such speed up the niceties and get on with giving me advice on how to be better. I have also been told by one Section 48 inspector my lesson was 'perfect and nothing could be done to make it better'. Bulls**t.

I'd like to think I am a Good teacher. Some of my lessons are Outstanding, but equally some would be labelled as Requiring Improvement. If we're honest, that's most of us.

I want observations which I can be critically evaluated and given specific advice about how to get better. This is one of my biggest problems with OFSTED, come to my lessons... come every term if you want! But only come if you are willing to tell me how I could have made my lesson better. Give me advice, help me develop.

This is what I am looking to my colleagues to do, particularly my SLT. Please don't just sit there and tell me my lesson was great, tell me how it could be better. Give me new ideas, inspire, get me to try something new!

A new idea from our ACE group is to have an Open Door week. Staff will be encouraged to go into each others lessons to learn from one another; we need a culture shift in my school as there is a fear about having visitors. We are starting by getting people to give some informal positive feedback to the individual and then write something positive on the whiteboard in the staff room about what they've seen (and take a chocolate as their reward!).

We spend so long talking about feedback for students, but teachers need feedback too; Bill Gates is absolutely spot on. Hattie makes it very clear feedback works very well for our students, how about for our teachers too?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

A Book of FAIL

Ross Morrison McGill’s new book “100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers” contains many brilliant ideas and easy ways to improve lessons. One that has caught on via Twitter and various blogs is F.A.I.L. (First Attempt In Learning). It's not a new idea and I have seen First Attempts Inspire Learning which , sorry Ross, I think I may prefer!  There is also a great TED video on failure, by a teacher, that is also worth watching:

This ties in with some of the ideas we have been working on in my school ACE group; we want our students to become more resilient and in control of their learning.  

I have also been working with Y12 on their first essay plans. There was great fear in the room; fear that I wanted to turn to excitement! Many of the girls I teach are scared to get things wrong, especially the most able. My GCSE Set 1 almost refuse to do activities where there is a risk of getting something wrong... and this is something I want to challenge.

It very much links to the blog post I did on redrafting and improving work recently; it requires a real culture shift in my current school.

So my idea... I have asked various groups of students to back track and find a series of progression, either during Y12 or through the first year of the GCSE course. Some exam questions (GCSE) or essays (AS), that hopefully display that individual child's progression from one place to another.

Ritchie Gale speaks of how we should be displaying the progress in our classrooms in his excellent recent post, yet my challenge is that I teach in 17 different rooms. So I decided to go into print; today I produced my first book of F.A.I.L.! A current Y13 who provided 6 essays which show how she started with a decent C grade but worked her way to very high A grades.

I am now working how best to use my first (hopefully in a series!) F.A.I.L. publication:
  • Lend to certain students to read?
  • Photocopy for the whole class? (and blow the RE budget further!)
  • Make a display in someone else's classroom?
  • How will a student best use it? Just read it?
  • Is it possible to inspire students by reading others progress?
Any ideas gratefully received! 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Redrafting to Perfection?

Since being recommended the work of Ron Berger by Richie Gale, I have become a big fan. I decided to use his idea of working towards perfection with my Y8s. It is the idea that by using feedback and encouraging students to redraft and redo work, there will be great progress and improvement. This video explains it very well:

From the Y8 unit 'Creation', I allowed each student to pick one of three individuals cited as a Christian who had concerned for the environment: St Francis of Assisi, Sister Dorothy Stang or Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. They were to write a magazine article about the person for the fictional 'Eco Living Magazine' justifying their inclusion in the magazine as a Christian.

The students wrote their articles on lined paper, as opposed to their exercise book, and then got at least two people to peer mark it. They were to correct spelling, punctuation, add suggestions and improvements - as well as adding some encouraging comments! I encourages them to 'ask the expert' with them asking to think carefully about who to ask for help, about what.

Unfortunately I only have a limited number of the drafts, but they ended up covered in coloured markings and improvements. Here are two that I managed to salvage from students (but are two of the less annotated!):


They then got booked into a computer room to type up the improved version, aiming for 'professional perfection':


The quality of the work was far superior to their drafts and their normal homework. It really helped having their peers correct and improve their work. They were all determined to work for perfection too! They were getting each other to 'be editor' in the computer room; students needed a final proof read before printing!

It was far easier than I thought to create a collaborate environment, whereby students were really focused on improvement and working towards 'the perfect article'. They were happy to have their first drafts written all over, improved and corrected; these are girls who are often slaves to neatness from the word go!

There are time considerations to take into account, this took two lessons instead of one for a start. I was also fortunate to be able to book at computer room, writing it out again from scratch may have been a little tedious (and perhaps not showing enough progress for an observer). The 'culture of excellence' was powerful to see in action, and students (and I!) enjoyed it.

I may try it with GCSE students and exam questions of 6th Form and an essay... I think I may show them the video first to explain a little better why we are trying to do this!

Update 6/11/13: Tom Sherrington has also recently blogged about this <here>. He grabbed this screenshot to show the power of redrafting:

Thursday, 10 October 2013

RE in the Catholic Secondary School


I had reason today to look up this essay that I wrote for my CCRS which I completed last year. I thought it was worth sharing... There is a lot of debate about the place of RE, and particularly how RE should be taught in Catholic (and other faith schools). This is certainly not a comprehensive account of all the issues, but gives some insight into the RE teacher in a Catholic school:
“Teachers should approach RE with the same professional skills which they bring to other areas of the curriculum.” Write an essay with this as your first sentence.


Teachers should approach RE with the same professional skills which they bring to other areas of the curriculum in the modern Catholic secondary school. Things have significantly changed since the 1870 Education Act which enshrined in law the provision of ‘Religious Instruction’ or R.I., and even since the 1988 Education Act which preferred the term ‘Religious Education’. A currently serving Section 5 and Section 48 inspector remarked in a recent Diocese training session, “RE in a Catholic school has a very real responsibility to be as rigorous and well-taught as any other subject in the school.” He went on to explain his vision of a Section 48 Diocese inspection being similar to a department Section 5 OFSTED inspection, to comparable standards and assessment made linking achievement and progress with English and other humanities subjects.

What are the professional skills the RE teacher needs?

I believe the RE teacher needs the same professional skills as any other teacher within the school. The number of students completing full course GCSE RE is at its highest with 239,123 full course entries (2012, Culham St Gabriel’s). This is despite its non-inclusion in the EBacc, and various reports of RE not being taught in some community schools (2011, Guardian). However despite RE being taught better than ever before, it is still sometimes perceived as ‘easy’ or ‘irrelevant’. As such, RE teachers need to be excellent practitioners, delivering their subject in a way that demands respect and acknowledgement.

This is just as true for RE teachers in a Catholic school. Despite having a distinct place within the curriculum, it is difficult to find the required full 10% in the timetable and students, parents and staff may not hold the subject in high regard despite making the conscious decision to attend or work at a Catholic school. Catholic RE teachers still need to be consistently good in their teaching and gain excellent results in order to maintain a positive view of the subject. Equally when the subject is rightly promoted as the ‘core of the core’, other staff will be looking to the RE Department to lead them and they must be equipped and prepared to do this.

In the modern RE Department, it would be inconceivable to contemplate the subject being taught without assessment or by not using up to date pedagogy and technology. Delivering RE in a didactic, solely teacher-lead way is becoming increasingly rare. Methods of active learning, independent study, and experiential activities are all a regular part of RE lessons in the Catholic school. Section 48 inspections also expect to see such classroom activities as part of their inspections, as noted in the introduction.

Does faith commitment lead to a lack of professional skills?

The shift from Religious Instruction to Religious Education reflected the movement from ‘instruction in’ Christianity (community schools) or a particular denomination (faith schools), to ‘education about’. In Roman Catholic schools, like in community schools, this was evident in the way that the subject was approached and the methodology used to teach it. The effects of prominent educational writers including psychologists and sociologists were reflected in all classrooms, including RE in the Catholic school.

However Catholic teachers have never been expected to hold a position of neutrality unlike colleagues in community schools. Whereas they would be expected to teach a balanced and objective view of all religions, it was entirely legal, and indeed preferable, that a Catholic teacher would express their faith commitment.

However for Catholic teachers it is made clear that this does not involve aggressive indoctrination as stated in The Religious Dimension of Education in the Catholic School:

“The religious freedom and the personal conscience of individual students and their families must be respected, and this freedom is explicitly recognized by the Church. On the other hand, a Catholic school cannot relinquish its own freedom to proclaim the Gospel and to offer a formation based on the values to be found in a Christian education; this is its right and its duty. To proclaim or to offer is not to impose, however; the latter suggests a moral violence which is strictly forbidden, both by the Gospel and by Church law.” (1965; n. 6-7)

I believe that from this, it is clear that faith commitment is not seen as a lack of professionalism within the Catholic context. Yet colleagues, even within the Catholic school, may perceive such bias as a lack of professional skills and that neutrality would be a more desirable stance.

However upon speaking with a colleague that teaches history, such bias can be evident in other subjects. She gave examples such as whether or not Richard III murdered his nephews or whether Anne Boleyn ‘got what she deserved’; history teachers will naturally have an opinion on such topics that they would share with the class. This would obviously be justified and the other side investigated, but they would have set out clearly, their view on a contentious and controversial topic. Another colleague who teachers biology highlighted the issues of teaching about Rosalind Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of DNA; some teachers play up, and some play down, her role depending on their personal view.

Can the conscience of the RE teacher lead to a lack of professional skills?

The importance of personal conscience and freedom of belief are clearly stated in The Religious Dimension of Education in the Catholic School (Ibid.). However to what extent is this true for the RE teacher who has freely accepted the vocation of teaching the Catholic faith to students? It could be argued that it is a lack of professional skills to not promote the teaching of the Catholic Church within Catholic RE lessons.

For example, the issue of same-sex marriage has challenged some Catholics. Some see it as a simple equality issue, while others think it is purely political debate. However the Church has aggressively pursued the issue asking the Catholic community to get actively involved. This creates a difficult issue for the RE teacher, or indeed any teacher in a Catholic school, who does not fully agree with the Churches view. This is an issue that was played out in the media and students often arrived at RE lessons with questions. There is a real responsibility to communicate the Church’s teaching, as with issues like contraception and sex before marriage.

It is commonly claimed, it is easier to teach RE in a Catholic school as you are helping students learn about a faith within the setting of that faith-community. It is natural to talk about personal faith, and indeed one’s own personal faith. Indeed in The Religious Dimension of Education in the Catholic School makes it a clear concern when faith commitment is not present in the teaching of RE:

“Religious instruction can become empty words falling on deaf ears, because the authentically Christian witness that reinforces it is absent from the school climate.” (n.104)

As such, I believe to be professional is to promote the Church’s teaching. If there is an issue with personal conscience, the member of staff needs to have considered their own view sufficiently to avoid confusing students and giving a distorted view of Church teaching. In Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, he points out the danger of what has been termed as ‘A La Carte Catholicism’ whereby people choose what they want to believe and follow:

“Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion.” (n. 48)


I firmly believe that RE teachers need to be as good as any others in the school. It is not acceptable for other departments to be working towards excellence and an OFSTED Outstanding rating while the RE department simply claim they are distinct, separate and essentially different to everyone else. There is a great responsibly to be the primary educators, and as discussed in a previous CCRS essay, the school is now very much the option for the spiritually poor. The education of the faith often does come primarily from the school rather than the home or parish; therefore it needs to be done well.

Students and parents also have a right to demand a high quality of teaching and effective learning in the Catholic RE classroom. There are great opportunities for Catholic RE teachers to deliver the Curriculum Directory in a way that reflects the most up to date pedagogy and educational thinking. In the best Catholic RE departments, they lead the school in teaching and learning, as they realise the great importance in communicating their subject. To be failing to deliver RE in this way is to do a disservice. RE teachers professional skills and faith commitment should be both implicit and explicit in all they do.


Life-Light (2012) “Life-Light Home Study Courses”

Congregation for Catholic Education (1965) “The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School: Guidelines for Reflection and Renewal”

Pope Francis (2013) “Lumen Fidei”



·         Schools breaking law by not teaching religious studies, poll finds -

·         Record number of students in Wales taking RE at GCSE -

·         Culham St Gabriel’s Welcomes GCSE Religious Studies Results -

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Silent Debating

(Download full hi-res image <here>)

A teacher's dream! 

"Are religious experiences of any use in discussing God's existence?"

What I did:

I gave the teams the rules:
  1. Once the debate starts, there is no talking or conferring.
  2. You are either arguing YES they are or NO they are not.
  3. Everyone must write at least twice.
  4. Only one person may write at a time.
  5. Think carefully before you write.
  6. Try to keep it logical!
I split the class into two 'teams', each given a separate side of the argument. They had 10 minutes to prepare.

What happened:

We all gathered around the table, with 9 sheets of A3 stuck together. The question was in the middle.

Each team nominated their first scribe and we took it in turns as they got the hang of it. After a few goes each, they were allowed to both be writing at the same time. After about 10 minutes, we upped it to two people from each team. For the last two minutes we had a free for all to get the last bits of information down!

Throughout, there was absolute silence!

The Results:

The students really enjoyed it. On an Edmodo poll give the choice of role playing, speed dating or this, they all (bar one!) choose this!

The arguments started off all coming from the middle, in a random kind of way. However as they got more into it, the flow developed with people 'silently arguing' and literally bursting to get back to the table to write!

All students were fully engaged, even the weaker students found themselves able to add to comments or scholars to other students posts.

It was only possible to do it for as long as students already 'knew their stuff' on this topic. It was an excellent way to build confidence, share understanding, develop evaluation skills and ensure full engagement in the lesson.

The students keep asking, "when are we doing it again?"

Further Reading:

This Pedagoo post details further ideas: <read>

Friday, 4 October 2013

Strike Action

Firstly, I am in the ATL union and as such I cannot strike, however obviously I will be supporting my colleagues in the NUT and NASWT who decide to strike on Thursday 17th October. There has been all the usual debate about whether teachers should or shouldn't be striking, the effects on the education of children and so on.

I saw this on a friend's Facebook. He shall remain anonymous:

On the 17th October I will be going on strike. It's not something I'm very happy about but I thought I'd just clarify a few things about it:
1. There are many reasons for the strike, but most can be summed up in two words. Michael Gove. There is plenty of information out there that goes into far more detail if you would like it, but may I suggest you avoid the Daily Mail, as it is b******s and Michael Gove writes the odd column for them.
2. I, and my fellow teachers, are NOT striking for better/more pay, or better working conditions or a better pension or longer holidays.
3. I appreciate and am sorry that it inconveniences parents, and they may incur childcare costs, but hopefully it'll help them appreciate that not only do we look after their children for them during the day, we also educate them as well. We do this for every child, regardless of the parents' financial or employment status and you don't have to pay any extra on top of your taxes for this excellent provision.
4. Your hard earned taxes are not paying for me to go on strike, as we are not paid for the days we are strike. Feel free to contact the gov't to get a rebate on your tax.
5. I personally do not agree with strike action, however my union has gained many improvements over the decades with regard to the working life of teachers so that not only can schools now try and attract the best people to the teaching profession, they are also given the time and support to prepare and deliver exceptional lessons. It would be pretty shallow of me to take all the benefits and support that goes with union membership and then refuse to give them my support when they ask for it.
6. Michael Gove is a s**thead.
7. I'm not really interested if you once had a teacher who didn't care, or you didn't learn much in Geography one week, or a teacher once looked at your kid a bit funny, or you know someone who once knew a teacher who left school at 3.35pm. I do a f***ing good job, I give a s**t about the children in my care and I won't stand by and let that c*** Gove destroy my profession.

I think it sums up very well the generally feeling towards this government and in particular Michael Gove; I did do a little 'starring' to get this through your filters!

However, I have to be honest, one thing I don't totally agree with is Point 2.

Andrew Old writes extensively to explain this, and his position on his blog <TeachingBattleGround> and concludes:

"Because I believe in high academic standards, because I believe in planning every lesson to pass on the maximum amount of knowledge, because I believe in creating an academic culture in schools built on attracting the academically successful into teaching, I oppose PRP, deregulating pay, pension changes and removing the workload agreements. That’s why I voted to strike and that’s why I won’t be in work today."

I do think that it is important to continue to raise standards in our schools; there is still 'bad teaching' (I'm reluctant to say there are 'bad teachers' as often particular circumstances result in people being labelled 'bad teachers' and I'm not sure they always are!) and some of the ideals that Gove puts forward do have some sense. However they get lost because they are implemented in the wrong way, by deregulating everything, how are these changes even going to be implemented and assessed? I completely agree with Andrew Old that some of the pay and conditions changes Gove suggests will do the exactly the opposite.

So we are left with lots of reasons for striking. I hope 'the public' look into some of the background before labeling teachers as 'work-shy, slackers, money-grabbers' etc. I can bet that most teachers will still work more hours in the week with a day of strike action than many others. I also hope those striking do go and join a march, not just sit at home and put up a Facebook status about watching Jeremy Kyle with a cup of tea.

What would I do? I'd like to see a major day of protest on a Saturday or Sunday. Every teacher in the land descending on a London park and show Gove we care about our professional, our students and the future of education in this country and we won't take it these changes lying down.

I love my job and I honestly just want the best for my students and I will do anything to give them the best education I can.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A2 Independent Learning - Part 2 (What I Found)

Each unit at AS and A2 is assessed with a 'home' essay and a 'timed' essay. The former completed outside of lesson time with full use of notes and the latter in timed conditions and no notes.

Below you can see the results compared to their AS performance and A2 target:

Some initial observations:
  • Most students performed in keeping with their previous achievements.
  • Student 1 finds the subject hard, but enjoys it. Her result was in keeping with previous essays.
  • Student 2 has failed to submit a 'home' essay yet despite many requests, her 'timed' essay was a direct reflection of this. In conversation, she admitted her failure to do this has cost her.
  • Student 3 was disappointed with her final grade, but said she had not done enough revision as she understood everything (as shown in her 'home' essay).
  • Student 4 achieved an A. *update* 
  • Student 5 has been very ill, yet has been working at home and achieved her target.
  • Student 6 outperformed a sub-standard 'home' essay.
  • Student 7 finds the subject hard and struggles with 'timed' essays.
  • Student 8 admitted submitting a very sub-standard 'home' essay and showed her true capability with the 'timed' essay.
  • Student 9 performed very well on both essays, she is an able and enthusiastic student.
  • Student 10 finds the subject hard, her ALPS is optimistically high and as such her result is about on target for this stage of the course.
  • Student 11 was disappointed with her 'home' essay and as such worked hard for the 'timed' essay.
  • Student 12 consistently performs well, and these two essays back up her hard work.
  • Student 13 is performing at the expected level.
  • Student 14 has underperformed at the start of A2 after outperforming all targets for AS.
To remember:
  • This is their first A2 essay which demands more than EdExcel. I will compare this result to their next unit results in a later blog post.
  • Students deadline for the 'home' essay was the end of the year in July... only a few managed this! 
  • Students who submitted in September possibly didn't put suitable time and effort as they were under pressure.
Initial Conclusions:

It seems on these results that by completing this particular unit independently, there has not been a significant deterioration or lowing of students results. However, there is no noticeable improvement either! I'm currently unconvinced as to whether this is a better way for them to learn, however it proves that independently students can achieve similar results to when they are taught more conventionally.

The most important thing for me is that due to the particular set of circumstances (explained in the earlier post <here>), the time was utilised effectively enabling me to be further ahead with the A2 syllabus than I would otherwise be. It means I am not neglecting a particular unit, nor allowing learning to be substandard.

Further Questions

I will be blogging again on the student view of this unit; their thoughts and reactions to studying in this way.
  • If students can learn this way but only get similar results, is it desirable or not when I am available to teach?
  • Is this something which should only happen in specific circumstances?
  • Would all units be as easy as this to be self taught? (NB this is one of the more straight forward at A2)
  • Did this only work at A2 due to the 'Foundations' of the AS? 
  • How will their next unit results compare? (To be revisited and blogged about in the future!)
  • Was this an unfair comparison due to timing? (Summer term, summer holidays etc)
Update - read what the students said <here>.