Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Metacognition for KS4 & KS5

Image courtesy of OpenClipArt

After being appointed as Head of Year 10 for this academic year, one of the things that I wanted to put in place was a useful and meaningful set of study skills lessons. 

To many active Twitter and bloggers, none of this information on metacognition will be new or revolutionary. However despite hearing it discussed frequently on these mediums, as well as at TeachMeets, I have not come across many resources geared towards students. 

I've started with a booklet which is still is in "Version 1" format. I have distributed to Y12 and Y13 RS students and parents recently who seemed interested. I mentioned my work to some Y11 parents who have also emailed and requested a copy. Given the interest and demand, I am now looking at ensuring this resource as good as possible before distributing further. My view is that:
  • It must be concise - I've printed into a A5 readable booklet.
  • It must be user friendly - understandable for Y10 to Y13 students and parents.
  • It must be practical - giving some tips of how this research can manifest itself in a revision timetable.
Download V1 of the booklet here: [PDF] and [Doc]

Download my [draft] 'Learning Review' here: - I envisage students completing this and then going through answers with their tutor or with the above booklet.

Big thanks to Daisy Christodoulou [@daisychristo], Tim Worrell [@musotim], Peter Mannion [@PeterCMannion], Alex Quigley [@HuntingdonEnglish], Turnford School [@turnfordblog] and Shaun Allison [shaun_allison] for their help and inspiration. Also thanks to Daniel Hugill [@danielhugill], Mark Shepstone [@MrShepstoneRE], David Ashton [@thegoldencalfre] and Neil McKain [@nmckain] for some initial feedback!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

#BLOGSYNC: Knowledge vs Skills [RE]

Image courtesy of Pixabay

"What do you view as the relative roles of knowledge and skills in education?”

Some may be thinking, this again? While others will never have even considered their view, or approach, on the great "Knowledge vs Skills" debate. 

Tom Bennett hit the nail on the head for me in a recent RE:Online interview:

I want an RE that is less about ‘how do you feel about this?’ and more about ‘what have people thought and why, and what do you think of their beliefs?’ Before we can do the ‘why’, first we have to make sure the ‘what’ is secure. [See <here>]

This is absolutely crucial. I absolutely believe that until you have sound knowledge you can't meaningfully begin to master any skills. Perhaps this is distinct in RE, but I suspect not. I can't have my students passing judgement, analysing or drawing conclusions without sufficient information to make those activities meaningful. 

It is absolutely wrong to undertake endless activity-based lessons (as OFSTED seemed to want at one stage, and SLT in some places still demand). There needs to be considerable input of knowledge and this will not be the 'fun' or 'all singing and dancing' lessons many produce for observations. I've been guilty of this in the past, but there should also be a great joy in a lesson where students successfully absorb and learn significant new knowledge. 

I am forced, painfully, to recall an OFSTED observation on a Year 7 lesson. It was not Outstanding, only Good, because I defined the term 'Messiah' for my students. This was a new topic, and there was no prior knowledge of this concept. None of my students speak Hebrew, however the one piece of advice to have achieved a Grade 1 was to have allowed students to have discussed in pairs and 'work out for themselves' what 'Messiah' meant to them [Read more <here>].

Additionally, when considering this debate while recently marking A-Level essays, it was brutally clear that the best essays were the ones where students have learnt the material, they had knowledge. This allowed them in turn to display understanding in the Part A and then analyse and evaluate in Part B [Edexcel RS]. These skills are impossible for the students who simply haven't learnt the material.

Recently, I have introduced some cognitive psychology to student to help them appreciate the value and importance of learning key information. It really is the fundamental part to everything else. Any meaningful skill is based upon having sound existing knowledge, even the ability 'to Google' needs a sound knowledge base to assess the validity and usefulness of knowledge found.

However, not for one minute am I suggesting that we spend our whole time rote learning. This is not education, this is not how I teach. Yet, I do reject the idea in RE that 'you can't be wrong'; I frequently correct parents on this on open evenings. There are some things that are absolutely wrong, and even a limited amount of knowledge should allow you to reach that conclusion. 

This creates a need for teachers to plan their time carefully. You need to provide sufficient knowledge, but then allow adequate time for young minds to develop the necessary skills. You need a clear vision of what you want your students to achieve... and then work back. If I want my A-Level students to produce a clear conclusion on the usefulness of the Ontological Argument, I need to carefully work back to work out what core knowledge they need in order to reach that conclusion, then unleash their brains on it in a carefully structured way.

Blooms, SOLO and pretty much every other taxonomy of learning suggests that learning (and remembering) knowledge is core to any further progress. Students that have a vast bank of knowledge are often able to develop the necessary skills far quicker and more efficiently; this is no coincidence. Any activities, based on skills, must be deepening and widening knowledge. After all, the oft-quoted Dan Willingham tells us "memory is the residue of thought"; it is easier to remember when we have done some deep thinking about the subject.

Yet, is this really a debate in the first place? Just like 'Science vs Religion', it is perhaps misleading. There can be few, if any teachers, who would for a minute suggest that it needs to be one or the other in the most absolute sense. My lessons feature both: one day you would come in and see me drilling some key words, or dates, or scholars; on another we'd be doing a silent debate, speed dating or cracking on writing an essay! To do one without the other would be absurd; you'd have a pretty poor debate or essay with no knowledge, and there would be little point in simply learning knowledge to no end.

For me, there is a real joy in a well-crafted A-Level philosophy essay. It features clear understanding of the complexities of  the topic, careful analysis of scholars contributions before a confident conclusion showing the evaluative skills of the writer. Knowledge AND skills, totally inseparable in the final piece of work.

Read more on the 'Knowldge vs Skills' blogsync <here> 

Monday, 26 January 2015

#TMBett15: Pastoral Stuff @ TMs (or the lack of)

Image courtesy of @ICTmagic @UKEdMag

475 teachers in Excel after a busy day at BETT. It must be TeachMeet BETT... generally regarded as the biggest TM going. 

I put myself down to present last year and got a little disappointed at not getting picked. Every other TM where I have put myself forward, I have always got to present, but this is no ordianary TM and those willing to share their ideas could easily fill a few days! 

This year, I went for a 2min presentation creatively entitled "The Oil in the Machine": Pastoral Stuff @ TMs (or the lack of) which can be found at: 

I can only presume it was well received from my TL, which went MENTAL. It seemed to strike a chord with many... we don't talk as much about pastoral issues as we do academic / pedagogical. There are lots of reasons for this, but as I read through my tweets, added new followers and favourited all the nice comments, I did wonder if there is a way of better connecting those who are blogging and tweeting about pastoral issues. Is there space for another hashtag? Or another weekly Twitter chat? Is there another way?

It left me some food for thought. It'd be great to hear from more pastoral leaders (all of us!) who are tweeting and blogging about these issues as I want to read more... I'm still new to this post and want to be as good as I possibly can at it; I'd like to share in your wisdom! Get in touch.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Term of Pastoral Leadership

Image courtesy of Jason Rodgers

Last year at school, I was seriously considering my options. Career progression is often a little slower in the RE Departments of Catholic schools, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make. I work in a good school, where the majority of the students are amazing and lovely. I also have always had in my head that I wanted to 'walk before I could run' having seen inexperienced staff in positions of responsibility and been somewhat out of their depth. However after 8 years of teaching, including 3 as Assistant Subject Leader in RE (significant in a RC school, thankfully with a sizable TLR payment), I wondered what my next move would be. A few Head of Department jobs came up and I was seriously tempted to start the application process...

Then two of the PDCs (Pupil Development Coordinator; known as Heads of Year in most schools) handed in their notice and a third retired. The general expectation from all is that I would apply, get the job and do it well. No pressure whatsoever!

I did apply, I did get one of the jobs and I was given the PDC role for Y10; a tough and daunting prospect given that I had never even been a KS4 form tutor! However it was in plenty of time for a good handover, plus plenty of planning and reflection time before the 1st of September.

In my research, one of the first things I came across was Andrew Old's blogs from 2010 entitled Good Year Heads, see <here>. I had mixed emotions when reading it... (and it is best if you read Andrew's post before reading on with mine!)

Did I have enough? It would be my 9th year teaching, 10 if you include my PGCE. Year heads always have to have an authority as well as wisdom; often you don't get second chances to get things right. I also didn't know if this was final aspiration or not, and I still don't. However I have always considered myself as having interest in a pastoral role and so it was simply 'taking whats there' in terms of career progression. 

Thankfully I am known for enforcing rules, sometimes I've even been called mean. Behaviour management is so important to all teachers, and as a HoY, this extends beyond the classroom and into other peoples classrooms too. I knew I would have high expectations and, despite the hassle it causes me, I have enforced these. I have returned to basics, outlining my exact expectations for form times, uniform et cetera and put in all form rooms as a point of reference for students and tutors. I have an ever growing collection of 'diamonte' earrings on my desk too. 

Pro-Teacher Sympathies
I totally agree with Andrew on this, no one appreciates a HoY as an appeaser who becomes 'a friend' to the students. I back up every single member of teaching staff when dealing with students. You do pick up a lot of behaviour issues, some that you perhaps shouldn't have to, but the message always has to be the same, you must behave, no excuses. This does not mean you cannot also be a listening ear and champion to the students in your year group. 

Helpfulness with Workload
As HoY, I've realised that you need systems that are simple and effective. I do remember what it is like being a form tutor, and it can be a nightmare! Our school now has a duel tutor system, so there is more time to do the admin tasks but I do always try to alleviate unnecessary pressure where possible. Our CP (Citizenship and PHSE) programme has often been an issue, but this year I have tried to produce the lessons by Tuesday at the latest, ready for the Thursday lessons. I have also organised a number of whole year sessions allowing them to sign planners thoroughly and without distraction.

I try my very best to do everything I say I will, follow up with every one I say I will and keep every promise I make! I think it is for others to comment on how well I do this, but again I have lots of systems in place to help me. If someone stops me on the corridor, I ask them to email me or write it down too, I have a to do list prominently on my desk, I have various filing systems with my email and various trays and files, plus two diaries. It seems to be working reasonably well... It is easy to receive 30+ emails a day, with a significant number needing some kind of response. However I've also learnt how to assertively say "no", or "That's an issue for the Head of Department", or "What sanctions have been put in place so far?". 

Andrew concludes by pointing out, "...year heads can make such a difference, more than other middle managers, more than most SMT...". Already I've realised the reach and responsibility of the Year Head, and in particular the way in which many staff look to you to solve problems (from the really big stuff to the trivial stuff). However I've also realised that actually, when you can find the time, you can solve many of these by having the bigger school-wide picture, access to various agencies and better understanding of the whole child and their situation.

As I reached my first half term, I then read John Dexter's blog about Heads of Year (see <here>), who points out, "If middle leader subject staff are the engine room of a school the HoY role is the engine oil keeping the school running smoothly." . John goes on to explain the reasons why some may consider the job of HoY and there is no point in me simply repeating what he already articulates well. He highlights the depth of complexity involved in the job and dealing with students and their problems. It really is key reading for all Year Heads and aspiring Year Heads, and perhaps SLT to remember what their pastoral team are having to deal with!

I'm just going to highlight two bits from his post:

"Be prepared – some colleagues will think you are too soft, that cup of tea in your office after Rudolph did that; others will be the opposite and think you were ridiculously harsh to force the detention over that so-called trivial event. So sure sometimes you can’t win but you are the reality of loco parentis and tough love needs mixing up with the bridge back."

This absolutely sums up what I have found so far. Sometimes I worry what people think about my decisions, but then I remember that I can't please everyone and not many would be willing to take up the position purely for this reason; it is hard work!

"Ultimately the success of a number of pupils is definitely down to the pastoral system of which they HoY is in a critical position. Knowing your pupils and families is the key. This job is about: relationships, relationships, relationships and a frequent stepping stone into more senior roles in school."

I do think that coping with the pressures and workload as Head of Year can only be good preparation for any future roles. I frequently struggle with my marking at the moment and I am pleased that my teaching is secure enough to cope with the new interruptions to my day. The relationships side is so key, with your year group, your form tutor team, your line manager, SLT, the head. Relationships take time, they allow for odd slips up, but ultimately everyone needs to know you are committed to the task and work hard to achieve the best for everyone. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

SACRE: Time to move on to drive improvement?

Image courtesy of Carfelo

NATRE have reported upon a letter sent by Lord Nash to all SACREs. He is Minister responsible for faith schools and has sent a letter to all SACRE Chairs, Clerks and Directors of Children’s Services which has been published <here>. In it, he emphasises the importance of good teaching of religious education and the central role of SACREs and the duty of local authorities.

This raised discussion on social networks about the role of SACREs in general. RE is so oddly positioned within the 1944 Education Act, it is compulsory but it's content decided locally. Teachers from other disciplines can't begin to understand this; would you have a Geography syllabus that focused on the South Downs when studied in Sussex and lakes when studied in Cumbria? (A perhaps, factious example I admit!).

There is an increased call for greater consistency to help drive improvement in RE and one way would surely be to establish a core curriculum that is used nationally? As part of the #REconsult process it has been clear that ministers, the DfE, Ofqual etc are all keen to be more explicit in what needs to be taught at GCSE  (to ensure comparability), why not Key Stages 1 to 3? 

The trouble with not having a 'National Curriculum' is there is no attempt to tackle regional inequality or local bias. The world is a far smaller place than it once was with many people moving around the country for education, employment or relationships. For example, the Nottinghamshire Agreed Syllabus may well be excellent for students living in Nottinghamshire, but will it be good enough to equip the student who then goes to Southampton Uni, meets their partner from Newcastle and eventually ends up living in Bristol? If it is good enough to do this, why is the whole country not following that Agreed Syllabus?

There are a lot of really good people involved in SACREs who often give a lot of their time voluntarily. In some areas there are great things going on and advisers employed by SACREs do amazing things to support schools to improve RE. I don't see this as the problem though. We all want to make RE better and any way that can happen and be supported is only obviously a good thing, I would hope the role of advisers can continue especially with less and less LEA assistance. 

I teach in a Catholic school and we have a core curriculum document called: The Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19) for Catholic Schools and Colleges in England and Wales [2012] published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Department of Catholic Education and Formation. This is from the documents introduction:

The purpose of this new edition of the Religious Education Curriculum Directory (3-19) is to provide guidance for the Religious Education classroom curriculum in Catholic schools. Following the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the Bishops of England and Wales published the Religious Education Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools (1996) to ensure that teaching and learning in our schools truly reflected the vision and breadth of the teaching of the Church outlined in the Catechism. This revised Directory is published so that religious educators can continue to meet the needs of the pupils of our time. (<link>)

There is freedom to teach this in a variety of ways and different Dioceses normally recommend a syllabus that covers the Curriculum Directory. I have used ICONS (now quite dated but still recommended by my Diocese) and have now moved to The Way, The Truth and The Life for Key Stage 3; there are others too, a new one is apparently in the pipeline from a group called The Catholic Project of England and Wales. In Primary, many schools have moved from Here I Am to Come and See

I'm not suggesting the Curriculum Directory is perfect (I don't think anyone covers all the content... it's too vast!), but it is a good starting point to ensuring some consistency and accountability. When inspected under the Section 48 framework, a key concern of the inspectors is the delivery of the Curriculum Directory. It provides Levels for assessment and a very detailed core curriculum and knowledge set. 

I think part of the problem comes from our sometimes confused purpose in RE. There are too many differing views on what and how things should be taught and SACREs give opportunity for that diversity; I personally don't think that in this case, that it is a great advantage for our students. Given the number of non-specialists teaching RE, plus the isolated one person departments, and the 'Bad RE' out there, diversity will often mean more bad than good.

In the GCSE proposals, there was a core knowledge set out for new syllabi to cover. There were some problems with this in some areas, but once it has been finalised, would it not make sense for this core knowledge to be adapted for Key Stages 1 to 3? Not only will this provide some consistency, but will enable greater religious literacy as students progress through the education system. 

Unlike some colleagues, I do think it is important that people of faith backgrounds are involved in RE curriculum. I think it is good that the DfE extensively consulted with faith groups, if only to verify the knowledge is accurate... if I am learning about Islam, I want to know what I am teaching has been agreed by both academics and believers. It is why we are working with people of faith for The London RE Hub conference; faith is something genuine and lived out, and it is important to use this expertise. 

The ultimate problem is who takes on this task of setting out the core knowledge? The REC produced a National Framework in 2013, <here>, but unlike the GCSE consultation documents produced by the DfE excluded appendices containing a knowledge set. Ultimately while RE stays outside of the National Curriculum, it will always stay out of the same controls that other subjects have, ie the DfE. Some would say that this is a great benefit, but when promoting and raising the profile of our subject, it is not always helpful.

I agree with Lord Nash that we need to develop the academic rigour of our subject, bringing RE in-line with the rest of the National Curriculum may just help this. I think it could follow a similar structure to GCSEs where school pick the papers / strands / options that best fit their cohort. This would allow a Catholic school such as mine to still participate instead of simply opting out and teaching our own syllabus.

I do not feel there needs to be a review into SACREs, just perhaps have their terms redefined; they can remain to support RE in their local area, but it is wrong that they spend time, effort, energy and crucially money in devising Agreed Syllabuses individually when a national curriculum would be better. Academies and Free Schools can also opt out of Agreed Syllabuses (although they need to be following a syllabus). This naturally effects the reach of SACREs and must be a consideration for future funding. I work in Havering and it is seen as relatively 'revolutionary' that the SACRE is working Barking and Dagenham to produce a joint Agreed Syllabus; will it be that radically different from the one produced in Waltham Forest? This genuinely seems like madness to me. 

Perhaps it is just the old problem in RE, perhaps more so than in other subjects, that person X thinks they teach RE better than person Y and if given the opportunity they will naturally reinvent the wheel to make it fit their own agenda. I personally don't think makes RE better.

Further Reading
Mark Shepstone's response to Lord Nash <here>
Neil McKain's response <here>

Friday, 9 January 2015

Thirty Words, 30 Seconds CPD [eBook]

One thing most teachers don't have is time. Thankfully Ross aka TeacherToolkit has collected a series of inspirational nuggets of wisdom from nearly 200 teachers in his eBook called "Thirty Words, 30 Seconds".

A quick flick through provides exactly that, Thirty Words and 30 seconds (or less) reading time for each. 

Find my two contributions on pages 69 and 148. 

Read Ross' blog on it <here>
Download directly <here>

Monday, 5 January 2015

First Day Back

Image courtesy of SadMag

A friend of mine once wrote on Facebook that it upset her that teachers were writing end-of-holiday status' about how they dreaded going back, hated their marking pile and were in despair about lesson planning. This was as she had a son and didn't want to think about those who taught him thinking and writing these things on social media.

I have a lot of teachers on my Facebook, but also a lot of non-teachers. Teachers do sometimes give themselves incredibly bad press as the martyr profession all too often displaying their stigmata for the social media world to see (pictures of their marking pile, "Keep Calm and..." pictures, 'only 6 weeks until our next holidays' announcements). Lots of people work really hard, lots of people work really long hours, lots of people don't earn banker wages (most probably the bankers) and lots of people have a lot of stress in their job. A trainee doctor friend of mine once said, "at least if you mess up a lesson no-one dies"; a sobering thought.

Teaching is stressful, hard work, demanding, long hours... it would be hard to disagree with that. However certainly on my personal social media I try to keep it to:
  • Funny stories
  • Promotion and positivity of the teaching profession / RE
  • The odd political venture (Gove was always fair game)

This weekend I managed to 'squeeze in' 6 hours to watch the Lonesome Dove miniseries which I got for Christmas (Amazing for all your Western-lovers). I have also not done any school work whatsoever during the break, nor have I checked my @iteachre or @talkingdonkeyre  Twitter accounts with any regularity, and then only for notifications - what has been going on in the Edu-Twitter world? It felt good and the break was well needed; last term was long and this term will be equally hectic.

The 'first day back' is always a shock to the system; early alarm, no chocolate for breakfast, no long walk in the countryside, no meeting up with old friends, no bottle of red wine for dinner... however that return to routine is always welcome. Having spent a number of days working at Crisis over the holidays (see <here> for what a privilege that is), it is great to firstly have a job, secondly one that pays reasonably well, and thirdly one I love! (Perhaps take a moment to think about those temporary Christmas staff now without work, or City Link drivers). I also think I am a better human being, who achieves a lot more, by getting up and having a busy day.

However, we had another of our too frequent 'No Tech Days' (see <here>), compiled by a broken photocopier. Our email had been down since 28th Dec 2014, my iPhone helpfully told me, but I didn't think whole system would be down. At least I could crack on with some marking... These days don't fluster me too much, but I appreciate I am fortunate with my established status and relationships with my students. However lots of admin / pastoral jobs that needed doing didn't get done.

A five period day did wear me out, but I left smiling. Good to be back.

I did have a thought today though, that there should be a whole day at the start of each term where teachers are free to do PPA (and the Network Dept can fix the PCs!). It would have an incredible effect on work life balance. So many people told me they didn't sleep properly last night as they were either consciously or subconsciously worrying about school. I always have the 'Can I actually still teach?' feelings, plus I start making 'to-do lists' in my head. If everyone knew they could come in at 9am, have a whole day to meet with their departments, mark any work you were to exhausted to at the end of last term, plan this weeks lessons, and perhaps crucially not face 6 x 32 chatty / excitable students, there would be a lot less stress.

I wonder if any heads can or do make that happen? If not, why not? For the teachers on the ground, facing a 5 or 6 period day is stressful, and in my (perhaps naive) opinion, this could easily be alleviated.

Perhaps it would reduce the Facebook postings annoying the non-teachers too?

Marcus Owen posted this image today; a bit tongue in cheek and not something I'd post on Facebook, but a few words of truth hidden in jest perhaps: