Thursday, 13 September 2018

WWJD - Rewards & Sanctions (inc. Exclusion)

7 years ago, I submitted my MA dissertation. 

I completed a Masters in Catholic School Leadership at St Mary's early in my career, in part due to my school offering to pay in full. However, despite being relatively inexperienced, and before I had even secured a middle management leadership position, I learnt a lot, and I still refer to my findings years later. 

After tweeting a 'memory' of handing it in, I had a number of requests to read it. Somewhat hesitantly, I also went back to reread my conclusions to see how they had held up - I don't like reading my early blogs for a couple of years back, let alone seven! It also seemed topical, with exclusions one of the 'hot debates' with education at the moment. 

The challenge for Catholic school leaders in developing and implementing a system of rewards and sanctions is that of promoting Gospel-driven and Christ-led values. Thus, there is a need to balance the need for reconciliation alongside the need for sanctioning students while, at the same time, finding enough time and space to fully reward those students making a wide range of achievements.

Cole’s suggestion of creating an environment based on reward and praise was echoed by the responses of all students (Section 2.3; Daniels et al; 1998; 83 in Cole; 2005: 162). The creation of such an environment is a challenge to school leaders particularly in a school which has traditionally had a large number of rules and a far greater number of sanctions than it has rewards.

Catholic distinctiveness needs to pervade all areas of school community life from the School Discipline and Pupil Behaviour policy down to the individual interactions which take place in every classroom, corridor and playground. It needs to be led from the top, and be explicit in words, actions and spirit. Ensuring that this takes place creates varying difficulties, but if it is missing, the school can lose its distinguishing features as a Catholic community. There is a shared ownership and commitment to the common beliefs and goals of a community, and these should be made clear in policy and lived out by the stakeholders as they will hopefully reap the benefits. The students are the most important stakeholders in such policy decision making as they are the ones that need to feel comfortable and safe every day in school. As a Catholic community, this gains even greater importance over and above our legal obligations as set out in documents such as Every Child Matters (2003) and its successor Help Children Achieve More (2011).

Disengaged students must be a priority, as the outcasts were for Jesus. Those who are already disillusioned with the system currently in place whereby they feel they miss out on all rewards and receive disproportionate sanctions, or feel they work hard with little recognition. Additionally due to the way in which they often receive both the rewards and sanctions, they feel detached from their actual work and behaviour. A student may be pleased with a certificate received at the end of term, but maybe unaware exactly what they are being rewarded for. In a similar fashion, to receive a detention a week after an event has taken place, or due to a number of smaller indiscretions that build up, unbeknownst over the week.

Teachers need to be empowered as leaders, recognising their individual responsibility within the classroom. If this is not taking place, senior leaders need to offer support, but also challenge so that this does take place. If rewards are happening regularly in written, visual and aural forms, an environment of praise can be created engaging students and enabling them to work to their best of their ability and fulfilling their potential as individuals and images of God. Likewise if lower-level sanctioning takes place in this often intimate and more immediate environment, students can be offered greater guidance as to how to seek reconciliation and improve their behaviour in future.

The question of exclusion is a recurring problem for school leaders. Sometimes it can be essential for the greater good of the school community. The open and welcoming gestures modelled by Jesus need to be evident in the Catholic school. There must be a demonstration of forgiveness and reconciliation evident; no student must leave feeling excluded as a member of the Kingdom of God. Even if excluded, the student should have felt the love of the community and be given opportunities to repent. However, if
these are rejected by the student, then the school is given little opportunity, like the Rich Young Man who walked away from Jesus and the opportunity offered to him.

The number of rewards and sanctions on offer within a school community are vital, as are the numbers of each awarded. Leaders should be suggesting targets to staff if there is to be a culture of reward rather than sanction. It can be easier to focus on punishing students in order to create academic excellence and high standards of behaviour, yet as seen in this study students can end up feeling excluded and disengaged. They want rewards, and even those students regularly in detention appreciated and felt guided by rewards offered to them for their good behaviour. Additionally recognising that students are not ‘all bad’ and that even students who are often poorly behaved do do
praiseworthy work and actions on occasion.

Do I agree with all of this now?

I don't think behaviour targets are a great idea as such. I do think it is important to encourage staff to think carefully about how they can try to send positive emails and make positive calls, as well as the negative ones. However I freely admit, with limited time, this just doesn't often happen.

At this point, I was a little naive to some of the worst behaviour and disruption which happens in some schools. I was a little too kind in places, and for serious issues exclusion should not even be up for debate. I think Jesus would agree though; punishment (eternal) was a reality for those who wilfully and deliberately turned their back on God.

Rereading the whole dissertation, I still agree that often detentions can be ineffective. I do also agree the an 'internal exclusion' or isolation can be very effective. Some of the students with poor behaviour needed this deterrent and claimed it was the only thing that stopped them misbehaving at times. However I do now see how problematic it can become with reintegration, and how students end up in cycles due to getting behind in work. This can be overcome with good management. 

I still don't know how to do rewards well (without a huge budget!). The reward of the Gospel is in the next life... and I wonder if our students don't truly get the reward of good, disciplined schooling until the leave?  

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Core Knowledge: The Catholic 100

Until I sit down with a few of my fellow Catholic educators and write the Canon of Catholic RE (or even a whole school curriculum), we are working hard in my school to right wrongs about what our students do and don’t know. 

For a year, with a lot of debate and discussion, I have worked on a list of 100 words that I wanted all of Year 7 to know. There are 75 essentials, and 25 advanced words. 

With a little hesitation about how people would perceive the task (“How does this get them excited about RE in secondary school?”), I included my task in the transition booklet alongside English, Maths and Science. Actually most people seemed to think it was a great idea!

For each word, students had to self evaluate:
  • I recognise this word
  • I understand this word
  • I can accurately use this word in a sentence
They then had to write, 'My own definition'. This was just one sentence, of original material, that needed to fit in a concise box. 

The expectation was that each student would have at least 75 definitions at the start of Year 7 that they could refer to, learn and be tested on. They would feel more confident about RE, and we'd be able to move faster in lessons.

However, the main aim was to close the gap that exists in Year 7 in a Catholic school. We have some devout families who would be fluent in this vocabulary (and therefore knowledge), while others will join from non-Catholic schools, and be from non-Catholic, perhaps non-Christian families. It is important to recognise the bewilderment a young Hindu, Muslim or Skih has when the teacher starts talking about the Creed, praying the Rosary, attending Mass and celebrating the Sacraments.

Additionally, the religious vocabulary (religious literacy some would suggest) does not link to other data. Scaled scores and SATS results mean little; a student in our higher sets could be struggling in RE, while one in a set with less able students may excel in RE. It’s why our department data sometimes looks odd. 

We then decided that actually, we have put a lot of work into this, and we do need to ensure all students in Key Stage 3 have this vocabulary. As such, all students in Key Stage 3 now have their booklet and Year 8 and 9 will be completing over the next few weeks.

The students seem to really like it. We’ve had a lot of positive comments, and they really see the value of it. Many are excited about it - especially about mastering the advanced words! 

We will be testing these words at least weekly. 5 a week... and I’ve agreed 4/5 as the pass mark for Year 9. This can't just be a task, it has to end up as a long term learning exercise. 

Students really do enjoy knowing things and learning things, and improving their vocabulary, regardless of their  own faith position or background, is vital. It may be we look at having different lists / booklets for them to work on in different year groups. GCSE already have their own... 

The list is always up for review, even after a year of reviewing, so keep suggestions for improvements and modifications coming in... 

Image courtesy of Spokane Favs

Saturday, 8 September 2018

My First Lesson for Y9+ - Teaching Note Taking

An outline of my first lesson:
  1. A brief welcome and hello. 
  2. Seating plan, alphabetically by first name to start with so I get to know names ASAP. Books given out, 10 short rules copied down on the back page. 
  3. Students to use a ruler and create a box at the bottom of each page in their exercise books, 4 lines in size. They do this for 25 pages. 
  4. On the first five pages, they write CUE COLUMN at the top of the margin, and SUMMARY in the bottom box. 
  5. I briefly explain Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. I then tell them we will be using the Cornell Note Taking system and detail why I think it is the best way to organise their exercise books. 
  6. They are then told the CUE COLUMN is for any key words, names, dates, places - or questions that come to mind. This is be completed at least 24 hours after the lesson - except questions, they can be written in the lesson. 
  7. Next, I inform them that weekly, they will complete the summary boxes and that each page will be summarised with 2 or 3 bullet points. 
  8. We then look at the testing effect - and how that will help them actually securely learn the information. 
  9. I then show them how to use their new note setup to do that - covering main notes, just leaving cues etc. We practice using cues to write short questions. 
  10. I ensure they know to date and title each piece of work. Date so they add further dates for cue, summary, test and review. Title so information is easy to find. 

We then get started learning things...

And the next lesson we begin with a brief test.

(I used to only do this with 6th form, and blogged about that <here> - includes Cornell Slides)

Images courtesy of UMFK and Wikipedia

Monday, 3 September 2018

Life With A Toddler: Elaborative Interrogation

My son is 2 and a half. He asks a LOT of questions. Most of them begin "How..." or "Why..."

I have frequently mentioned him to my students. He would be an excellent asset to anyone attempting revision. He always wants to know why. These are answers he will no longer accept:

  • "It just is."
  • "Why not?"
  • "Just because."
  • "I don't know."
  • "Does it really matter?"

These are greeted with, "Daddy - don't say that, answer my question please."

Going to Mass is always a great source of questioning. Probably as there is lots of strange things going on, plus the irresistible temptation of me telling him, "You need to be really quiet for this bit. Actually, be silent." 

A few from the last few months include:

  • "Why is Jesus in the round things?"
  • "What actually is the round thing?"
  • "How does the priest say Mass?"
  • "Why is the little circle Jesus?"
  • "Why is Fr Joseph in St Joseph's? And isn't that Joseph?" [Points to statue of St Joseph]
  • "Why do people need the circles to be taken to them when they are sick?"
  • "How does the priest get the circles?"

Even as an RE teacher in a Catholic school, and cradle Catholic, I sometimes struggle. You must also understand that any answer I provide, is then responded to with a further "Why?". Here is one example, to the best of my memory...

  • T: "Why can't I have a round thing?"
  • Me: "You need to be a little older."
  • T: "Why?"
  • Me: "You need to understand what it really is."
  • T: "Why?"
  • Me: "Because it is Jesus, and that's quite complicated."
  • T: "Why is it Jesus?"
  • Me: "Remember the story the priest always tells us, about Jesus and the meal he had with his friends?"
  • T: "Yes... How does the priest make it Jesus?"
  • Me: "That's quite complicated too."
  • T: "Why?"
  • Me: "I'll explain later."
  • T: "No daddy now."
  • Me: "He says a special prayer."
  • T: "Why?"
  • Me: "Because God needs to hear the special prayer."
  • T: "Why does he?"
  • Me: "That's what the Mass is, that's why we come to church."
    • [A few mins quiet]
  • T: "Why do we come to Church?"
  • Me: "To meet Jesus, and meet our friends."
  • T: "Then why can't I have a round thing?"

The good news is, he does remember lots of the information from week to week (spaced and retrieval practice). He does get things confused from time to time - "Look daddy - it's the sick people!" was said far too loudly when the Eucharistic ministers went to collect the Eucharist to take the congregation who were unable to attend Mass.

It's good to ask questions, and I am pleased to have a toddler who wants to know as much as he can. I am also pleased when I see students at lunchtime revising who tell me they are going "Toddler Mode" and irritating each other with "Why?" questions. As I have found out, answering and explaining such questions can be a challenge - even for someone who things they know their stuff!!

Read more on elaboration from the brilliant Learning Scientists here:

Anyway, Mass is sometimes a bit chaotic for me these days. However I took some comfort in this recent article, which I felt compelled to share: A letter to the parents who keep bringing their disruptive kids to Mass, week after week (T is nowhere near this bad, but has been known to repeat the Gospel after the priest if he pauses, and laugh - or shout out "ding ding" after the bell is rung - or go for a wonder...)