Category Archives: education

Teaching and Learning Observations

One of the duties of my role is to “undertake an extensive programme of lesson observations”. This is a task I greatly enjoy and not an altogether new assignment. In my former life as a Head of Department lesson observations were an annual duty as part of Performance Reviews. However, I was always left dissatisfied with the focus on accountability rather than the craft of the classroom. Certainly more time was taken up with the nuts and bolts of performance management than having a proper discussion on teaching and learning. Ultimately this would often leave both parties involved in the process a little short-changed when it comes to actually reflecting on the observed lesson; more a case of box ticking than profound contemplation.

Therefore it was a very happy coincidence that the eminently sensible Dawn Cox was at hand with advice. Last year she blogged on how lesson observations were often divorced from what really mattered. This was just as I was coming to similar conclusions and yet here it was in black and white, with a clarity and directness my own thoughts lacked. Dawn highlighted a list of some of the worst points of lesson observations. Some of these points I could identify having occurred when I have been observed and also, more distressingly, some mistakes I have made when observing as a HoD. To improve what is a vital and omnipresent part of teaching she suggested several ideas; these got me thinking about what lesson observations should really focus on.

Before I describe and explain my adaptations of Dawn’s ideas it should be pointed out that as Head of Teaching and Learning my observations are completely decoupled from performance management. I go out of my way to make these as stress-free as possible, including the option to say no to the observation (most colleagues are pleased to invite me in…I think!) and no need to provide any planning or paperwork. Listed below are three distinct stages that my ideal teaching and learning observation would comprise:

  1. Pre-observation – teacher and observer sit down to agree and discuss a lesson to observe. This discussion would cover what the teacher of the lesson would like to take from the observation. The focus would therefore come from the observee / teacher not the observer. Alternatively the observation could have a more general focus, if the observee wishes.
  2. Observation – this would be recorded in the narrative style, listing actions that have occurred during the lesson. This objective viewpoint would then form the main stimulus for stage three of the observation. Additionally, and with the observee’s permission (agreed during the pre-observation meeting), student work would be looked at and specific students spoken to during the lesson in an attempt to glean more information.
  3. Post-observation – a formal meeting between the teacher and observer. The observer would act both as a sounding board as well as bringing constructive ideas to the discussion, sharing the narrative record of the lesson and any other relevant information.

Time. It always comes back to time with any new idea in teaching. In practice I had to almost abandon stage one due to lack of time, particularly mutually free time. In the picture below you can see the top section is called “arrangement of observation”; this can be as simple as “via email”. Sadly it has been almost impossible to schedule a meeting before and after an observation; I feel that of the two the post-discussion is more vital to the process.

Overall image

Here is an anonymised scan of section 1. As stated before it is incredibly difficult to have the pre-observation discussion, however, I feel that this section should still have some role in the form. So, like the human appendix, it is there shrivelled and of no real use hanging on in vestigial format.

Section 1

From the same lesson is the narrative account, making up section 2. Note the post-it note box, which I use to record my musings. In this anonymised version it states “A picture tells 1,000 words!” and “Live marking – in front of student”. Both of these I picked up during the lesson and wished to remember for the Teaching and Learning newsletter, used to share good practice. The narrative record is split into two columns and has notes on what was going on.

Section 2

Finally the third section shows my attempts at noting down the major discussion points during the debrief. To write everything down would detract from the reflection, certainly it is difficult to be in the moment when trying to scribble down each point. This lack of comprehensive notation is a nod to Dawn’s proposed coaching suggestion and very much the essential part of feeding back observation details. However, the point detailed below were all discussed and considered in one way or another. I believe it is important to have the signatures to show that this is an official observation, albeit divorced from performance management, and also gives a more formal ending to the process.

Section 3

This post-lesson discussion actually led to me arranging a second observation to watch the same teacher with the same class (hence the “Tue p2” scribble) as part of a longer reflection on teaching and learning.

Should anyone be interested I am more than happy to share the blank pro-forma. Essentially I have tried to shape teaching and learning observations to best suit the observee. As with everything this is an ongoing process and very much of the ‘design-refine-redesign’ model of formative evaluation. My thanks go to Dawn Cox for providing the inspiration in her original blog post. Although I have adapted it and focused on just three of the key points, it is very much the offspring of her thoughts.

DID YOU KNOW??? Dawn was a presenter at the St Albans School Forum on Education on Saturday 28th May. Follow @SASForumEd to keep up to date!

Advertisements

The Assessment Working Party’s Findings

Since June I have been convening a working party to discuss assessment. Originally meetings were wide-ranging and took in plenty of discussion and ideas of what did not work. It is a precious balance between focusing a discussion and allowing a free-flowing debate to occur. Certainly our first meeting was characterised by the latter, but at the expense of actually getting anywhere in terms of a tangible outcome to help student learning in the school. However, as we met more regularly our agenda became more focused and something quite spectacular happened; we came up with a detailed and concrete proposal to take to the next level.

Assessment is a huge tranche of teaching, but as we honed into what we did at our school it became apparent that the working party would concentrate our thoughts on what happens after a piece of work has been assessed or marked. It was clear that the standard of marking was very high across departments. However, a common issue was that students did not make enough of the extensive comments, formative assessment and feedback given to them, whether written or verbal. Often it was lost in the maelstrom of comparing performances and grades, or at times completely ignored.

Throughout the process we had three main pillars of thought that we would bear in mind for any proposal:

  • It must directly benefit student learning.
  • It must avoid a “one size fits all” approach and be flexible enough for different departments to use successfully, but have common elements to tie the system together from one subject to the next.
  • It will not increase teacher workload, if it requires more time then time must be found from elsewhere in the school’s assessment programme.

Our proposal is essentially a process of formative evaluation, encouraging the view that learning goes beyond the end of a topic in a scheme of work. In that manner it gives a nod in the direction of mastery learning, with the idea that students are ever building up their skills, knowledge and understanding of a subject. It also looks to focus on what students can do rather than what they cannot; a bank of “I can…” statements are included to highlight the progress made as well as helping to focus the next steps to take. There would be blank spaces for students to add their own “I can…” statements, further tailoring the self-assessment. The process can be summarised in the text and pictures below and would take place on a half-termly basis (NB this example is very much knowledge based as it is coming from a clearly defined Biology topic).

  1. On completing a piece of work, topic or area students read through a bank of “I can…” statements associated with skills, knowledge or understanding of that work – ideally there would be no mark or grade associated with the work. Students then rank their competence as either 1 – consistently excellent 2 – good or 3 – inconsistent (this did raise the wonderful question of whether we could use emojis for this purpose). The bank of “I can…” statements are presented in the same format from subject to subject but their contents are subject-specific.Step 1
  2. Students use the information from step one to set a target to work towards, at the same time setting a date to review progress. The teacher comments on the target and signs the sheet.Step 2

Steps one and two would be presented on the same document.

  1. In the next half-term students are given a second self-assessment document, deciding how much progress they have made towards their target using a four point scale of None, A little, Nearly there and Got it! Pupils also need to decide the next steps they will take with regards to the target. They also link this work to the School Values, circling those that are appropriate to the work they have completed.Step 4
  2. They then go on to rank themselves with a new set of “I can…” statements (or indeed some of the same from before depending on the subject) relating to the new piece of work or topic.Step 4
  3. Students use the information from step four to set a target to work towards, at the same time setting a date to review progress. The teacher takes in the self-assessment document, commenting on progress made towards the original target and also on the new target.Step 4 and 5

Steps three, four and five would be presented on the same document.

Each department would have free reign to decide the content of the self-assessment document, however, it would need be presented in the same way with the same style and look (see pictures above). This will help to create a common framework that ties the system together so that while the content differs from subject to subject pupils will understand the process and become accustomed to the routine of reflecting on feedback. We proposed that the system be used with our Year 9 classes in September 2016 and that the system would then be reviewed and refined as feedback from teachers using it came back to us (self-assessment of the self-assessment, very meta).

Did we stick to our three pillars of thought?

  • It must directly benefit student learning. I hope so! Encouraging reflective practice in students, tasking them to show independent resourcefulness and motivation can only be a good thing. As mentioned earlier this does drill down into the concept of mastery and hopes to give rise to an appreciation that learning is not consigned to individual lessons, pieces of work or topics, but is rather a continuous process that does not sit in defined and discrete blocks of time.
  • It must avoid a “one size fits all” approach and be flexible enough for different departments to use successfully, but have common elements to tie the system together from one subject to the next. With HoDs having a free hand to decide what is included within the “I can…” statements it avoids being an unworkable centralised system that will ultimately fail to deliver. By ensuring the documentation looks the same and is formatted identically it gives a common framework to the process.
  • It will not increase teacher workload, if it requires more time then time must be found from elsewhere in the school’s assessment programme. Although there is a definite set up cost to deciding the content of the self-assessment document, time has been set aside in a future INSET day for this purpose. Additionally the self-assessment takes the place of a homework on the homework timetable; teachers would collect in and comment on the students’ targets in place of marking their books for that week too.

Some self-criticisms and unanswered questions are listed below. These are issues we are still considering and hope to answer by the time we launch the self-assessments in September 2016.

Q: Where will the self-assessment document reside? Will it be in folder, books or an electronic copy?

Q: How will the self-assessment link to the pastoral system? Can Form Tutors access it to help guide and inform their tutoring of students?

Q: How will it link with reporting? Is this something we would encourage to be shared with parents / guardians?

Q: How do we link it from one year to the next?

What next?

Having shared our findings at a recent Head of Departments meeting we will be given a slot at INSET to present our findings and detail the proposal. Some of the day has also been given over to starting to plan and create self-assessments in departmental meetings. Exemplars will be provided from a range of subjects (Biology, Drama, English, French, Geography and Maths). The aim is then for us to launch in September 2016, informing students of the system through an assembly before they receive their first self-assessment and discussing with parents via written communication and an information evening.

(Tab)let them eat cake III

A lot has changed since I wrote my last blog regarding EdTech. For one I now have a different role and am directly involved with shaping the digital strategy of the school. Therefore it is probably time for an update of what I have been doing to explore this area of education. Charles Darwin wrote that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” and in all of my EdTech blogs I have made it clear that I do not know enough to comment effectively. However, I am now slowly building up a decent idea of what can be achieved, hopefully without being blinded by “shiny news things”-syndrome.

WebDAVNav: I have to start with this because it is so simple but incredibly useful, although no doubt I am seriously behind the times. WebDAVNav is an app that allows you to access your resources from a smartphone. For example mine is set up to see all of the “my documents” folders and files associated with my username on the school system. Additionally it is linked to the shared pupil and staff resources, allowing me to look at a moment’s notice no matter where I am. This has proved to be super-useful and something that I keep returning to as I am out and about. It is difficult to say just how great it is, but I can’t imagine life without it now!

Tablets: The process of convincing me that they have a role to play in my classroom is well underway. I can see how they might help teaching and also learning, surely the only reason you would ever adopt anything new in education? Having met with the tablet working party throughout last year it was clear that they can provide excellent solutions to certain problems. E.g. want to use a computer but don’t need it for a whole lesson? Instead of booking out a computer room for just 10 minutes of actual computer time why not slide open those tablets and dip in and out as and when required to support pupil learning.  This is the type of small-scale learning-focused issue that I think will be the real reason why they might be adopted en masse in education (rather than some game-changing mega miracle that significantly increases student learning with proven tablet causation). It will be the small and seemingly insignificant things that, together, make a huge difference to turn educators’ heads towards any new thing, technology included. This is illustrated by the popular concepts espoused by Sir Clive Woodward (the one hundred one percents) and Sir Dave Brailsford (marginal gains). An obvious example is a calculator; no Maths teacher would plan their whole lesson by simply stating “use calculators” just as much as we shouldn’t be planning a lesson with only “use tablets”. They have the potential to be a very good resource to aid good teaching and help students learn.

To discover just what anything, EdTech or not, can do it is important to try it out. Therefore this year we have implemented a tablet-trial, equipping a teacher with tablets to use with their classes. This boils down to a class set of windows tablets that students sign into and use in just that member of staff’s lessons; neatly termed “bringing a computer room to the classroom”. Although a far cry from 1:1 it is a starting point to evaluate not only their effectiveness but also the logistics and infrastructure should a larger project ever be rolled out. The plan is for six different teachers to use the tablets with their classes and use qualitative feedback to assess their effectiveness. This will also be useful for those in school who would like to see how they might be used. The teachers involved in the trial have been to a Microsoft Showcase training day and it will be very much up to them as to how they choose to implement them. We also have a few members of staff going to see tablets being used in schools to see how and why the investment has been made.

Over half term I attended a Microsoft Showcase event, looking at the Windows Surface. To me this is everything that I would want for using devices in the classroom, most importantly because it comes with a keyboard. I actually borrowed a Surface Pro from school over the summer holiday and can vouch for what an incredibly impressive kit it is (although it should be mentioned I ended up effectively using it as a laptop, but since my training day can see a whole host of opportunities to improve the way I work). The Surface is a great idea, well-realised and compatible with the Microsoft Office way of working that is ingrained within myself and the school. The day was illuminating and all the presenters made good sales pitches for the products and systems on show. Although seeing and using the technology was useful lunch was actually the highlight for me (and not just the delicious macaroons). I spent most of it discussing with Phil Burney whether it was possible to roll out EdTech in a school successfully. His words were very practical in suggesting that only with time, training and ongoing support is it possible to have a successful and sustained implementation of something like tablets. The bigger picture is how can you give staff confidence with new technologies? Going from being highly proficient in something to starting right back as a beginner is a daunting prospect. Leaders should look to change the “yuck factor” or “I am fine without this new fad” attitude with plenty of time, training and support. My thoughts from March’s OSESIS event ring ever clearer, especially the do and don’t comments. For me this raises the central tension with trying to implement anything; how can people evaluate how it might be useful if they don’t know what it does. Bringing me nicely to…

…e-Homework: We are trialling the use of setting homework via our virtual learning environment (VLE) with a year group for the rest of this term. To allow a full evaluation to occur all teachers of this year group have been asked to set homework this way; bringing us back to the issue of mandate versus optional take up. But without trying it we cannot see whether it helps the learning of our students. Once again this is the key point – does it help teaching and learning? If so there is no problem. Another question to ask is “does it take more time and effort than how I was working before?” Long-term, having practiced, it should take no longer than the original way of working. But it is very difficult to comment without having tried it. The results of this trial will be hugely informative.

And finally:

At heart I am very much a moderate and at times can be accused of being quite conservative when it comes to new things. Even more so if they are being forced onto people. However, even I realise that a no at any cost approach to anything new will severely limit innovation (whether technological or not) and that without trying things out all you have is gut-instinct or opinion. There is plenty going on here to start the evaluative process and no doubt I will report back in brobdingnagian proportions in the future.

Header image from www.freefoto.com

Tyrannosaurus test

Last night I popped into London to attend the entertaining Intelligence Squared debate on whether testing demeans education. Outside the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster the glittering educators of the capital filed into the debating chamber, one lady perusing her copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. The main question seemed to be whether regular school testing helps students to flourish or actually hinder development. So what do we think? Is standardised testing a tyrant king with no regard for anything other than soulless data collection? Or does it have a place in the ever changing modern world? I suspect no sensible educator would fall at either extreme of this spectrum, but nevertheless the debate was interesting and amusing in equal measure. Summer Turner has written up her thoughts with usual thoughtful-panache so if you are only going to read one blog on the event read no further and click away.

First up and for the motion was Tristram Hunt, former Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central. He cut quite a dash up at the lectern. I could quite easily see why it is such a loss that he has resigned from the Shadow Cabinet. In fact much of the audience were left wondering what might have been by the end of his persuasive speaking. Out came the easy on the ear soundbite that students need to be “learning skills for jobs that don’t yet exist” and that tests were not suitable preparation for the workforce. Throughout the evening Hunt was an incredibly good sport, taking gentle jibes and digs about currently inhabiting the political wilderness with good humour and class. He started his address with “Friends, Comrades” to much mirth and towards the end referenced “frenzied Corbynistas.”

Next came Daisy Chirstodoulou, she of Seven Myths, speaking against the motion. Recently she has written several excellent blogs on the subject of assessment, therefore it was no surprise that she constructed a logical and reasoned case for testing (in fact I don’t think either sides of the house wanted to dispose of testing completely) and more tests in particular. One main foundation of this argument was the hidden bias of other assessment methods, Christodoulou ascertained that teacher assessment discriminates against low income pupils and therefore testing should replace such an unequal practice. It was at this point I lost the specific reference she used but her suggestion that tests are fairer resonated with some parts of the audience. In all her speech was a barnstorming and surprisingly emotive appeal to equality by declaring testing a fairer method. At this point I felt convinced that relentless testing was a necessary and useful tool in education’s arsenal. Since the debate Christodoulou has written up the experience which is well worth checking out.

Tony Little was close to persuading me to reconsider throughout much of his discourse. Much came from his wonderfully titled An Educated Person’s Guide to Education, the content of which I absorbed while on holiday this summer. For this reason hearing Little regal and bring to life the chapters of the book was an immersive and trans-medium experience. According to his address we are a juggernaut at full speed heading off a cliff by persisting with a regime of testing for testing’s sake. In his own words “we’ve allowed the exam testing business to go too far…we run the risk of being slaves to data.” He spoke at our Prize Giving ceremony three years ago and from this I know that Little does value achievements beyond GCSE and A level, particularly the former of which it was clear would be the tests that would be ditched. Additionally the wonderful Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning that was one of his final acts as Headmaster of Eton College is testament to his dedication to a broader approach to learning; one only needs to look around the incredibly impressive space to know there is a purposeful exploration of improving education and thus avoiding the “shrinking curriculum.” However, he still did not quite explain what might take the place of the current state of affairs.

And then to Toby Young, so often providing an alternative view point on education. It seemed to me that his premise was to take down those for the motion, perhaps a sensible tactic but also one that might alienate the undecided (although this is maybe my meek agreeability coming to the fore). In this vein he joyously pointed out Tristram Hunt’s opposition to decoupling the AS from the A level in response to, former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s recommendations; in doing so pointing out the obvious that this would have meant more exams. Quite a change of tune indeed. Where Young was particularly strong was taking down the idea that testing in education was removed from the kinds of tests faced in the workplace. Again the theme of equality, or perhaps inequality, was seized upon “an atmosphere of healthy competition and regular testing” is key to helping disadvantaged pupils.

After some questions from the audience (some were even genuine questions!) we were ready to hear the result. It transpired that the result was not ready for us and, chair for the night, Sir Anthony Seldon put to use his improvisational skills (I wonder if Wellington College have lessons for improv?) to fill time. Asking ostensibly Tristram Hunt, but more accurately the gentlemen to his right, whether he would like to be a Headmaster Tony Little amusingly intercepted with “are you asking me?” However, my favourite and beautifully superfluous question was asking Daisy Christodoulou what her favourite myth was (answer you can always just look it up), proceeding to then ask what her second favourite was (projects and activities are the best way to learn). Before we had a complete count down from one to seven the results were in. Those for the motion had convinced the most people to change their minds and so it was we had collectively resolved to end the tyranny of the test.

As always debate and discussion engender a self-reflection that otherwise might not have come about. For me there were several questions that lay unanswered, the two most pertinent being:

  1. What are the alternatives to standardised testing?
  2. Does testing suit certain subjects over others?

In particular question two raises the issue of how we examine or assess creative subjects. Although I will be continuing on with my end-of-topic and end-of-year tests in Biology, I am not so absurd to reason that this approach works for Drama or Design and Technology. In what is becoming one of my favourite phrases at the moment, there is of course no “one-size fits all”, tyrant test or not.

Five books all Biology A level students should read

This is part one of a series of posts listing, in no particular order, essential reading for A level Biology students.

  1. The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

This is truly essential reading for anyone interested in biology. As the title suggests it is a compendium of ideas and thoughts pertaining to evolution and in particular how they might impact on being human. After reading it in the first year of university it immediately had a profound and significant effect on my understanding of the subject. Its many themes have stuck with me throughout and since starting teaching I have come back to it time and again as a source of inspiration for both teaching and improving my understanding of key topics within biology. Each chapter is written in an accessible style and abounds with humour. Whether pondering the absence of male bdelloid rotifers to discussing the Inca sun-king’s “house of virgins” Ridley writes with authority and clarity. Forgive my hyperbole but The Red Queen is among my absolute favourite books; even if you do not study biology put this on the top of your reading list!

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A book with a significant and poignant historical perspective, it looks beyond the science of the immortal HeLa strain of cells to explore the civil rights movement in 1950s America. Consequently this is a perfect recommendation for any student studying History and Biology at A level. Additionally the ethically dubious actions described would also promote great discussion beyond these two subjects. As a journalistic exposé and investigation into an appalling miscarriage of ethical justice it is superb. Furthermore it also highlights the incredible advancements that were made as a result of this malpractice and poses the question; do the ends justify the means in medical research? Beyond being a great book about biology this is also, as the Times reported, “as gripping and rich as any work of fiction you will read”. I am incredibly thankful to my former colleague who gave this to me as a leaving present and whole heartedly recommend it.

  1. Life Ascending: The Ten Greatest Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane

As a Biology teacher I was amazed when I first read Life Ascending; it is almost a perfect accompaniment to A level Biology. Not only does the chapter-structure mean that you can dip in and out, reading sections that pique the interest at will, but at least six of the chapters are directly relevant to the subject specification. For example it is easy to see how DNA, Photosynthesis, Movement and Sight are connected to A level, but even The Origin of Life (respiration – see Nick Lane’s other cheekily titled Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life) and The Complex Cell (eukaryotic v prokaryotic cells) are germane to Sixth Form study of biology. I would, of course, argue that every chapter was relevant and incredibly useful in building up and linking together the big ideas in biology to create a schema for the subject. Perhaps the best epithet is from the aforementioned Matt Ridley “If Charles Darwin sprang from his grave, I would give him this fine book to bring him up to speed.”

  1. The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey

This is the book which smashes open the fascinating world of epigenetics. So you think DNA is a stable template that does not change? Think again. Carey describes plenty of inherently interesting examples, even if you weren’t interested in the underlying biology her writing would cause you to be absorbed in these well-written illustrations. One in particular is drawn from the Dutch Hunger Winter and suggests that malnourishment in early pregnancy increases the risk of obesity in not only the children of the malnourished mother, but her grandchildren too. Why? Obviously I would recommend you read Carey’s lucid and accessible narration to find out, but it is the seemingly magical interactions with the nucleotide bases that make up DNA itself that is epigenetics. To me the topic is the future of the subject and if students want to be part of this “revolution” this book is a must-read.

  1. Darwin’s Island by Steve Jones

Admit it, you’re thinking “Ah! The Galapagos Islands”. But no the title actually refers to Britain and is an outstanding account of the experiments Charles Darwin investigated in and around his home county of Kent. Jones writes with wit and enthusiasm, this craftsmanship is best illustrated by the fact that my favourite chapter is the final one entitled The Worm Crawls In which centres on soil.  In some hands thirty-two pages on this topic might drag, but once finished I was inspired to present an assembly on the humble earthworm. More than anything this book allows readers to see past the rightfully headline grabbing HMS Beagle voyage to cast an eye over the incredibly rich and detailed research that does not necessarily receive the credit it is due. As Jones points out Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands only lasted five weeks, compared to the forty years working in Britain.

Part tow in this series of recommended reads is Another book all Biology A level students should read.

Save the date for SASFE! Assessment and Feedback Conference.

This is something I have been incredibly excited about and resisted the urge to tweet or blog details throughout the summer… Until now!

On Saturday 28th May 2016 St Albans School will host a day of ideas sharing on the topic of Assessment and Feedback in Secondary Education. This area is one that is currently very much at the forefront of education; the conference will gather together a variety of speakers from both the state and independent sectors to present on and discuss the matter. To reflect the collegiate and collaborative nature of the day it will be called a “Forum on Education” and features a huge quantity of high quality sessions. There will be three keynotes over the course of the day and I am very excited to reveal the line-up for the St Albans School Forum on Education (SASFE):

Jill Berry @jillberry102 – Former Head Teacher, now an educational consultant with a particular focus on helping new and aspiring Heads will be speaking about using feedback in leadership.

Martin Robinson @SurrealAnarchy – Educationalist and author, interested in developing Teaching and Learning by building on the tradition of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Martin will be introducing SASFE and opening up the discussion.

Ian Yorston @IanYorston – Director of Digital Strategy at Radley College and author of The Unreasonable Man blog will be examining the impact of technology on assessment.

In addition to the three keynotes the day will feature three seminars, with a choice of different themes. The confirmed sessions are listed below and boasts an equally stellar cast:

  • Dawn Cox @MissDCox – assessment in RE and beyond.
  • Scott Crawford @srcbio and Ben Weston – assessment in Science and beyond.
  • Nick Dennis @NickDennis – exploring the ‘testing effect’ to enable knowledge retention and deployment in the Key Stage 3 History classroom.
  • Emerge Education @emergelab – two to three “start-ups” will present their innovative ideas and be available for questions and discussion throughout the day.
  • Heather Fearn @HeatherBellaF – To be confirmed.
  • Andy Ford @awgford – How do you get students to reflect on feedback when there is no time?
  • Andy Gale @PocketMoneyTron – developing assessment for Key Stage Three Computing.
  • Jennifer Hart @Miss_J_Hart – assessing student progress in lessons.
  • Jessamy Hibberd @DrJessamy – will be providing programme notes on using feedback in mindfulness.
  • Emma Kell @thosethatcan – using assessment and feedback in post-doctoral research.
  • Cameron Palmer – assessment in MFL and beyond.
  • Dave Payne – looking at whole-school assessment, specifically level marking in Humanities at Key Stage 5.
  • Sam Pullan @MrSamPullan – using feedback in the performance management process.
  • Mumta Sharma @mumta_sharma – assessing practical work in Science.
  • Rob Tanner – developing a programme of assessment for the Higher and Extended Projects (HPQ and EPQ)
  • Drew Thomson @mrthomson – using assessment and feedback in middle-management.
  • …with more to be confirmed soon!

On the day itself a delightful array of refreshments  and a sumptuous lunch will be provided. Although the conference is strictly not-for-profit there will be a small charge for tickets. This will cover the expenses of running the day only. The cost is just £30, representing phenomenal value for money.

Keep an eye out for more information soon

#SASFE16

(Relatively) radical thoughts

Lately I have been entertaining some radical thoughts with regards to education. Please bear in mind that my mild mannered and conservative tendencies so this is *relative* radicalism. Two ideas in particular have recently been bobbing away in my mind. Both tenuously connected and both due to conversations with fellow teachers. I have tried to outline my thought process with each below. SPOILER ALERT I do not think either approach would actually work in practice, however, the debate and discussion of the theory is always interesting!

Thought 1 – Why aren’t timetables constructed according to how many pupils a teacher has?

Instead of a teacher having, for example, 24 periods out of 30 in a week regardless of their subject or average class size they in fact have an allocation based on how many pupils in total they teach. So a teacher of a, let’s say just for argument’s sake and nothing at all to do with me being a science teacher, core subject who has “full” class sizes would teach fewer periods than a teacher of a subject with “half” class sizes. The actual size of a “full” or “half” class obviously depends on the school but the principle is the same. Just to further labour the point here is my clumsy exemplar from Hogwarts Academy. Teacher A is a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher and Teacher B takes Care of Magical Creatures. Let’s pretend further that Defence Against the Dark Arts is a core subject with classes of 32 pupils. Whereas Care of Magical Creatures, as an elective subject and with the practicalities of space and pupil to magical creature ratios, has class sizes of just 16. The proposal above would have Teacher A with just 12 timetabled periods out of 30 and, with one class per period, teaching 384 pupils. Meanwhile Teacher B has 24 timetabled classes but also, if we assume the same as before that each period is one class, teaches 384 pupils due to the beauty of Maths.

Why? Well firstly both teachers will be guiding, marking, assessing, feeding back to and teaching the same number of pupils. They will therefore have the same amount of time to focus on each individual in their classes. For example book marking would be for the same number of students, allowing the same level and quality of feedback to be given. What a splendid idea! Now to pick it apart…

Probably the main issue mentioned are the financial repercussions of employing full time teachers in core subjects to teach half the number of periods in a week. In fact there is probably no school that could afford to do this. Secondly there is the point that many core subjects have double lessons, which ruins the period allocation for a timetable that I was suggesting. Also many subjects that have “half” classes are due to the practical considerations such as health and safety (watch out for those unicorn horns) or small uptake as they are optional. Work carried out may well be in more detail or require more support and feedback. This line of thought is from a discussion during one of the ISQAM cluster days I attended this year, for further information about this course Andy Ford has penned an excellent summary of the Level 1 course. As stated in the opening paragraph of this post I do not believe this idea could work, but what I do like is how it makes me consider its benefits and also the specifics of the issue that make iota impossible to implement.

Thought 2 – Why can’t parents pick their child’s teachers?

This stems from the 5 Big Ideas That Don’t Work In Education article quoting Professor John Hattie, specifically point number 3 that school choice has no impact on learning. The proposed alternative is summed up in this quote “Hattie argues that if parents had the right to select the best teacher in a given school, that could truly be empowering. It would also be challenging to implement.” I picked up particularly on that second sentence; of course it would be “challenging to implement” as schools don’t work like that! However, yet again through discussion with a colleague I left my comfort zone to consider how it might work in independent education. Let’s call the colleague Tom* what follows is a summary of an email he sent me:

“Is parents picking teachers such a bad idea?

I don’t want it.

But it’s surely just the logic of independent education.

Schools could employ teachers on zero-hours contracts; parents probably still want a ‘package’ and schools would probably still insist on it to create an ethos. But in (say) Year 10 your fees get you eight or nine teachers. You pick ’em.

Teachers offer themselves at whichever level(s) they want. Set their own maximum class sizes and advertise them. Are paid according to uptake. Those in demand will do well; those not in demand will not be a drain on the school’s finances.”

I had not considered any of the above, having just closed my mind to anything but the orthodoxy of how I have always known education to work. While I still disagree with what was suggested (as, it must be stressed, did Tom but agent provocateurs are important in any thought-process) it once again made me think through the pros and cons. Why would it not work? Perhaps it would but what effect would it have on the staff body, not just in terms of working hours but also morale and wellbeing? Should that matter? I could keep on posing these weak hypothetical questions all night…

…instead I will conclude today’s rambled musings by reminding myself to always consider both sides of an argument. A simple technique to solidify the thought-process and contemplate what might be. It’s also a reassuring return to my mild-mannered and conservative leanings.

*He is called Tom (I would be hopeless at espionage) and he should definitely have his own blog; Tom is far more interesting than me and would generate many ideas to stimulate discussion and debate. Here’s hoping it will happen soon!