Tag Archives: learning

Questioning Questioning: SASFE18

Discussion 2This year sees the third St Albans School Forum on Education (SASFE) on Saturday 12th May. An energetic conference with a small-scale and very human touch; delegates are not there to make up the numbers but are part of a forum. SASFE is very much built on the successes of conferences such as the Schools History Project, TLAB, Pedagoo and other events of that ilk. There is no hidden agenda, no corporate branding and it is not-for-profit. We simply put on an event hosted by teachers, for teachers, listening to and learning from our peers. Taking the best aspects of a TeachMeet and combining an overarching theme with plenty of time to stop, think and discuss what is being presented. Conversations flow throughout the day (they might even end up in pub after the official event is over!) and hopefully impact on actual teachers in classrooms over the country.

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Our theme for 2018 is ‘Questions and Questioning’ with keynotes from Drs Caroline Creaby, Nick Dennis and Bettina Hohnen, as well as three seminars from a variety of figures in education. Tickets for this event are just £27 and this includes on-site parking, refreshments and lunch. To preserve the smaller-scale feel of the day places are limited, so if you are interested please book tickets via TicketSource (booking fee applies) or get in touch via email.

Audience

In the past SASFE has tackled ‘Assessment and Feedback’ and ‘Learning Relationships’. This year’s theme looks to explore the importance of questions. Teachers ask questions all of the time, it is an ever-present weapon in the armoury of teachers around the world. What could be more apt than starting to question questioning? Chris Moyse’s excellent series of Research in 100 Words posters features ‘Ask Questions’. In it he darhowawaaaiprl.jpgsurmises that the most effective teachers ask pupils to explain how they answered a question, honing in on the thought process rather than just the final answer. Come and join us to question questioning itself. It is the delegates that really make the conference so worthwhile; I do hope you might consider coming along and experiencing SASFE for yourself.

Thoughts from SASFE17: Education is in good hands

Thoughts from SASFE16: The Conversation


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Learning Relationships: SASFE17

Discussion

On Saturday 20th May St Albans School is holding its second education conference, this year exploring relationships in learning. The event is intentionally small in scale and refreshingly non-corporate, taking the best aspects of a TeachMeet and combining an overarching theme with dedicated time and space to driving conversations over refreshments, breaks and lunch (and perhaps even in the pub after the official event has ended). As a forum, the day works by actively giving delegates the opportunity to discuss themes from the keynotes and seminars on offer. This year the schedule has been tweaked to allow even more opportunities for talk and thought. The seminar sessions are workshops in the true sense of the word, allowing those present to contribute and drive the collective thought process. The hugely positive feedback from delegates at last year’s conference is shared at the bottom of this post.

Keynote speakers

The fabulous Professor Sophie Scott will be providing much merriment and mirth with the science of that most human interaction, comedy and humour. As deputy director of UCL’s institute of Cognitive Neuroscience her research interests include the neural basis of vocal communication and how our brains control the production of voice. Professor Scott’s TED talk on why we laugh has been viewed almost 2.5 million times.

Audience

Find out more about taking the time to develop learning and Slow Education, the antithesis of the McDonald’s production line, with keynote speaker Mike Grenier. Mike is an English teacher and Housemaster at Eton College and “one of the leading lights of the ‘Slow Education’ movement”.

Jill Berry
Jill at SASFE16

Dr Jill Berry is returning to SASFE following last year’s highly successful closing keynote. Author of the book Making the Leap and a preeminent consultant on leadership, she will be bringing her unique perspective to the day. As a former English Teacher, Head of Department and Head, Jill will be discussing the leadership of relationships with ideas that can be applied to the ‘leaders’ in every classroom of a school.

About the theme

The more I teach, the more convinced I am that relationships are key to successful outcomes. Human interactions are what makes education work and ultimately why we will not be replaced with machines. SASFE17 will help frame the discussion of what makes learning work on the level of relationships; come along and be a part of this discussion! It would be great to have you there on the day.Discussion 2

Why come along?

Don’t take my word for it… See the feedback from the St Albans School Forum on Education 2016!.

Feedback: What was your favourite aspect of the day?

“The whole thing was great, actually. Each speaker brought something quite different to the table…I enjoyed being able to take some ideas away from all sessions I attended – every single one gave me a practical idea to take away that I could implement or adapt. Importantly, they have all had an influence on my thinking and my approach; on my philosophy. I was really impressed actually!”

“There was a refreshing honesty about what we both know and don’t know about education. Speakers were engaging and clear.”

“Provided food for thought. Challenged my thinking and viewpoints.”

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson, mid-keynote, opening the conference in 2016

“Practical suggestions directly related to my subject area”

“The ability to be in a smaller, intimate group.”

“The discussions which took place beyond the seminars”

“A combination of delivery, hands-on work in groups, discussion.”

Feedback: What was the most beneficial aspect of the event?

“As I so often find to be the case the most beneficial parts of this conference were those where the opportunity for discussion with staff from a variety of backgrounds/viewpoints was provided. In particular, I found the inclusion of a student in one of the discussions to be most thought provoking.”

“Networking and chance to discuss.”

“Well structured day. Sessions right length. Liked the 3 short keynotes. I liked the fact it was a relatively small crowd.”

“The opportunity to discuss with teachers from very different schools and backgrounds”

“Small groups meant you felt part of the event rather than simply a number”

“Meeting contacts old and new”

“The commonality of the speakers”

“Stimulating and challenging ideas to take away”

Ian Yorston

Ian Yorston giving his keynote on IT’s role in assessment at SASFE16

“The small group sessions and opportunity to share ideas”

“The combination of excellent workshops and keynotes with time for networking. It being small helped here. The day flew by!”

“An excellent opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues.”

“The small seminar style of options, with the opportunity to meet other teachers with similar interests and concerns.”

“Meeting other enthusiastic teachers and engaging in stimulating discussions.”

“Meeting enthusiastic teachers local to me, in all subjects and levels of management was really refreshing and motivating.”

Sweet Success

Recently I have enjoyed a ‘healthy’ discussion with a colleague about rewarding work in exercise books and reward systems in general. Although we disagree about what the reward should ultimately be, we both agree that many systems just peter out and become ineffective as a student progresses up the school. The house points / merits / commendations that work so well in the early career of a secondary school student hold no currency later on, neither with student nor teacher. Currently there is a lot of thought from the pastoral leaders at my school to try and get the best system for throughout the five years of KS3 and KS4. Reading through the blurb from other schools I can’t help but wonder whether they too suffer from the ‘Year 9 dip’; chatting with acquaintances is an easier way to get closer to the truth. Certainly a policy on rewarding work should not be merely window dressing to look good on a website or prospectus. It needs to be applied consistently and to actually engage the students, motivating them to improve and contribute to the school community in a worthwhile manner. This is where I hope we are heading.

Returning to the opening sentence of this post, the ‘healthy’ discussion on how to reward students centred on whether confectionery was a good choice of reward. Despite my musings on Jaffa Cakes, it will surprise very few people to know that I was very much against this… Not only on physical health grounds, but also the mental association of success and chocolate. I strongly believe this is not a healthy coupling to make. As part of a healthy balanced diet and with regular exercise I am all for sweets, chocolates and other unhealthy foods. In fact I am quite the chocoholic, but I do not eat chocolate to reward myself for having done something good. To equate success to sweets is a terrible policy.

PS: I am also against the random bringing in of cakes for Sixth Form classes, something that seems to have grown in popularity. In the past my classes have received short shrift when trying to bring up the subject of ‘cake Fridays’. This year my timetable has me teaching two different Upper Sixth classes after lunch during period five and six (of a six period day) on Friday. When the inevitable questions was posed I have relented, to an extent. We now have ‘fruit Fridays’, instead of cake someone brings in enough fruit to satisfy our postprandial cravings. Happily one class has totally gone for this, we’ve had blueberries, satsumas, grapes aplenty. While I am sure students would prefer cake there needs to be a good deal more ego and less id, to paraphrase Dr Freud’s suspect theory.

PPS: Just so no-one thinks I am a totally miserable so-and-so, the header image is a lovingly made Chocosaurus birthday cake for my son. It would be a bit much to have just carrot sticks and grapes!

The Spark

Forum on Education is a teaching and learning conference being hosted in St Albans on Saturday 28th May.

I remember clearly the spark that generated my renewed passion for teaching and learning. It occurred at the inaugural Teaching, Learning and Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School in March 2013. Throughout the day I was both comforted by agreement and challenged by differing views. More impressively my eyes were opened to hardworking teachers willing to give up a day of well-earned weekend. Spark after spark of enthusiasm and possibility on show all around. Post-conference the spark started to catch. The incandescence of Twitter – with its myriad ways to interact, view and discuss education – swiftly followed and the glow became brighter. Then bursting into flames and bringing forth this very blog: tlamjs being a homage to the Teaching, Leaning and Assessment of TLAB. Numerous times my curiosity and appetite for information and discussion has been sated by interacting with and sharing ideas online with a huge host of active educationalists and teachers. The fire was fed oxygen from discussion, debate and agreement. Continuing to burn, even illuminating colleagues and friends along the way.

It is this luminosity that I hope Forum on Education will bring to its delegates, twinkling beyond to the children and colleagues they work with. A day to provide the spark for thought and reflection. The intimacy of the conference eschews the grandstanding of some events, the smaller number of delegates as a catalyst to allow more in-depth conversation to occur. Allowing conversations the oxygen to crackle into life, the flames fanned through discussion and burn throughout the day. There will be no shortage of sparks. Just look at the line-up of speakers, leading figures in education. Many have already achieved recognition for their contributions. Others are more than on their way to be the leaders of the future. This combined heat igniting a veritable feast of educational pyrotechnics that will take hold, influencing and aiding the learning of students, both now and in the years ahead.

With just under two weeks until Saturday 28th May there is still time to book a ticket to be part of the day. Act quickly as due to the nature of the day places are limited. I do hope you will be able to join us as the sparks fly upwards.

Header picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tomatoes and Pens: Revision Ideas

Despite what one of my colleagues might think (don’t ask!) the Pomodoro technique is a way of helping focus attention over a short period of time. It helps to break up uninteresting or hard work, not all people need to use it but it can be a valuable tool for students overwhelmed by revision and something that I would advise they at least try. Essentially you set a timer for 25 minutes and start working – during this time there should be no access to phones, internet, talking or any other distractions – once the timer starts you are on the clock until the 25 minutes is up. There is much more detail about this process in A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley, which I would highly recommend. And if you are into R2D2 you’ll want to read the mention at the bottom of Nick Dennis’ post.

Having spoken to my Upper Sixth about this method since September I finally made them work in this way during a lesson on Monday. After five minutes of setting out the task and ensuring everyone had what they needed, we set off on 25 minutes of focused revision. Everyone was engrossed in their work, actively revising by making resources, answering questions or testing their knowledge. Following this period of deep concentration I encouraged students to get up and take a stroll around the classroom. After this short break we reconvened and students were then free to work as they wished, most had questions to ask. Either I answered them or they came to agreement in discussions. Once again everyone was on task. They felt this exercise was very productive and something they will try independently in their own time.

The Pomodoro technique has become one of my favoured ways of working for many tasks throughout the day. However, I do not always stick to working for just 25 minutes. Sometimes I find that I am on a roll and want to finish the report or marking I am working on. Very rarely do I ever end early. Once again I would suggest that this is not necessarily a method for everyone, but definitely worth trying. I find it most helpful during those odd periods where I feel listless and lack the drive to “eat my frogs” (to use another term from A Mind for Numbers). And if you are wondering why it is called Pomodoro, this is due to the use of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer by Francesco Cirillo, the originator of the idea.

Monday’s lesson was a double, so after the Pomodoro task I handed out the old staple of revision lessons – a past exam paper. Once again I had a particular trick that I wanted students to use to help with the revision process. It has been something I have urged them to do but thought that modelling it in a lesson would help pupils see the benefits. I call this method the three pen technique, so called because you need three different coloured pens (as I type this I realise that requiring pens and the need for them to be of different hues has stirred up a lot of discussion in the past. I suggest you read this surreally brilliant blog by Whatonomy as a way of catching up on this). E.g. blue, green and red. Students would complete the paper under the following conditions:

  1. Using the blue pen and under timed exam conditions, answer all questions on the paper.
  2. Using the green pen and with the help of notes, textbooks or a classmate, add to the answers given in step 1 and finish the paper if necessary.
  3. Using the red pen use a mark scheme to add further details to the paper.

 

Come revision time I have used this technique for a while and in a number of different environments. Here are some examples of step 2 and step 3 from a student on course for a high grade:

 

Step 2:

2

Step 3:

3b

And another step 3:

3a

Should students complete a series of papers in this way it is interesting to see how the proportions of each colour change. In many ways this acts as a crude diagnostic test to see why students are losing marks. E.g. Lots of blue and red but little green can show a lack of understanding or poor choices of selecting information from their notes (or indeed poor notes to work from). Similarly a lack of blue denotes a student has not committed to memory the key aspects of a topic. It is easy to see how the combinations can help a teacher infer where a student is in terms of their revision; therefore making suggestions to help the student better prepare for their examination. It is also easy to discuss with a student how they might take this way of working as an opportunity to self-assess where they need to target revision. Therefore helping a little with the journey towards independent learning.

So there we have it. Two simple ideas that have been around for ages but can help students as they embark on revision. Both have the potential of making a student more independent and go a little further to taking ownership of their revision. And if the pen is mightier than the sword, imagine how mighty three pens are!

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!

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

Know Thy Impact

Yesterday I had the good fortune of attending the Impact Conference 2015, which gathered a truly stellar cast of speakers together in London. Trying to measure the effect of interventions when it comes to teaching and learning is a fascinating area and one that I have come to via Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning books, especially The Science of How We Learn. As a keen scientist (okay biologist) I am also interested in the idea that by observing something you can’t help but change it; certainly the Hawthorne Effect is a useful reminder that many interventions will work by just being a source of increased attention to detail and raised level of effort. So how do we sift the useful from the useless and how can we prevent the proliferation of educational homeopathy? These were just two of the questions I approached the conference with. Below is an outline of what I took from two of the excellent speakers on show, Professor Rob Coe and the aforementioned Professor John Hattie. Sadly once again I cannot rein in my inefficient verbosity (some might call it verbal diarrhoea) thus I will not be writing up the fantastic Sam Feedman and Philippa Cordingly or the hilarious genius that is Dr Ben Goldacre who all also spoke at the conference.

Professor John Hattie (talk I) I took a great deal from both of Professor Hattie’s talks, in particular challenging the assumption that just because something works it is good and therefore shouldn’t be changed. Reassured that there is very little you can do to decrease attainment (although interestingly labelling students has an effect size of -0.61) it was heartening to hear him say that in the UK success is all around us; it is impossible for everyone to be in PISA’s top 5. Certainly one of the main takeaways from this talk was a reemphasis on seeing learning through the eyes of the learner and using criteria from the learner’s point of view to measure impact. This was nicely summarised as “teachers who learn to be learners and students who learn to be teachers”. Another key point I eagerly agreed with was that the job of a teacher is not to help students realise their expectations but to help them “exceed what they think they will do”. During the first session Professor Hattie was also at pains to point out that he did not say that “teachers should not be researchers” in a recent interview. Instead he urged us to be “evaluators”, a not so subtle change in semantics. I actually fully agree with this. As teachers we are not trained in research so it seems a task for which we are not optimally suited. One might argue that there should be more emphasis on research on the ITT and other training courses, but my own opinion is that this would be detracting from learning the skills needed for actually teaching. However, that’s not to say that the area of research should not be revisited at some point in a teaching career.

Professor Rob Coe As joint author of What makes great teaching Professor Coe did not disappoint during his witty and

insightful talk. He made it clear that it isn’t enough to just know the effect sizes for certain interventions but, as teachers seeking to improve education, we should always evaluate what we do. I liked his point that using motivation to enhance attainment is putting the carriage before the horses in that convincing a student that your lesson is a “game they can win” to raise attainment will have the knock on effect of increasing interest and motivation. Professor Coe confirmed my belief that we do not allow enough time to elapse for an answer after asking a question, but extended this to waiting another 3-5 seconds after an answer to elicit even better responses. This is something I aim to do immediately, both with my classes and colleagues! The final point I’d like to pick up on from this part of the conference is the question “do we know a good lesson when we see one?” There is no doubt in my mind that grading of lessons is an absurd practice but it is wonderful to hear evidence to back this up:

  • When two teachers observe the same lesson and one grades it “Inadequate” the probability that the other will agree is just 10%. Even with thorough training in how to observe a lesson the probability increases to just 40%.
  • When an observer judges a lesson “Outstanding” the probability that the pupils are really making sustained, outstanding progress is just 5%.

Moral of this story? Do not grade lessons.

Professor John Hattie (talk II) Opening on a slightly controversial theme of “neurotrash” Professor Hattie argued that this area of educational research is interesting but does not actually get us anywhere. So often you can simply replace the term “brain” with “learner”.  Turning his sights next to the cause célèbre known as “twenty-first century skills” he suggested that by themselves they are irrelevant as they are devoid of content. In fact it is only where they come with content that you start to establish a transition from surface to deep learning. Indeed he spoke on how critical thinking and problem solving quite simply should not be taught outside of subjects. Another fantastic quote, this time on the importance of learning from failure, was “the second time it’s a mistake, the first time is a learning opportunity”.

I was introduced to a concept that I had not heard of before; James Nottingham’s Learning Pit, see here.This is another instant takeaway that I will look to explore and guide my classroom work. Again the words spoken by Professor Hattie were particularly pertinent in that “feedback feeds on error” and we must not stigmatise failure, instead encourage a thorough reflection and analysis of what went wrong and why. Overall I found yesterday’s conference to be a fantastic INSET / CPD opportunity and would recommend the January event to anyone interested in looking at ways to measure and evaluate impact. Additionally the discussions with other delegates will also be worth the cost of the ticket! Click me!

Header image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

The Twenty Five Four Percents – TLAB15

My recollection of Saturday is a bit of a blur but for a third year running I was left wishing I had access to Hermione Granger’s Time Turner necklace as this would have been the only solution to the problem of choosing which workshops to go to. Sadly time travel was not an option, but the tweets on the day and subsequent blog posts (e.g. Cup of Teaching, Nikki Able, Those that can…, Kamil Trzebiatowski and many more) have given me a flavour of what was happening around Berkhamsted. The two workshops I attended were excellent and more on them in the future. However, this post seeks to be a brief summary of my own workshop for anybody who was unable to make it.

The title of the workshop was a play on Sir Clive Woodward’s statement that “Winning the Rugby World Cup was not about doing one thing 100% better, but about doing one hundred things 1% better”. The session was based on a post I wrote at the start of this academic year and at our little gathering I hoped to discuss ideas that I had picked up and adapted to use in my teaching. Nothing was earth shatteringly novel and I was certainly not breaking any new ground with my presentation having borrowed almost all of the ideas from elsewhere. In fact the best had been nicked with glee from the brilliant colleagues I have worked with, but as English workshop leader Mike Grenier put it in a tweet on the day “better to be a professional magpie than ostrich” and I made this point in my presentation with a few Pica pica flying on to my email address. However, I hoped that even if people took just one thing from the session they might refine and improve it further and then let me know how it went. This actually happened during the workshop with great ideas (much better than my own!) coming from the delegates listening. The hour time limit put paid to any ideas of discussing one hundred ideas, so twenty five four percents it was.

  1.  Backburner Bingo – students are given an incomplete key word grid that they fill in as the lesson goes on. Some of the key words should be novel and some can only be found out through listening to teacher / carrying out activities in the lesson. This is then completed in the background until someone yells out “BINGO!” and wins a prize. The key is to ensure that for some definitions there is no one correct answer to draw pupils into a discussion. However, Backburner Bingo can become a bit of a distraction, especially if your pupils enjoy the competitive element!
  2. What’s in the box? – simple activity where you unveil a box in the classroom that has something inside it (although often this can be imaginary or hold something that could not possibly be contained). By giving a series of clues students then try to guess what is in the mystery box. E.g.
    • Alive
    • Has a backbone
    • Venomous
    • Has fur
    • Lays eggs

With the answer being a duck-billed platypus. Sometimes I intersperse these clues throughout the whole lesson, which is what I attempted during the workshop. Again this can be used to elicit discussion. Certainly my demo did this with the question of whether round was the best word to describe a Jaffa Cake; probably not and disc was suggested as a better alternative!

  1. Patience – when asking a question do not expect an instant response, but allow a good 8-10 seconds before actually looking for answers. I used a tortoise moving slowly across my slide to illustrate this point, but often just count to ten in my head. This was something I picked up from The Multiplier Effect and also use it in departmental meetings.
  2. Random name generator – using the settings on PowerPoint to allow a random name to be picked from a class list, which led to…
  3. Random command word generator – pupils have to create a question with one of the exam question command words (e.g. describe, explain, calculate, etc), which led to…
  4. Random verb generator – created by a colleague, Cécile Coudert, in the Languages Department who customised it to test students on whether to use être or avoir. In fact anything could be plugged into it and a couple of people told me they did similar activities with their classes.
  5. Revision bookmarks – another colleague, Rob Tanner, has created bookmarks with a proposed revision schedule for students to use, as tweeted by Mumta Sharma on the day. The great thing about these are that they act as a constant reminder that pupils should be taking responsibility for their learning early in the school year (e.g. for GCSE groups the schedule starts in February). Again this idea was further improved by the suggestion that students could use a hole punch when they had covered an area or completed revising a topic.
  6. Six words – students use just six words to summarise a key word, term or process. E.g. in one class an AS student came up with “globular protein, specific complementary active site” to describe an enzyme. During the session I actually asked people to come up with their own to describe TLAB15, having had a little time to reflect on this task my best effort would be: whirlwind of enthusiasm and idea sharing.
  7. Three pictures – students summarise a key word, term or process in three pictures. On the day Andy Ford tweeted his own three pictures to sum up the day.
  8. Trips for further interest – my colleague, Tom Robinson, has started to organise and run voluntary stretch and challenge trips on the weekend for students to come along to if they wish. We have been to the London Natural History Museum and its offshoot in Tring and to Downe House in Kent. Although this does require the usual paperwork we have found them to be fun days that help to eke out the interest and passion from the Sixth Formers who come to them.
  9. The Jaffasaurus – Again something I have stolen from a colleague, Dave Payne, and I have written before about “the Jaffa Cake conundrum” and will only briefly outline it. By writing less, better students can ensure that even if their tired and overworked teacher / examiner marking their end-of-topic test /exam has run out of their favourite biscuits they will still be awarded a mark. This idea led onto…
  10. RTQRead The Q The aim is to eliminate irrelevant detail and ensure students actually address the question when writing an answer. Again leading to…
  11. ATQAnswer The Q Do students actually answer the question in front of them, or do they try to answer one that they have seen before? This “four percent” and number 12 were also discussed in my previously mentioned post. However, just before the day itself a brilliant former colleague, Lucy Smyth, told me she uses BUG with her classes to a similar effect:
    • Box the command word
    • Underline the key words
    • Glance at the marking allocation
  12. Teacher Tips For Success – pinned up on our Biology notice board and at various points around the department are laminated posters with each teacher’s top tips for exam success. The three subtitles are:
    • Best piece of revision advice
    • Most common mistakes seen in exam papers
    • If I could give one piece of advice to someone taking an exam it would be

All of these have the purpose of making students look back and review past mistakes and (hopefully) change their practice in future.

  1. Observation (of the Nation) – as HoD I have always enjoyed carrying out lesson observations; not for the form filling in, but for picking up new ideas and activities to use. Therefore the fifteenth four percent was a hearty recommendation to go out and observe colleagues departmentally and beyond. In fact instead of a flashy INSET course in some soulless hotel function room I believe people would gain much, much more from going to another school for the day. Not only observing lessons but soaking in the whole culture of the place. Interestingly both the eighth and ninth “four percent” were picked up from just this process; my colleague, Tom Robinson, spent a day at Westminster School and came back brimming with enthusiasm and a Six Words, Three Pictures worksheet.
  2. Lesson Study – this is a natural continuation of point 15 and something we are just setting up at the moment, forming triads of colleagues working together to plan and deliver lessons. There is lots of information all over the internet about this ancient Japanese teacher improvement process. We are lucky enough to be working with the University of Hertfordshire to set ours up. What I am particularly interested in is how to make it sustainable and more than a flash in the pan… Any thoughts are most welcome!
  3. The Triptych Learning Conversation – a new (and still currently being refined) model of observing lessons. The emphasis is on having a proper conversation between the observer and observee both pre and post observation. This is again taken straight from the brain of someone much cleverer than myself and on Saturday it was a real pleasure to meet Dawn Cox whose excellent blog post inspired me to start designing a document to improve the whole experience of observations. More on this from me in the future.
  4. Subject selfies – to some the selfie is the very embodiment of vulgar egotism. However, many departments can use them as a way of promoting discussion of their subject and for this reason I think that they can be a great way of engaging students outside of the classroom. As much as the selfies of teachers by an ancient monument or overlooking the crater of a volcano makes for a great departmental display, it is when the students themselves engage with the process that the idea really takes off. A colleague in the Geography department, Laura Andrews, has made a super display of “geo-selfies” with contributions from both the staff and students; there are selfies from the peak of Kilimanjaro to overlooking Sugarloaf Mountain.
  5. Learning audits – this is as much about terminology as it is good practice. Any form of work check or book scrutiny should be used as a means of sharing good practice as much as it is about accountability. The fact that terms such as “book look” or “learning audit” get this point across a lot better than the alternative nomenclature is no surprise!
  6. Further reading – encouraging students to read beyond the specification, with a recommended book of the term, e.g. Life Ascending by Nick Lane (as an aside this is a fantastic accompaniment to A level Biology, I cannot recommend it highly enough!). What I forgot to mention on the day is that we now try to source these recommended titles from our pupils, so posters go up in classrooms with the phrase “recommended by Stew Dent, U6RJL”. This point was followed by the need to read beyond the subject ourselves as educators and to take an interest in books to improve our teaching. As one delegate pointed out this does not necessarily need to be in book form anymore and TED talks are an excellent source of innovation.
  7. Twitter – voyeur is the wrong word, but I am certainly someone who likes to listen / read what is going on around the country and this is the place to do it! On occasion I tweet some inane opinions, but mainly this is for me to stay in touch with the great minds across the country.
  8. Blogging – similarly I stumble upon lots of excellent and highly sensible ideas via blog links on twitter. However, my main point here is that by writing a blog yourself it gives you a chance to properly reflect. Certainly writing this has made me think very carefully about what actually happened on Saturday and how I might improve on my presentation in the future. Therefore I would encourage others to blog to help distil and refine ideas and allow others to gain from the experience. In fact look no further than workshop attendee Paul Gillam’s excellent blog on Edexcel IGCSE Biology, perfect for high achieving students and teachers alike!
  9. Formal idea sharing sessions – immediately after TLAB13 I set up a formal cross-curricualr group that met to discuss ideas in my own school. It was not compulsory, no-one told others how to do things, instead it allowed for colleagues to sit down and actually chat. Something that we never quite seem to find the time to do.
  10. Collaboration – as mentioned, I can take very little credit for any of these ideas. But that is the point of teaching, we should not always be looking to reinvent the wheel but rather improve and refine what is around us. Our collaboration allows up to improve the one hundred one percents and we do this without consciously thinking about every time we help or pas son an activity. As the thirtieth POTUS said “I not only use the brains I have, I use all the brains I can borrow”.
  11. Failure –we are very keen to let all and sundry know how important it is for students to fail (again a previous post makes this point even more explicitly), but as teachers we should not be ashamed of failure either. Beautifully this point was made by Neil Atkin in his superb workshop earlier in the day.

As a final note, I would be very happy to share any of my resources or the presentation itself. Just contact me and we can be part of the collaboration I was just typing about. Or even better please, please, please let me know how you use and improve these ideas. I am serious when I say I am already looking for my next twenty five four percents.

Header image taken with permission from @TLABerkmasted.