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Blooming Taxonomy

November 12, 2012

Soooo last week I blogged on the new technology that allowed children in rural villages to learn with a tablet and without a teacher, this week I made the mistake of checking out what the ideal lesson was under the new Ofsted guidelines…… mistake…. big mistake.

Have you seen what we are supposed to do now?

Seriously? For every lesson a four page lesson plan? Questions delineated exactly, students mentioned and targeted specifically in the lesson plan?

Don’t get me wrong I have  no objection to preparation, detail or accountability, but anyone who has to follow a 4 page lesson plan can’t teach… and I don’t mean that they are not able to teach per se, only that if you have to keep bobbing back and forth to your lesson plan you won’t get time to communicate and if you actually need a lesson plan like that to communicate, to read from, yeah well maybe you should reconsider your career choice.

….Maybe.

But communicate is the crucial word, the crucial element in teaching has to be communication and there is no doubt that while we are told, that we must differentiate and have a plan for every child, we are also told that there is no particular style that any teacher should have: if you are the quiet, sit behind a desk kind, gently whispering your wisdom to a group of enthralled pupils, fine; if you are raucous raconteur of endless anecdotes and jokes (all relevant of course) then good on yer! It should not matter how you communicate (within the realms of human decency of course – torture is out) but only that you do communicate and that the student learns.

Student centred learning is the new mantra. The inspector will be watching the student, not just to see if they are engaged, listening and behaving, but to see if they understand, participate and if they are stretched and challenged. All of this makes perfect sense…except the lesson plan. This kind of  detail for a lesson and targeting individual children cannot be realistic surely? Some of the inspiration for this seems to come from Bloom’s Taxonomy developed in 1956 (now there’s a surprise) the idea is to encourage holistic education, head, heart and action, but the outworking of this theory seems to have led to a blooming of charts colour codes and paperwork.

Being able to interrogate your subject and your students successfully is an essential skill, but any good interviewer will tell you that the secret to good question and answer is not a swathe of delineated questions like the ones above, but the ability to listen and to respond, and for that the paperwork is almost irrelevant.

Aside from the time it takes to compile a lesson based on that kind of detail for each student, teachers are increasingly using school databases to collate information on a child and then augmenting these databases with additional, personal detail. This is a tiny bit Big Brother or so Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch implies, he suggests in an article in The Sunday Times referred to in the Telegraph this week that parents would be shocked at the amount of information teachers compile on children and then upload, in this case to the Capita website where the details of 8 million children and their photographs, and their disciplinary records are kept. Teachers are said to uploading information on pupils to this database, six times a day.

Capita provides a resource for various agencies to access information on a child and because it exists teachers must use it to compile detailed and almost unteachable lesson plans, but how far must this go?

In the old days teachers kept a register, gave a mark and a comment to a student and had time to get to know the student. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no luddite, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t enjoy the opportunities that IT provides, but we should be mastering IT, not IT mastering us. That level of lesson planning is only even half possible because of version tracking and cut and paste, if all we had was pen and paper then the ideal plan would be a neatly written summary, possibly with timings, combined with some ready resources, good subject knowledge and good knowledge of the learners, who needs to ask for more?

The resources pictured above come from the TES Resources site – just look for Ofsted guidelines – good luck!

 

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The Tablets Must Be Crazy!

November 5, 2012

Click on the image to OLPC Flickr Photostream

Anyone remember The God’s Must Be Crazy? It was a fabulous film which started almost as a travelogue, describing urban Johannesburg and then juxtaposing that against the tribesman of the Kalahari desert. One tribesman receives an empty Coca Cola bottle that falls at his feet, as if given by the gods, in fact it was chucked out of a plane. The film describes how he and his tribe try to work out what to do with it,  but so divisive is this new toy that the tribesman decides the gods must be crazy and so he goes on a journey to the edge of the world to return the offending bottle – not so with tablet computers!

In a recent experiment the organisation One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), decided to do precisely that (well not chuck tablet computers out of a plane) but take them, leave them and come back later to see what the children had done with them

“I thought the kids would play with the boxes.” (Hell, what parent hasn’t watched their small child discard the expensive toy and gather hours of entertainment out of the box.)  “Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day.” so said Nicholas Negraponte founder of OLPC.  Not only did they start using the tablets, they started to recite the alphabet (these tablets were programmed in English, which does beg the question of technological imperialism – but that’s another blog) anyway the users got round the camera blocking lock and hacked Android – nice!

“The meteoric rise of modern instructionism, including the misguided belief that there is a perfect way to teach something, is alarming because of the unlimited support it is getting from Bill Gates, Google, and my own institution, MIT. “ Nicholas Negraponte in his own article on this process.

That phrase “the meteoric rise of modern instruction, including the misguided that there is a perfect way to teach something” must have resonance with every teacher in this country who has ever been inspected. The constant contortionist revisions conducted by teachers attempting to adapt their style in the classroom to the latest fad from Ofsted, or senior management, is an attempt to fit into this idea that there is a perfect way to teach. The problem is, that in our effort to pursue this pseudo perfection we may very well find ourselves out of a job.

On the one hand the vision of OLPC which I have always admired, combined with the vision of organisations such as the Khan Academy even the elite iTunes U (see this blog for more – onlinelearninginsights) suggest a new world of learning cheaply,  resources readliy accessible to all without, as Negraponte puts it, the industrialisation of teaching that has confined it to measuring progress and target setting that measures the teacher rather than the creativity, imagination and curiosity of the pupils. Un-programmed learning, he states is similar to the process of creating software, the trial and error mechanism is the way children learn, pretty much from the moment they are born and the tablet and computer are compatible with that process. This then is the way of the future, bye bye teacher hello tablet, Skype and an archive of online tutorials updated by a shrinking number of experts.

“Ah but what about personal contact?” Thus says the old fashioned complacent teacher, book in hand, powerpoint just about replacing chalk and talk, still wielding the red pen and the paper mark book. “Students will always need personal contact.” Yep that’s what the music business said about vinyl and now the album compilation barely exists!

Of course when print on demand became a real prospect people said that this would be the death of the book and in some ways it has been – just check the remainders shops, but in other ways reading has never been more popular. I don’t think J K Rowling, (Harry Potter) Stephanie Meyer (Twlight) or Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) are suffering to much from the death of the book, or for that matter Ian Rankin (Rebus). Book publishing has gone through a massive change, the author can get access to the reader directly, but books still exist.

There is still a need for the real, the communal and the personal: in music, stadium rock and gigging are still a massive part of the industry; why else do people go to the cinema in droves, to watch a movie they could see at home in greater comfort? So yes there is still room for personal contact, but how much do they really need? In music, books and journalism a lot more is being done for  a lot less. Journalists barely get paid any more, musicians gig for peanuts, authors publish and be damned or at least they don’t get paid, some get famous via the wire, the rest do it for the joy of it, most of them didn’t see it coming and teachers may well be on the cusp of the same fate – if the industry of teaching breaks down, how many will be left and how many will do it for the joy of it?

Teacher Upgrade

October 29, 2012

So anyway this is just a quick point, but I was listening to the radio the other day (luckily it was payday otherwise I would have resigned on the spot) and the esteemed BBC Radio 4 Today Programme was enjoying the prospect of teachers having to get the equivalent of GCSE English and Maths B grades by taking more sophisticated tests. Rather than a dignified conversation about raising or keeping standards high for teachers, the conversation was turned into a list of silly mistakes that teachers may have made on children’s homework, or (heaven forfend) on the board. The guests and John Humphrys giggled at mistakes like “carless” instead of “careless” and teachers who made mistakes on the board were mocked and condemned. This amid John Humphrys suggesting that it was time that regulations got “more tougher” and that obviously students didn’t have to spell well if they did Arts subjects because they wouldn’t have to write essays. Aside from the fact that English is an “Arts” subject, most people studying Art itself, or any practical subject have to write essays on their work and I am guessing those essays must be spelled correctly.

In addition, Christine Blower was given little opportunity to discuss the relative merits of further testing for teachers but was bamboozled on the subject of proof of poor standards, to the extent that I think I tweeted “JH shut up let the woman speak” amongst the points she was attempting to make was the fact that this policy conflicts not a little with the Gove’s new proposal to allow people to teach in schools who did not have any teaching qualification, but expertise in the subject or field that they work in, that for Gove is obviously better than a teacher with a degree in their subject and a year or more’s training in education. There is also the fact that if you don’t teach a subject why do you need above a C GCSE in it. I took the “Maths” test and I have a C at GCSE (hard won) I haven’t taught a minute of maths (or arithmetic) since I joined teaching. I have occasionally had to crunch numbers for exam percentages, but that I can manage on my C at GCSE, so quite why I should have to have any further qualification in arithmetic (and that is what we are really talking about) I don’t know. Every teacher has been through the school system, gained a degree and a PGCE or PGDE, or should have, that in, itself should reassure a few that they are equal to the demands of their profession and the wisdom not to teach the age group or the subject that is not their specialism.

Listening to that Today Programme piece one would have thought that the teaching profession was populated by a race of job blockers, lazy and incompetent, due to be disciplined and reproached, obviously not good for anything except mockery. Christine Blower attempted to defend the profession, but as ever, teacher representation tends to concede too much. A much embattled profession could do little more of the offence (not offensive) and less polite concessions, which is, in fact an unrepresentative compromise. Teachers comply with initiatives, accept regulations and inspections, they improve, retrain and innovate and never in their entire career do they get a cheap holiday – and yet, according to government and media they are the lowest of the low. The fact that over 60% of our young people volunteer, in some way, for social and community projects, the fact that more young people than ever willingly continue in education and pay for the privilege, that even despite what may be grade inflation – thousands of young people are better qualified, better educated and better balanced than they would otherwise be, is all ignored because some teachers rush their marking, slip up on the board and don’t correct spelling mistakes

But is that really true?

Earlier this week the organisation Turnitin sent out an email, it listed the most common comments on students’ work apparently teachers do comment on punctuation and spelling … a lot – see for yourself.

Messy Standards

October 22, 2012

Recently I came across a comment on teaching that suggested that the teaching of standard lessons was inappropriate, that an institution must use variety from lesson to lesson. Every teacher must address their lesson plans, there was too much PowerPoint, not enough group work, too much performance not enough independent. This was slightly contradicted by a comment from another direction that suggested that there was no correct style for teaching, contradicted why? I don’t hear you ask – well because your style maybe standard, and your style may work – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

And if you haven’t checked my little PowerPoint Pointers page – feel free – click on the image.

However the comments have a point, students in Sixth Form and lower down, no doubt receive the same style of lesson every time, a quick (or slow) powerpoint to either note down or get the handout from, an exercise to do in pairs, in groups or individually and a summary of what they’ve learned, job done, next lesson, round again.

The problem is…..powerpoint is safe and by that I mean, it has paper back up, it does not rely on the internet and you have snuck it past the firewall, it may even animate or play sound without complication.

There is no doubt we should be varying our lessons, but some of the bells and whistles of an exciting VLE are so much better suited to science, maths, geography, even media everything but an essay based, read a book, do some independent research based subject.

The internet can’t

  • read the book for them
  • write the essay for them
  • mark the essay for them (effectively)
  • do the research for them

The internet can

  • provide a summary of the book
  • provide a ready marked essay for them
  • give them research

Sending students off to wander the internet, on their phones or computers in the classroom, or at home is fraught with difficulty, particularly if your subject doesn’t lend itself to online quizzes, and automatically marked formulas. Right in front of you, in the classroom, they can conjure an essay they haven’t written – not really anyway.

The powerpoint paper lesson has its advantages – but, granted it is boring.

Soooooo……..

For essays

  • Use Turnitin (if your organisation subscribes), or another plagiarism finder – they’re not exhaustive, but the threat is a deterrent
  • Provide the websites they should visit
  • Use the progressive lesson on Moodle, and no doubt other VLE’s, I have found this very successful, for the student but, that being said the submission system is unreliable, students can lose work – so get them to back up in Word
  • Use an online, journal with them – this works better than a forum, you can see it and so can they, but no one else can – students seem to be reticent to use forums
  • Use flow charts – try to use them in lessons on a smart board (again, if things are not working this can be complicated – orientation of the board is the worst nightmare)
  • Be messy on the smart board, too much time is spent trying to be neat to keep, in the old days (about a decade ago) you couldn’t keep the chalk notes you put on the board, so make a mess with smart board. Scribble up your annotations, don’t expect to keep them or  print them out – make the mess the objective, the messier the board, the more contributions made by the class…. result – the messier the merrier

In my ideal world, each student would have a tablet, a wifi connection and I would have a chat connection to them, I would set up quizzes, essay progressions, interactive polls, appropriate access to the internet and use youtube lectures and resources. But…. for now it’s smart board charts and powerpoint.

Pernicious Personal Statements?

October 15, 2012

According to The Guardian this week, some students are paying up to £350 for a personal statement that will make them look good when they apply to university. Students can pay for something that can be anything from a false statement to a bespoke version based on their experience. According to the same article UCAS catch up to 8,000 about 1% of students sending in false or copied statements. This, apparently is not the major crime that students commit when they are constructing their UCAS application for, according to Jon Keighren, a spokesman for Manchester University “It is not just that a minority of people may be paying for these services: many, many more have the simple advantage of being from a family where mum or dad are themselves able to help them with their personal statements across the dinner table, entirely for free. This is natural, far more widespread and a much more pernicious aspect to unfairness in admissions.”

Say what?!

Okay let’s unpack that a little:

  • Yes – there is a class problem in education as everywhere else, but class does not define parenting
  • Yes – some students do not have access to good facilities, parents who know the system or even schools that know the system; and
  • No – parents should not be writing their children’s statements for them.

But:

  • Talking about it over the dinner table – pernicious?
  • Proof reading it for errors – pernicious?
  • Reminding them of relevant experience – pernicious?

Effectively, what Jon Keighren has said is that parents helping their children apply for university places is pernicious. What are parents supposed to do give the kids a tenner, send them down the chip shop and tell them not to come back until they have done their UCAS form? The issue is the equality of access to the system. The question is how do we include those who do not have access to that help at home, not how do we block that help from those who already get it? The quest should be about raising the game, rather than lowering the bar.

A quick look at the comments on The Guardian article suggests that admissions tutors are, to say the least, ambivalent about the personal statement while Ox-bridge interview. Government has succeeded in increasing the number of universities, university places and students at university so the enrollment process is more dependent on applications and grades than on interviews. There’s no time for staff to interview the thousands of students who apply and thus the personal statement is a huge part of a student’s application, at least for the student, apparently not so for many admissions tutors, who seem to dismiss it as either useless or the product of pernicious interference of perfidious parents.

It is, no doubt, pernicious to lie about your past, but for parents to help their children is the role of a parent, not to mention that most middle class parents will “help” their child at university, usually by paying their rent. The £9,000 a year is tuition only, then there is rent – oh and food and most parents, I suspect stump up for a lot of that, so perhaps they have a vested interest in their child going to the university of their choice, non middle class parents

Click on the image for more media.

my have an interest in their child going to a local university which brings me to…

And finallygood parenting is not the preserve of the middle class, pernicious

parenting is not confined to the under privileged, neglect and abuse cross class barriers just as wanting the best for your child, and helping them with that, is a universal impulse. That impulse should be lauded by educationalists whatever class it comes from, not criticised – of course every good parent supports and helps their child across the dinner table or over a tray on their lap, every parent offers support and advice this does not make them cheats, nor does it make them pernicious.

Personality, Performance and Precision

October 8, 2012

When I started my PGCE course I was told not to worry about my personality, now I didn’t take this personally but it was a curious comment and does the beg the question – should I worry? The meaning behind the comment however, I think, did have something to do with a teacher’s presence in the classroom and it was meant to reassure those who felt that they could not dominate or, more to the point, control a classroom with the force of their personality. There was no need to feel inadequate if you did not like showing off.

Not every teacher can be a performer!

The point of teacher training and of good professional practice is to ensure that all students learn even if you have the voice of a mouse and the presence of a sponge and, let’s face it, if you teach teenagers, if your presence is anything less than that of Gary Barlow (bad example) Barack Obama you are obviously not fit to teach them (in their opinion). The point of good professional practice, lesson plans, resources, sharing, clear preparation, precision and, of course, good use of IT is to allow the teacher to communicate their subject to all and sundry effectively, but does that make being a performer a crime?

Almost the first comment made to me when I was first observed by a senior member of the profession was “You’re clearly a performer” and while this was not said to insult it wasn’t meant as a compliment either. The dilemma is clear, if only those who could perform well as public speakers or humourists were able to be teachers, there would be less teachers and probably a lot of entertained but not so well educated students in the work place.

In a recent episode of the News Quiz, Jeremy Hardy rubbished the constant constraints on teachers that government now imposes on educators and education and claimed that what was needed, what was a good performer, someone who got the point over quickly, effectively and memorably. It was those teachers, he said that you remembered, and hopefully you remembered what they taught as well.

There is no substitute for good preparation, there is no substitute for good subject knowledge and there is no substitute for good resources, but being able to deliver all that effectively certainly helps.

Moreover after a few years in teaching there must be a point where you can come to understand your strengths and apply them, which is different from resting on your laurels. Complacency is a danger, but skill and experience can lead to confidence which makes the job easier. Even despite the occasional query, it does seem to me that if humour, anecdotes or simply being able to pace the room with real presence work in the classroom why not use them? I knew a maths teacher who used to promise his class ten minutes of “stand-up sir” if they completed their set tasks with focus and thoroughness. This harked back to his former career as relatively successful stand up comedian, it worked, the students delighted in his humour and he delighted in their work, but does it chime with Ofsted I wonder? Is there too much personality in stand up sir’s lessons, is he working too hard to get their attention, is he or a similar teachers with similar techniques taking over the role of the learner, if he or I dominate the class with anecdotes and a quick paced dialogue, are we leaving students behind, even though every one of them is attentive?

Recent reading I have done suggests that the only way you can assess for learning is to test students at the end of each lesson, bye bye stand-up sir, hello a quick test. What did we say we were going to learn? Did we learn it? Tell me what you learned? Test and repeat, not to mention stretch and challenge.

Over the years it does seem to me that performance is regarded as a barrier to precision and to learning success, maybe unbridled and undisciplined it is, structure and accountability are essential to support all approaches to teaching, but hopefully not at the cost of personality.

The Inspector Calls

October 1, 2012

In our institution, our department is about to have an internal inspection, sounds medical, and nasty: right about the latter not about the former. It is, of course a mini Ofsted inspection that is designed to put the fear of Ofsted into the department. I am not going to write about our specific situation, aside from being self indulgent and boring I would probably get the sack. However, this drive to inspect does raise the issue, not so much of inspection but of accountability, the general question of accountability. All this inspection, peer review, double checking is about teachers and lecturers being accountable but to whom, and what for and who is accountable to them?

It seems to me that there are five places where the teacher is accountable in the classroom:

  1. To the students/pupils
  2. To the parents
  3. To management
  4. To Ofsted
  5. To ….. wait for it…

STUDENTS

Anyone in education should start there really, and certainly, when a politician wants to command the moral high ground, from pay cuts to policy, they always claim the good of the student or pupil. The teacher, however is in the classroom accountable right there and then, and that includes anything from turning up on time, vast subject knowledge, accurate delivery, classroom management and preparation. Not only that teachers are often subject to feedback from students, either unofficial (rate my teacher) or officially, through delightful forms that include questions such as “Has your teacher prepared their lesson?” to which they usually reply “No”. How the frack do they know? Do they see you compiling your lesson plan, gathering resources, making resources? No. Just because you ask them to do something does not mean that you are too lazy to teach! But they think so! That being said, being accountable in the classroom does mean preparation and delivery, which is why the betrayal over the #GCSEfiasco is so debilitating to teacher accountability. Staff go to exam board insets to calibrate their teaching and marking with that of the board they use, they, in turn calibrate with Ofqual and ultimately government. This is not cheating, this is not getting answers to questions, or a conspiracy to inflate grades, it is professional process to make sure that we are all on the same page. The teacher returns from the inset and teaches accordingly. Why would they do otherwise? However, to change suddenly, mid-flow the standard by which everything is calibrated, leaves the teacher in the classroom, alone, accountable to the students dealing with the tears and the rage and who is accountable to the teacher?

PARENTS

The teacher is in loco parentis, so obviously there is keeping them safe, giving them a good learning environment feeding back to the parent about issues, attendance, praise and achievement. But the majority of parents want more than that, they want grades, they want success, they want their child to do better than they did and they expect the teacher to be accountable to them if that doesn’t happen. The teacher should be accountable to parents in every aspect, but making their child a priority over somebody else’s not so much. Of course that was what Every Child Matters was about, and of course the aim is for individual attention. The current fashion in Ofsted is differentiation, so now we have to have pencil portraits on every student. That reminds me of that rather fabulous answer by ?… In Bad Education when the Head asks him about the progress of his students ‘it’s all in my head’ he says and to some extent it has to be, because who has time not  just to mark the student’s work, record the marks and feed back, but also to write a detailed learning chart on them? Increased data collection can help that, but it relies on reliable systems and we are not there yet. Of course the majority of parents are interested and supportive, if a little demanding and likely to assume that they could better, they just have a “good” job. Some parents are not so interested and many of both kinds send children to school with behaviour that is less than positive and yet this too seems to be something the teacher must account for, a badly behaved student is bored, so pick up the pace teach! A rude student is bringing a teacher into line, after all none of them know what they are doing do they? And a disruptive class is a badly managed class, no full of badly brought up kids. Again who is accountable to the teacher?

MANAGEMENT

On the whole the “being accountable to management” box is ticked by doing what one is told. Do the peer observations, attend meetings, do the staff training, do the performance reviews, attend meetings, use the new system, go on staff development, run enrichment, attend meetings, use the new system, be there on time, use your home equipment to compensate for the failings of the new system, attend meetings, parents evening, open day, open evening and whatever you do you can’t take a cheap holiday. Management, of course is accountable to the league tables and to Ofsted, without a high rating on results and an Outstanding on the banner outside, the institution is doomed and the Head is often for the chop, so understandably they expect staff to be accountable to them, for those results, that teaching and possibly that Outstanding, but who is accountable to the teacher?

OFSTED

This is where the questions of accountability and inspection get mixed up: inspection according to the dictionary is defined as “the act of inspecting or viewing, especially carefully or critically” and there’s the kicker “critically”. Ask someone to be critical and they will be, ask someone to review your work and they may be critical but they have permission to offer praise. Ofsted inspectors would say that they do give praise where praise is due, but who defines that, who is accountable for that. Accountability is defined by the dictionary as “Educ.  a policy of holding schools and teachers accountable for students’ academic progress by linking such progress with funding for salaries, maintenance, etc.” The kicker there is the “linking” of progress with funding for salaries, but accountability isn’t a word that Ofsted uses, perhaps that’s a good thing, it’s inspection – critical inspection, the link between success as a teacher and salaries has never been clear, only the link that’s been clear is the link between failure as a teacher and salary and job and who is accountable to the teacher for that?

COP OUT

Okay so most of you will have scrolled down to find out what the fifth one is and decided it is a cop out, but I will keep you waiting a little longer, I had the privilege (or the misfortune) of watching The Fountainhead last night, I am not over keen on the film, it’s melodramatic music, extremely dodgy sex scene and a lot of talking, makes it a bit of a marathon, but the essence of the main character played by Gary Cooper, Howard Roark (recently voted number one in the top ten of fictional architects in The Guardian) is interesting in this context. Howard Roark answers to no man but himself, he will not compromise on his designs, because he knows best and he’s not big on self sacrifice either, which is where some of the political criticism of the film as a polemic for conservatism comes from. However, Howard’s principle that he is answerable to no one but himself, that only he can be the judge of his own integrity, is perhaps something that the teacher needs more than ever, in the end the teacher in the classroom is the best judge of the needs and demands of the students and the best judge of the success of the education they provide, no critical snapshot can substitute for that accountability.

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