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Thursday, 24 April 2014

The School Year - A Game of 3 Terms

The present school year consists of three terms. 

The Autumn term kicks the year off! This term begins with teachers and pupils getting to know each other and settling into new routines. Whilst this is quite exciting it is also potentially the term when parents can cause problems. I think this is mainly due to the fact that they do not know or trust the new teacher yet. After all they and their child have just spent a year with a teacher they know and are used to. They then often blame any unsettled behaviour their child may display on the teacher, when actually it's often just going back to school itis (they've just had 6 weeks off!) along with re establishing friendship groups and new classroom routines. The Autumn term also has several exciting events: Harvest Festival, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas which are all guaranteed to take over the timetable and alter all of the routines you have just about managed to establish! 

Spring term is the term when the hard work begins in earnest. Rules, responsibilities and routines are now well established and everybody settles into the work at hand generally unhindered by any unusual events. It is the term of parents evening and hopefully by now things have settled enough for the parents to understand that actually you, the teacher, are actually alright, have their child's best interests at heart and are maybe even quite good at your job! 

And so to the Summer Term - this is the term of the end of year assessments and reports home to parents. During this term everybody gets on really well, the weather is often nice enough for outdoor learning, you have Sports Day to look forward to and hopefully you will set off on an end of year class trip. This is also the term of the year 6 leavers assembly and fond farewells before it all begins again!! 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Reflections of my Most Memorable Lessons

am a thinker,  my mind is constantly mulling over something. All day and all night I think. I have always been a bit like this but it seems to be worse the older I get. I also do much of my thinking when I'm away from school at half terms etc. I wouldn't say I worry I just think, contemplate and mull constantly! At the moment these thoughts are mainly about my Mum (who has Altzheimers), my two daughters, one of whom is pregnant whilst the other is about to go for a job interview, my husbands new business (driving school) my Grandson (whose school recently had a bad Osted report) and obviously my job. My blog has become a good way to turn my reflections, my school ones anyway, into something useful. 

My recent thoughts about school have been about some of my most memorable lessons. They are all memorable for different reasons but perhaps the most common theme is the fun I had teaching them, or in facilitating them, and the pleasure my pupils seemed to get out of them too. They are my lesson 'teaching moments' the ones that make it all worth while! 

Murder Mystery - this was a writing stimulus lesson culminating from a Literacy unit about mysteries and detective stories. It was with a boy heavy, reluctant writers, year 6 group. In the lead up to this lesson we had read a selection of detective stories about some of the great detectives and watched many clips from detective films and tv programmes. The detectives that proved the most popular were Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and for the fun factor Inspector Clouseau. 

The children were greeted at the end of break time with the classroom door taped off. They had no idea what was happening. My TA and myself told them there had been an 'incident' and that when we entered the classroom they were not to touch anything as they would be entering a crime scene! There was a real initial buzz of excitement. All of them, except for one knew instinctively it was a set up but completely fell into the role play without prompting. Upon entering they were greeted by the taped outline of a body. They were then put into groups and were set the task of solving different clues. They were given hair, blood and textile samples (taken from the scene) as well as interviews of witnesses and fingerprints. They rotated around each set of clues recording their groups results. After every group had analysed their results they a prime suspect was agreed upon. The results were revealed to great excitement. The pupils were then set the task of writing their own murder mystery. This took place in the next lesson.

Viking Thing

This lesson was with a lively year 3 group as part of a topic based upon the Vikings in our local area. A Viking 'thing' is a Viking assembly where all of the town would get together to discuss major issues. A place called 'Thingwall' which is very local to our school was actually the site of a real Viking assembly. 

This lesson was also very ably supported by my TA who along with me stayed 'in role' for the whole lesson. Each of the pupils was given a Viking, first and family name, by which they were addressed for the whole lesson. They had researched their 'character' in the lead up to this lesson and knew where they lived, what job they did and who their family members were. The purpose (objective) was to understand some of the reasons that the Vikings left their homelands. 

Upon entering the classroom the scene was set. A message was delivered (by the TA) a tyrant King was on the rampage through the region taking everything for his own. Money, land and property. The villagers had a 'thing' to decide upon the best action. They were given the following options: 
Stay and surrender - giving over their possessions etc and agreeing to work for a new king. 
Fight the tyrannt King and his army - in the hope of winning and sending the survivors on their way. 
Flee - leaving for another country (England) and starting again. 

Once the options were given the pupils got together in their family groups to decide what they should do. They all had to agree the best course of action for the whole family. The 'in role' discussions were brilliant. The pupils were genuinely in role and discussing the options quite seriously. 

Just as they thought they had decided what to do a new 'message' arrived. The tyrannt king along with his army was enslaving those who chose to stay and murdering those who decided to fight. Off they went again to decide and on their return they had to try to persuade the rest of the village to agree with them. This led to a whole class debate! By the end of the lesson the pupils had a real understanding of some of the reasons Vikings left their homelands.

Potions Class

This was a maths capacity lesson with a year 3 class. The objective was to recognise non standard and standard units of measure for capacity and to read a variety of scale. It began with a problem. A wizard had cast a spell on the classroom which meant that all break and lunch times would be cancelled unless they made a magic potion to stop the spell. Teacher, TA and other supporting adults were dressed as witches and a huge cauldron was placed in the middle of the room, complete with bubbling sound effect. 

Each, maths ability group were given a part of the potion to create, which was differentiated. They were told the potion had to be absolutely accurate if the spell was to be broken. They worked together as a group adding carefully measured quantities of various concoctions (food dye worked really well here) some groups had to add large quantities and others very minute quantities, some groups worked alone and others with an adult adding to the differentiation. There was a real buzz in the room with all pupils really engaged in the measuring and reading of scales as they knew it had to be absolutely accurate. 

Once the group concoctions were complete they all had to be added one by one to the class cauldron in the middle of the room. Each group had to describe how they had created their concoction. Sound clips played as each concoction was added which provided lots of tension and realism. 

Once the class potion was complete a pre recorded video clip was played telling the class the spell had been broken because the potion was so accurate and they were promptly released for break. The class erupted into a huge cheer!

Richard the third 

This lesson was completely impromptu and resulted from the news that Richard the thirds skeleton had been found underneath a pub car park. It was again with year 3, year 4 in our school study the Tudors so I knew it would provide a great foundation. 

I set the scene very dramatically by telling them about the War of the Roses and the lead up to the Battle of Bosworth. They were totally enthraled by the debate between the historians and how some believed Richard was not the villain he was portrayed as. I described the tension as the skeleton was revealed bit by bit and those watching waited with bated breath to discover if Richard had actually had a 'humped' back or not as they believed if he didn't then maybe all the other things said about him may also not be true. I made them wait to discover this too, which added to the whole drama of the lesson. The discussion about the hump back also led to a whole side discussion about the way somebody looks doesn't determine whether they are good of bad. At the end of the year when I asked the pupils, as I always do, which lessons they had enjoyed the most, not enjoyed etc The Richard the third lesson came out as overall favourite lesson for the year! 

Howard Carter and Tutankhamuns tomb

This lesson was to launch a topic on the Ancient Egyptians and was with a year 6 class. The objective of the lesson was for the children to begin to understand some of the rituals behind Egyptian burials and the fears behind their openings.

The classroom was once again closed off. The windows were covered with black paper (to block out light) and several tables were covered with a black cloth creating a small, darkened tunnel. The pupils were then, in pairs, allowed into the room armed with a torch. They had to crawl through the tunnel collecting clues along the way to determine who was buried in the tomb. Placed in the tomb were a selection of artefacts and hieroglyphics, each containing a clue to the identity of the occupant. 

When everyone had passed through the tunnel the pupils got together in groups of four to reach a conclusion. We then got back together as a class and watched part of a documentary on Howard Carter and the opening of Tutankhamuns tomb. The pupils enjoyed the tunnel and clues, this then meant that they watched the documentary with much greater interest and understanding.

The Minpins

This was not really one lesson but actually a few. If was with my current year 2 class and was part of a topic called 'Down in the Woods.' The topic was originally called Teddy Bears Picnic but as I have 22 boys and 12 girls I decided to rebrand. I have read many Roald Dahl books but must admit until this year had never read The Minpins. I stumbled across it on Pinterest and am very glad I did. The story is set in the woods so fitted in really well with my topic but even better it includes a monster called The Spittler, which appealed greatly to the boys in my class. It also contains 'miniature' people that live in trees and it was this that led to a real 'magical teaching moment.' We had been reading the book over several days when I decided to create a 'Minpins' door in the beautiful tree that stands outside my classroom. This was again a Pinterest idea. 

The children came into school as normal, then we settled down to read a few more pages of our book. After a while I suggested we go outside to see if we could spot any Minpins in our tree. After a couple of minutes the door was spotted! The excitement was unbelievable, the children were chattering away, looking up into the branches to see if they could spot any Minpins. At the end of the day the children dragged their adults over to show them. The writing that came out of that lesson several days later was amazing! 

I hope these lessons provide you with some ideas for lessons in your own setting or at least lead to memories of some of the great lessons you have taught. 

I have purposefully not added 'lesson plan' links for this blog as the ideas are probably best used as a basis and adapted to your own classes needs and any objectives you may need to cover. I also have to be honest and say that my lesson plans are very brief and in some cases non existent. This is because my best lessons often evolve. I believe that creativity flows and cannot be recreated as a result of a finely scripted lesson plan. Well that's my excuse and I am sticking to it! 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Should Teachers Be Fully Qualified?

I have heard a lot about unqualified teachers teaching in schools but have not had any direct experience of them. I do however have experience of H.L.T.As covering lessons .H.L.T.As in my experience are on the whole professional and have lots of school experience. When Higher Level Teaching status was introduced in 2003 the rationale behind it was it would reduce teacher workload:

The DfES (Department for Education and Skills) stated in the Consultation of 2002 that: 
Most teaching requires the expertise and skills of a qualified teacher; but some teaching activity can be undertaken by suitably trained staff without QTS [qualified teacher status], provided they are working within a clear system of leadership and supervision provided by a qualified teacher. Qualified teachers must have overall responsibility for effective teaching and learning. --DfES, 2002, p.5

This was really the first step towards unqualified teachers.

So why would schools use H.L.T.As and unqualified teachers? Has it got something to do with salaries?

Salaries for full-time HLTAs can be between £16,000 and £21,000 a year. This will vary depending on the Local Education Authority (LEA) and the responsibilities of individual jobs. There is no national pay scale and wage rates are set by each LEA. Teaching assistants who work part-time, or are paid only for term-time, earn a proportion of full-time rates. This is known as pro rata payment. 

Salaries for unqualified teachers (Outside London): £15,976 to £25,267  

Salaries for qualified teachers on the main pay scale (Outside London) £21,804 to £31,868 

I would argue that pay and conditions are huge factors and the figures above are evidence of this. S.L.Ts and governing bodies manage budgets which are increasingly under strain.This is just one article reflecting of the pressures caused by pay and show why schools are increasingly looking towards cheaper options: School heads warn of budget snatchback on pensions

What are the other reasons for unqualified teachers in the classroom?

A DfE spokesman said:
"Independent schools and free schools can already hire brilliant people who have not got QTS. We are extending this flexibility to all academies so more schools can hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before. We expect the vast majority of teachers will continue to have QTS. This additional flexibility will help schools improve faster. No existing teacher contract is affected by this minor change."

Is this 'brilliant people' really an argument for unqualified teachers? Schools have always had non teaching professionals coming into schools in an advisory, supportive role. They include people with skills in P.E., Science and Technology. They have performed an important role in adding to the curriculum, up skilling teachers and adding 'interest' for pupils, however they do not and should not replace teachers. 

The whole country would be up in arms if suddenly they were being represented in court by unqualified lawyers and solicitors or treated in hospital by unqualified nurses. Or would they? do they even know? Nursing is another profession under threat from cheaper, less qualified staff, taking over nurses jobs in the form of Health Care Assistants. 

The present government say they want education to be accessible to all. All pupils, from across the country and from every type of family background should they say, be leaving school with high standard education. However, their access to university will then be dictated by their ability to pay. Then even if they get a degree they will be usurped in their chosen profession by someone less qualified but cheaper! Why bother struggling to get to university and struggle for years to pay back a huge student debt?

How can high standards in education be best achieved with unqualified teachers? If graduates want to teach they should also want the professional qualification that goes with it. After all teaching is or should be a profession, filled with people who want to teach and who would be proud to have the 'piece of paper' that awards them 'Qualified' teacher status.

Some recent news headlines on the subject of unqualified teachers which give me hope:

'Teachers' unions are demanding that schools in England should only employ fully-qualified teachers'

 'Unqualified teachers 'damaging school standards'

Good quality professions require good quality professionals. This cannot and should not be achieved on the cheap!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Teaching Without Limits

If without any warning Ofsted and Sats were removed and you, were left to teach without limits, What would you teach? What would your classroom look like? 

When I posed myself these question I thought great I know what I would do, but actually it has been a bit more complicated than I thought. 

This worries me because I think that the constant constraints of recent years have actually stifled my creativity. It's as if I now need those restrictions, Ive become institutionalised, I have almost put shackles on myself which are proving difficult to break off. 

But break free I will! Or should I say would. 

So let's start with what I would teach - I would obviously still teach Maths, English, Art, Design Technology,  Computing, Humanities etc. What would be different is how I would organise that teaching and learning. 

I would start with topic based, cross curricular learning facilitated by collaborative learning structures. Pupils generally learn better when they collaborate.

'Cooperative learning is the use of small groups through which students work together to accomplish shared goals and to maximise their own and others’ potential.' Johnson, Johnson and Holubec
(ASCD 1994)
Evidence about the benefits of collaborative learning has been found consistently for over 40 years and a number o reviews and analyses of research studies have been completed. In addition to direct evidence from research into collaborative learning approaches, there is also indirect evidence where collaboration has been shown to the effectiveness of other approaches such as mastery learning or digital technology. It appears to work well for all ages if activities are suitably structured for learners’ capabilities and positive evidence has been found across the curriculum.

Secondly, the lessons would not be of a specific length but would blend one into the other. I would not have set times for each separate lesson, timings would be dictated by the type of lesson and the pupils.  My pet hate at the moment is either stretching lessons or cutting them short. If I could choose I would definitely let the learning flow, measured by the engagement of the pupils and the learning that is taking place. This may result in short, sharp 20 minute periods of learning or conversely 45 minutes to an hour. The timetable would therefore be a movable feast.

Next, I would where possible, give the learning a focus dictated by the pupils with them having direct input into the topics through which the objectives are taught. Objectives can be met via lots of different topics and if learners are involved in, and have a voice in the topic to be taught, they would, I feel, be a lot more engaged. I acknowledge wide ranging choices would not suit every class but even the youngest pupils, or most difficult classes could cope with a more restricted range of choice as oppose to none at all. With my present class the topics would, I think be closely linked to Minecraft and Lego. But with older pupils this would be via mini enterprises with real life links thus making learning personal and pupil centered.

Then I would use Active Learning. Something I have blogged about before  Why I love Active Learning. As oppose to pupils sat passively at their desks but playing, experimenting, moving about both inside and outside of the classroom.

Finally I would give the pupils in my classroom the freedom to have official 'play or break time' with invisible supervision. Pupils would be invisibly supervised with as little adult interference as possible and adults acting mainly as observers of play, encouraging pupils to sort things out for themselves. Play times in schools in the U.K. have become dictated to by a fear of litigation. Children rarely play outside unsupervised even at home, unlike our childhoods they now have huge restrictions placed upon them they don't just go down to the park or out in the street to play so how are they to develop coping strategies, social skills, problem solving etc when there is always an adult on hand to sort everything out for them? Children need to make up their own games, know who to avoid on the playground, who to play with. They are, or would be, a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

All of these changes would have a direct impact upon what my ideal classroom would look like. This is possibly the biggest challenge as we have become very fixed upon what classrooms would look like.

My ideal classroom be very similar to a Foundation Stage of Reception class room but obviously for older pupils. There would be areas for messy play and investigation, quiet reading and reflection, sustained writing, cooking, role play, and technology. All of this with access to an outside area too. This would obviously require more classroom space and possibly smaller class pupils sizes. Some Great Classroom layout ideas

All of these changes would not happen overnight. Even if the space and money were available it would require a change in classroom culture and behaviour management but that doesnt mean we shouldn't strive for it. I believe that these changes both in timetable, content and environment would all work together to improve teaching and learning. A commentary by the teaching and learning research program

What surprises me is how I am actually quite a hippie at heart!  

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A plea to all professional tweeters

This is an updated post for 2017. Sadly all of what was originally written remains unchanged as it still applies and as a long standing professional tweeter, professional student mentor and NQT mentor this both saddens and concerns me. The alterations have come about as a response to a new, more sinister type of professional tweeter who I feel are permeating Twitter and are bad for newbies and oldies alike, Read on to see if you can spot the latest edition: 

I am a great advocator of Twitter as a professional tool! I have delivered staff inset in my own school in an attempt to encourage my fellow staff to create a professional twitter account and to show them the true value of twitter as a professional development tool. I have also blogged about Twitter and the impact it has had on my own professional development. Twitter as a Professional Development Tool

After all the possibilities of a professional Twitter account are mind blowing! Twitter connects us with other professionals from all around the globe, it informs us of the views of other like minded people on the current educational issues, it supplies us with a never ending list of educational resources to use in our classrooms and keeps us up to date with and involved in current educational research and debate.

However, I do have my concerns about Twitter. As I mentioned in my blog above, it can have its dark side. The reason I feel compelled to mention this again and to make my plea to my fellow tweeters is that I genuinely feel that those more reluctant, maybe cynical but still potential tweeters, and also the complete Twitter newbies are being turned off.

So what are they being turned off by? Several things but potentially the biggest turn offs are:

The Show Offs - you know the type, you may have some of them in your own staff rooms. They are the 'look at me I'm outstanding all of the time' people, or the 'everything in my garden is Rosie people', or the 'I am Alright Jacks'. They spout incessantly about how wonderful they are, which is fine, good for them I say but where it becomes a nuisance is when they cannot see beyond themselves or indeed acknowledge the people who are having a bad time. The realists, the teachers on the chalk-face know that it is not possible to be outstanding all of the time, but that new potential Twitterer doesn't. They are turned off immediately, after all they think who is going to want to hear about what they are doing when they are not outstanding? It would be more useful for the 'Show Offs' to share the ideas from their 'outstanding' lessons, acknowledge what hard work it was etc...

The 'In Crowd' - I thought I had left the in crowd behind in high school but sadly not, they are alive well and tweeting. They may be people who I don't actually know and have never met but what I do know about them is that they are 'too cool for school'. You know who they are because their messages are the ones that contain at least ten @mentions naming all of their crew. They don't actually say anything of any use in their tweets other than  'so great to catch up at the pub tonight' or  'anybody up for meeting this weekend?' They should maybe keep these type of tweets to DMs or emails. Nobody wants to join Twitter and be made to feel like an outsider!

The Secret Society - They are the people 'in the know', nudge, nudge, wink, wink. They Tweet using only secret coded messages that only they the 'in crowd' understand. They could tell us what they were tweeting about but they would have to kill us. They have meetings with Ofsted, the D.F.E and merely use twitter to send photos of themselves with Michael Wilshaw or even just on the train on the way to their 'top secret' meeting. What is worse is they actually think they are talking for 'us' the commoners, the plebs. What would be better would be to either keep it a secret and not tweet about it at all or ask the plebs what they would like discussed at these meetings, set up a poll etc. For a twitter newbie the secret society are again a complete turn off. They fear and dread the name Ofsted and would feel totally constrained about their tweets because 'big brother' may be listening.

The Obsequious Tweeter - You all know the type, the person who will do or say anything in order to climb that ladder. Their tweets tend to have lots of 'great to finally meet you in the flesh' or 'your cause was awesome, where can I get your book?' Now if you have been on a useful conference there is nothing wrong with giving the deliverer of said conference a mention after all it lets other tweeters know if it would be useful for their professional development too. Where it goes wrong though is when it is clearly just a way of showing off or blatantly 'boot lick' in order to gain something for themselves.This type of tweeter is again a big turn off. We meet people like this everyday and lets face it will do whatever we can to avoid them.

The Contentious, Pugnacious Tweeter - this is potentially the most dangerous type of 'professional' tweeter. I add the quotation marks because the way they behave is in my opinion far from professional. The whole reason for their existence on twittter seems to be contentious. They love an argument and will incite arguments and join in debates between others. They have a full arsenal of put downs which they use to tear to shreds anyone who dares to take the opposing opinion to theirs. If  their argument is waning they will bring in other fellow pugnacious tweeters and the assault continues. The barrage of 'intelligent' insults is shameful. When they are done and their victims have for the sake of decency relented they still continue until finally they retreat blocking, unfollowing and muting as they go, totally ungracious in what they see as victory. 

I know that the argument lots of people would give is that its a bit like watching a television programme you don't like, you can always turn it off. Or likewise you can block or 'unfollow' the irritating people with nothing to add to your Twitter experience, but it takes time to find your way around Twitter as a newbie and often they are put off before they even know how to unfollow or block. Also it is not just the newbie who suffers. The seasoned tweeter can also be put off and retreat. After all our jobs are stressful enough without having to contend with more unecccsary stress on twitter. 

The point is Twitter needs newbies whether they are in the form of experienced teachers new to social media or N.Q.Ts and students. They bring with them new ideas, experiences, views etc and that continues to fill up the twitter pool for us all. We also need the experienced professionals who have so much to offer to us all. 

So my plea to you is to keep Twitter professional, full of ideas, discussion and healthy debate and lets encourage those who bring nothing to the table but their own egos or agendas to be more considerate, polite and perhaps change their ways. Encourage your own staff, fellow educators onto to Twitter and lets keep that pool full to the top!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Do you teach like Yoda?

Just as people have individual learning styles, teachers have a preferred teaching style which works best for them, it is important however, to alter your teaching style to match the learning styles of your pupils. My own teaching styles changes depending on lots of different variables such as: the type of lesson, the dominance of boys or girls in the class, the time of year, the general mood of the class or indeed myself.

The teaching styles I use are often linked to characters from books or films I have watched:

This teaching style is most suited boy heavy classes of all ages as they know who Yoda is thanks to the Star Wars Movies or more recently, and for younger pupils, via the Lego movies. Yoda teaching is particularly useful when teaching children how to construct a sentence. I am sure we have all encountered those emerging writers who write their sentences the wrong way around just like Yoda. Giving them a few examples of Yoda sentences and telling them that as I and only I am allowed to talk like Yoda really seems to make sense to them. "Write sentences like Yoda you must not or wrong you will be."


It is also useful to teach like Yoda when you are encouraging pupils to 'have a go' and that it is actually OK to make mistakes. This is usually in maths lessons and often with the more able mathematicians who expect a page full of ticks and become really stressed if they know this isn't going to happen because you have actually set them some challenging work. "If no mistake you have made, losing you are. A different game you should play."

Mary Poppins

This is always a popular teaching style and probably one that the girl heavy class might like a bit more. They always love it when I tell them that just like Mary Poppins I too am "Practically perfect in every way." The Mary Poppins teaching style fits very nicely into those days when you want your pupils to let go a little and have some fun (whilst learning of course!) Particularly at the end of the term when you have the much dreaded assessment weeks. 

They might not necessary believe you but at least they approach their assessments with a smile on their faces.
Mary Poppins teaching is also useful for writing, who can fail to be motivated by some of Mary Poppins quotes. "Don't you know everybody's got a fairyland of their own?" and "Anything can happen if you let it" 

Mary Poppins wisdom is ALSO helpful for art and P.S.H.E, tidying up at the end of the day and even lining up to go for lunch or to assembly. For art "Enough is as good as a feast" or in my words, particularly when the glitter is out,  "Less is more." For P.S.H.E "Never judge things by their appearance ...... even carpetbags. I'm sure I never do." For tidying up at the end of a lesson or end of the day "In every job to be done their is an element of fun." and finally for lining up, the classic Mary Poppins saying "Spit Spot"

The Teaching Ninja

This style is enjoyed by both boys and girls and is really useful for keeping a potentially challenging class on their toes. "I am a Ninja!" "No you're not..." did you see that?" "See what?" "Exactly!" The Ninja teacher is all seeing, all knowing.

So what is your teaching style? Who do you teach like?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Why I love Active Learning

Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. Bonwell and Eison (1991) suggested learners work collaboratively, discuss materials while role-playing, debate, engage in case study or take part in cooperative learning.

We learn by doing. Research shows that active learning helps us to recall, enjoy and understand better. Active methods allow  us to ‘make our own meaning’ , that is, develop our own understanding of what we are learning. In my experience this type of learning routinely takes place in Early Years and KS1, throughout KS2 it  happens a lot less and has all but disappeared by KS3.

I recently blogged about pupils experiencing flow or becoming totally absorbed by what they are doing, this, especially for our younger pupils is often achieved during active learning, when they are playing or learning collaboratively.

Play is an essential part of KS1 learning it forms a big part of  Active learning. When children play they use lots of different skills, they  organise themselves into a selection of roles which requires negotiation skills. Once organised they use imaginative play, losing themselves in a shared imaginary world and then they use speaking and listening skills to communicate their ideas.

KS2 pupils are less likely to use imaginary play as part of their learning but this is where collaborative learning is at it's best. Pupils work together using a selection of Kagan structures to learn and discover together, working towards a common goal. Collaborative learning can be in ability or mixed groups but provides a supportive, non threatening way to learn.

KS3 and beyond play disappears and collaboration appears less and less. But Active Learning can be approached in a different way. One technique which supports this is via the Flipped Classroom. Pupils gather the information they need largely outside of class, by reading, watching recorded lectures, or listening to podcasts, when they are in class they solve problems with their teachers or peers, and apply what they learn to new contexts. Teaching by asking is suitable from KS2 onwards. Rather than ‘teaching by telling’, start the topic by asking students a question which leads to what you want to teach. This requires collaboration, research skills and discussion. It is very active, the pupils are leading and are in control of their own learning. Look here for more examples of Active Learning in KS3.

There has been much debate recently about less teacher talk, Active Learning supports this idea. Pupils are discovering the answers for themselves with the teacher acting as facilitator. This it seems is acceptable for older students yet play (Active Learning) is still somehow frowned upon. We, as teachers need to be brave to say that actually play is learning, it is valuable and like the techniques used with the older pupils will lead to deeper more meaningful learning. Read this article for setting the scene effectively for Active Learning in KS1.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Do we need a Teaching Revolution?

For the last 18 months to 2 years the general  mood in teaching has changed. Stress levels are high and you would be hard pushed to find anybody who feels wholly satisfied with the new Curriculum 2014.

Now I acknowledge that there have always been 'the moaners' in staff rooms across the country, the teachers who gripe and complain about anything 'new.' But this is different, these few 'moaners' have turned into a tide of dissatisfied teachers who are totally unhappy. 

The dissatisfaction is not confined to the reasons lots of teachers were striking for recently namely pay, pensions and conditions. It is far more complex than that. Or is it really complex or in fact quite simple? 

Teachers are bogged down with paperwork. They are overwhelmed by marking, setting targets, showing evidence of progress to the point of madness and the constant drive to raise standards, that actually quite simply do the opposite, is at the root of it all. 

Teaching is for 90% of teachers vocational, I know this sounds all namby pamby and happy clappy but it happens to be true. Teachers love teaching, they are passionate about it. They love the pupils in their class and would, and do do, anything to ensure they make progress, or they did...

Until along came the new Government and an education minister whose only credentials for the job are that he was once a child and went to school. Yet we are seeing our education system based upon his own very limited experiences of education. 

Since the initial advent of the vast changes, teachers, the professionals that they are, have 'sucked it up', 'given it a go.' But have bit by bit realised things are not getting better for the pupils in their class, in fact things have gradually got worse.  

The fun and joy of learning has been sucked out of their classrooms, they no longer have time to plan engaging and inspiring lessons. Teachers are stressed and this has a direct impact upon the pupils in their class. 

Why do we do it? Why do teachers 'suck it up?" I think it's partly the drive to do their best no matter what and partly because it has become 'divide and conquer.' Teachers are in fear of their jobs as a result of cutbacks, academies and 'restructuring'. This results in a culture of fear and basic instinct is to look after yourself, an 'I'm alright Jack' attitude.

Some teachers are beginning to say 'whatever', whats the point of getting stressed, just get on with it, do what they can and ignore the rest and I can understand this stance but it doesn't really address the issue. The pressures are still there and they will not go away with a culture of apathy.

The situation requires action! Striking is an option but doesn't work unless everybody gets involved via one union and only then with the reasons for the strikes being made clear. What we need I believe is a quiet revolution. All teachers united in quietly not complying with unrealistic demands, getting on with the job they know how to do best, teaching! Planning exciting and engaging lessons and not worrying about the things that they know do not result in the progress they too desire for their pupils. This again would only work with teachers agreeing, supporting each other, stopping going into their rooms and shutting the door and not allowing themselves to be divided. Uniting and fighting back! We owe it to our pupils!!!!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Experiencing Flow or being totally Absorbed in Learning

Absorbed (Dictionary definition)  - take up the attention of (someone); interest greatly.
"she sat in an armchair, absorbed in a book"

Flow also called "Optimal experience" is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
"the holistic experience that people feel when they act with total involvement" 
(Csikszentmihalyi 1975)

“… flow – the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” (Csikzentmihalyi, 1991)

The term flow refers to an optimal state of immersed concentration in which attention is centered, distractions are minimised, and the subject enjoys an autonomous interaction with the activity (Whalen, 1999). People in a state of flow report a disassociation with time, a lack of recognition of hunger or fatigue, and they report that their skills are well matched to the requirements of the task. 

Most teachers would agree that the pupil who is engaged in school is more likely to be academically successful In fact, research regarding student engagement has shown that increases in student engagement are correlated to increases in positive student learning outcomes. 

Absorption in reading is the experience of imaginatively participating in the world of a book. It is characterised by those moments when the reader becomes truly lost in a book, often looking up from the page and realising time has passed, unnoticed and unobserved.

Absorption allows for identification with characters. For an absorbed reader, the characters exist as if they are real people, dynamic and fully realised in the landscape of the story. An absorbed reader pieces together the nuances of individual characters their qualities, motives, passions and desires recognising both positive and negative aspects of himself or herself reflected on the page. Absorbed readers experience the successes and losses of characters as their own. Absorption and identification with characters are the basis of a lifelong love of reading. The repeated experience of absorption in great literature has a positive, formative influence in readers' lives.

Flow in writing is the experience of becoming 'lost' in the writing process. Characters and storyline created will become more meaningful. If you allow your pupils to keep writing for 
20 - 30 minutes without stopping, you give their mind a chance to turn off the conscious brain functions. This grants more brain power to challenge the boundaries of writing bility.They cannot edit while producing work. If they do, they will be constantly switching between right brain and left brain. The creative center will switch off and on and it will be harder to produce anything meaningful.  

The key characteristics of flow that directly impact student engagement and can inform classroom instructional practices are: 

A challenging activity that requires skills 

The idea of matching skills to challenge level such that pupils do not remain bored on the one hand, and do not get pushed into feeling anxiety on the other. Creating a challenging activity that requires skill increases pupil engagement by involving the pupil both cognitively and motivationally with the task. 

Concentration on the task at hand 

When a pupils skills are needed to cope with the challenges of a situation, their attention is completely absorbed by the activity. There is no excess energy left over to process any information but what the activity offers. All the attention is concentrated on the relevant stimulus. They become absorbed or experience 'flow'.  A bedrock of flow is feeling completely absorbed by an activity, and that often requires a state of deep concentration. This may be hard to facilitate in a classroom,but if it’s possible, your pupils will reap real rewards from working without interruption. Research by Kevin Rathunde of the University of Utah, conducted with Csikszentmihalyi, found that flow was higher in Montessori schools than in traditional schools because of the more flexible schedules of Montessori schools, students who are fully concentrating on a task are not interrupted as often.

Clear goals and feedback 

Pupils must have clear goals for their learning to be meaningful to them. Short-term goals that are supported by specific task-related goals. These short-term goals will help pupils achieve long-term goals which will vary hugely based upon their age. 

Regular and frequent feedback to pupils on their progress is an integral part of every learning environment. This does not just come in the form of marking but on verbal feedback too. Feedback should be as immediate as possible to improve its impact.

Build positive relationships

Education researcher David Shernoff, of Northern Illinois University, has shown that positive peer and teacher-student relationships increase flow. It can sometimes take more time to build these relationships, but some subtle strategies can go a long way, such as by communicating respectfully toward students and making clear that their input is valued. 

None of these things are new in education. Teachers have, for many years, marked work and given feedback, set goals and targets, tried to set challenging skills and build relationships. We have, I am sure all witnessed pupils absorbed in a book, watched children's writing flow from their pens or pencils, observed them absorbed in a role play, playing a computer game ...... 

I fear however that with the constraints of time, excessive marking, the relentless pursuit of 'outstanding', a packed curriculum, teachers having less say in what and how they teach that here will be less evidence of pupils being absorbed in their learning or experiencing 'flow'. 

We must all try to fight this tide! How I am not sure, but try I will, because I have experienced flow and have been absorbed in my learning and teaching many, many times. I also know that at those times I did lose track of time, I felt the learning experience was enriched and enhanced and I want my pupils now and in the future to experience that feeling.