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Sunday, 18 May 2014

How to Survive Teaching

In my opinion the education system in the UK is in crisis. Experienced teachers are leaving the profession, teacher training courses are undersubscribed and those who remain in education are 'dissatisfied.' In a recent survey conducted by the NASUWT there are many reasons given for this crisis, ranging from excessive workload, inspections and changes to the teacher pension. The survey goes on to say 65% of teachers had considered leaving their job over the past year whilst 54% considered leaving teaching completely. NASUWT Survey.

So if you are an experienced teacher, an NQT or indeed thinking of joining teaching what can you do to make sure you do not become one of the statistics above? 

Teach smarter - With the constant additions to teacher workload, the pressures of targets, lesson observations, inspections, marking, book monitoring and of course the changes to the curriculum it is all to easy to become 'bogged down.' So in order to survive you really have to be realistic. 

  • Do not try to reinvent the wheel, make friends with Hamilton Trust to give you a starting point for planning
  • Plan alongside another member of staff, maybe each taking responsibility for certain subjects
  • Adapt planning that you have used with your year group before
  • Don't overplan - daily planning does not to contain copious notes, remember the planning is for you and should be focussed upon the learning objective of the lesson
  • Ask for help with marking - a fully trained Teaching Assistant will be invaluable in helping you stay on top of marking
  • Remember not every piece of work needs to be marked deeply. Sometimes a tick or 'target met' stamp is enough
  • Mark alongside the pupil using verbal feedback - this is very effective and avoids writing down everything that you could just say directly to the pupil
  • Allow yourself real down time, time when you are not working or thinking about work. Maybe set yourself a 'going home time' target for every weeknight and where possible try not to take work home unless this genuinely works for you 

Prioritise - Try to remember that it is the teaching and learning that matter! If you allow yourself to focus on your pupils the results will come. 
  • Shift to doing the work that matters and delve deeper into the content of what you want your pupils to know and be able to do. Having that focus on the pupils work takes the learning to a different level.
  • Take the time to work with all of your pupils as individuals or within a groups at least once a week. 
  • Allow yourself to become immersed in the teaching and learning and not distracted by the things that are not as important

Keep your friends close - Friends and family are important and can provide a huge amount of support when you are feeling the pressure. But it is the friends in work who are able to give you the immediate support when you are feeling under pressure.

  • Go into the staff room during break and lunch. It is all to easy to say 'Oh i'm just too busy!' they are called break times for a reason. You need a break! 
  • The staff room can also be a place where you can go and have a moan, sound off about that pupil that is driving you crazy today or just to have an opportunity to laugh it all off
  • Have someone at work who you can confide in when things are really getting on top of you. Often they can really help to put things into perspective and can offer empathy because they are going through or have gone through something similar

Avoid the sappers - Whilst the staff room can invaluable, it does at times have to be approached with caution, especially when Miss, Mrs or Mr Sapper are about. We have all met them, the ones that just moan constantly about absolutely everything from the pupils and other members of staff to the mugs in the staffroom. These sappers really should be avoided at all costs as all they do is assist you into a very deep depression.

  • Identify the sappers in your own workplace as soon as possible
  • Avoid them at all costs, especially when you are feeling a bit low because they will make it a thousand times worse
  • If you get cornered by the sapper remember say nothing just smile sweetly and nod occasionally or you will soon find they think you agree with them and they will never leave you alone 

Be Adaptable - In the words of Charles Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” By its very nature education evolves and changes constantly, it is cyclical with initiatives coming and going and then coming again.

  • Keep up to date with educational changes. This is very easy with the help of twitter and other forms of social media which are used in a professional capacity.
  • Keep your skills and professional development up to date and be prepared to change and adapt to whatever national or local initiative that comes along

Laugh - Laughter really is the best medicine. Have you ever had that exhausted feeling after a good laugh? You know, the one where your side hurts, your eyes water, you can't catch your breath and your body's totally spent. It feels like you've just finished a two-hour session at the gym. Laughter and exercise may share more in common than you think, both can boost your health. You know about the infinite benefits of an active lifestyle, but did you know that laughter can support the immune system, improve blood pressure, stimulate the organs and reduce pain? So ....
  • Laugh with your friends in the staff room taking time to share those 'teaching moments' with each other
  • Laugh with your pupils, it really is nice for the pupils to see you as a little human at least. Provide them with the lots of fun learning opportunities and you will have fun too. Remember the class the laugh together, learn together!
  • Have a Friday song which you play every Friday and dance and sing together. It is always a great way to end the week.
Try to remember why you went into teaching in the first place. It really is, or can be, the best job in the world. Two days are never the same, you really can and do make a difference to people's lives and futures so try to make sure it is a positive one!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sats a necessary evil?

National Curriculum assessments known as Sats are used to assess the attainment of children attending maintained schools in England. They comprise a mixture of teacher-led and test-based assessment depending on the age of the pupils. The tests were introduced for 7-year-olds for the academic year ending July 1991, and for 11-year-olds in the academic year ending July 1995.

In England, data collected from the assessments at all three key stages are published nationally in performance tables produced by the Department of children, schools and families alongside data for secondary schools relating to performance at Key Stage 4

They were originally introduced as a way of recording each pupil's relative level of achievement but as time has passed it's become progressively more about comparing the performances of pupils, schools and LEAs.

On the face of it there's nothing wrong with this, indeed numbers can only be correctly considered within a context, however this has led to an explosion in the detail and trust placed in school league tables.

Teachers and pupils have arguably been made to feel overly stressed with the pressure forced upon them from schools eager to climb these league tables. School performances and league tables have then exerted enormous influence upon their respective peripheral housing markets with parents desperate to get their children in an "outstanding" school rather than one placed on "special measures".

KS2 SATs introduced the capability for the government to compare the relative performances of pupils, schools and LEAs over time. However, the significant changes to their structure does suggest that these comparisons could be quite questionable.

The primary purpose of SATs was to create a standardised, consistent assessment for all pupils regardless of who their teacher was and indeed where their school was. However, it’s arguable that their primary purpose has seemed to develop into feeding a school league table system, adding stress to pupils and unnecessary pressure onto teachers, detracting from their primary purpose in the classroom – to teach!

The KS2 sats for 2014 commence Monday 12th May. For lots of pupils this week is the culmination of lots and lots of revision taken place during year 6, their final primary school year, including going over past papers and attending after school booster classes. 

The problem is the Sats have become a 'huge deal' for all concerned. The pupils at KS2 are well aware of the significance of Sats and despite the best efforts of year 6 teachers the stress is tangible. 

I know that year 6 teachers around the country will be, or have already, planned lots of exciting 'post Sats' activities including day trips, residential trips and 'leavers' assemblies and discos. This doesn't though, really take away from the fact that year 6 pupils have lost two terms of their precious final primary school year which have been totally dominated by these end of primary school assessments. 

Is this necessary? I know some would argue that externally set and marked exams provide an invaluable mechanism for the academic success of the school in the "core subjects" to be measured, without the possibility of the results being either inflated or manipulated. It is also suggested that the public's right to know the relative success and achievements of the school to which they have entrusted the education of their child, is achieved effectively with benchmarking via league tables. The independence of the external papers arguably adds to public confidence in the validity of the reported information. The exams are also seen as a "tangible" result of the child's primary school career, thus providing a quantifiable outcome, enabling parents to conduct their own benchmarking, e.g. by comparing their child's results against expectations and against other children's results.

Another argument I have heard in favour of Sats is that it helps pupils prefer for the future of 'exams' which awaits them. This is I think a weaker argument because surely KS4 is enough time to prepare pupils for exams not KS2. Thats a bit like saying Year 2, infants (KS1) needs to be tougher to prepare the pupils for the challenges of the juniors (KS2.)

Perhaps the problem arises from the Sats results link to 'league tables,' with this comes the inevitable pressure from school SLTs and Governing bodies for pupils to 'perform.' I don't think there is a year 6 teacher 'worth their salt' who does not already know what levels their pupils are. They would have already have known each of their pupils 'levels' for the end of the year without all of the revision. However, these same teachers feel the pressure to try to get that level 3 pupil to level 4, or the level 4 pupil to level 5. Add into this pressure that level 5 is now the new level 4 and the 'able' pupils are now expected to achieve a level 6 and it is easy to see why SLTS, Governors and teachers feel stressed. Sadly so to do the year 6 pupils who are let us not forget are only 10-11 years old!

So what is the solution? Perhaps moderated teacher assessments which are separated from the political agendas of league performance tables? 

Over to you - are they a necessary evil or just plain evil? What are the alternatives? 

Monday, 5 May 2014

Should Psychology be included in Initial Teacher Training?

I am not a psychologist, but I am a teacher who works with young children. I have to consider their likes and dislikes, quirks, baggage, personalities and brains on a daily basis and therefore psychology forms a large part of my everyday professional life. It, I believe, is actually a HUGE part of my day to day teaching and impacts on everything I do in class all day, week, term and year. 

I am also pragmatic, a realist who deals with the here and now in a very practical way, I am therefore a Pragmatic Psychologist - All of my life I have been asking about the greater possibilities of life. I have never been satisfied with the answers I have been handed. What else is possible beyond that and beyond that, I would ask as a child and still do now? What more is there? What if there is a whole different world available for you? What would you really like to choose?

I am most definitely an amatuer Pragmatic Pyschologist self taught in the school of life when it comes to most things, which again demonstrates my pragmatic personality, and in my own very individual way Pragmatic Psychology is the questions where awareness begins. Asking questions unlocks awareness so you can see what is and so you can perceive a different possibility, allowing you to see a different way that you have not been able to see before.  So here is todays very pragmatic question - Should Psychology be included in Initial Teacher Training?

Psychology is both an applied and academic field that studies the human mind and behaviour. Whilst a large part of psychology is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applications for psychology. In addition to mental health, psychology can be applied to a variety of issues that impact health and daily life including performance enhancement, self-help, motivation, productivity, and of course education. Some of the areas of psychology which apply to education are:

Cognitive Psychology - the study of human thought processes and cognitions. Cognitive psychologists study topics such as attention, memory, perception, decision-making, problem-solving, and language.

Developmental Psychology - is an area that looks at human growth and development over the lifespan. Theories often focus on the development of cognitive abilities, morality, social functioning, identity, and other life areas.

Education Psychology - with the main focus helping children with emotional, social and academic issues.

Social Psychology - which is a discipline that uses scientific methods "to understand and explain how the thought, feeling and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings" Gordon Allport (1985).

So where is its relevance in the everyday classroom? Well as a Primary School teacher I can only really provide some of the answers within that setting but I suspect the answers would also apply within other educational setting too.

The things a teacher has to consider before the teaching even begins:

Organising the Learning Environment - This is not an easy task, one of the first things to consider is creating a positive ethos which considers, the emotional well-being of the learners, that is the relationships between the adults and children and children with children, the rights and responsibilities of everybody in the class, the relationships with the wider community including the parents, the systems for promoting good behaviour and regular attendance, the systems for combating bullying and the day to day classroom routines. Then there is the physical environment: The physical environment has an impact on learning. It can be supportive of both independent learning and group and peer work. The considerations include classroom layout, effective use of space and the equipment available as well as the organisation of the tables.

Pupils as individuals or Rosenthal's Pygmalion effect, Attention first came to the issue of teacher expectations in 1966, when Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson published the results of a powerful study later known as the Pygmalion Effect. According to Tauber (1998), the Pygmalion Effect asserts that "one's expectations about a person can eventually lead that person to behave and achieve in ways that confirm those expectations" As part of the study
 group of teachers were told that randomly selected students were about to experience an intellectual growth spurt. These student actually experienced a significant boost in performance because of the teacher's expectations. Adding to the argument that expectations by the teacher has a huge impact on the amount of learning that pupils performance.

The next consideration is Motivation, both on part of the pupils and the teacher - Motivation is literally the desire to do things. It's the difference between waking up early to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day. It's the crucial element in setting and attaining goals. I mention teacher and pupils because in the current educational climate teaching is not an easy career choice. NQTs coming into education face many challenges and will need to be truly motivated to be able to face them for themselves and their pupils. Pupils also face challenges, they are tested from the age of two and have huge expectations placed upon them throughout their formal education journey. Keeping them motivated is I think crucial.    

Teaching and facilitating Collaboration 'the action of working with someone to produce something', otherwise known as group work. If we expect children to learn how to become better at working in groups, it’s not enough simply to assign group work. We must teach them how to be better group members. The skills they need include listening to each other, being able to communicate effectively and problem solving  which are huge skills in themselves. for the teacher then it is not as simple as deciding on seating plans or deciding how many pupils will sit at each table but who will work the best together, should they be in single or mixed ability groups and do they have the skills to work together as a group?

As I have sat here and today and unpicked my thoughts in order to answer the question should psychology be included in initial teacher training?, for myself and for you, I have come to my own conclusion which is that psychology is a huge part of everyday teaching. It has a ripple effect it impacts on almost everything that we do and It therefore seems ludicrous that it wouldn't form a standard part of teacher training. 

What is your conclusion?

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Does Differentiation Limit Possibilities for success?

As an experienced primary school teacher I have heard the word differentiation constantly throughout my career in a variety of guises: Differentiated learning, Differentiation by outcome, Differentiation by expectation, Differentiated activities, Differentiated curriculum, Differentiated questioning ....... the list is endless!

All teachers expect all of their pupils to achieve and progress. However, that expectation is very often defined by the level the pupil brings from the last class or setting. I believe that differentiation and expectation are inextricably linked. If a pupil comes into a class with a low level, the expectation of that pupil is lower. Therefore when the teacher differentiates for that pupils they will be given the 'lower' task and a cycle begins which is often very difficult for the pupil to break free from. Lower level, lower expectation, lower differentiated task, lower level  ..............

Differentiation has always been part of my planning and daily teaching without me really thinking about it too much. I have, over the years thought about how differentiating can help but how it can also hinder but these have really just been brief thoughts which have not really led to much of a change in the way I teach. I think this is mainly due to the fact that differentiation has always been so deeply entrenched in education and  it is one of those words that has 'stuck' in terms of its relevance and indeed fashion in education.

There have however been two recent events which have brought it back to the forefront of my mind and have really made me consider the whole thorny issue of differentiation much more deeply.

The first event has been my grandson starting school. He is a very confident little boy with the adults he knows and trusts, he has a wide vocabulary and very well developed speech. He is a very physically active boy who loves to play outside but he is not interested in football or cycling. His interests lay much more with science, mini beasts, trees, plants and loves to play in the garden, on the beach, in the woods or the park. He has a wide circle of friends in school and is a very sociable boy with his peers but until recently he was painfully shy around adults he didn't know.

Sadly his shyness has had a huge impact upon his education. He attended preschool but due to his shyness was pretty much left to it, he played with his friends but did not interact with the adults. This resulted in lots of his early learning goals apparently not being achieved. My daughter, his Mummy is a first time Mum and did not really 'get on' to this at that stage. My grandson then went onto Foundations Stage 2 in a completely different setting as the school he attends did not have a preschool. For him this meant starting again with unfamiliar adults and subsequently he got on very well with his peers but did not interact with the adults, this was compounded for him, by having two teachers one for two and a half days and then the other for two and a half days. I'm sure you can guess whats next, he then went up to year 1 'behind' lots of his peers. One of his teachers reassured his Mummy that he would 'catch up' as he did not have 'special needs.' We are now into the last term of year 1 and his Mummy has been told he is a 'working towards' in maths, reading and writing!

As an experienced teacher it is very difficult to also be a parent and even worse to be a grandparent and going into school. You clearly have lots of knowledge but also know what it is like for the teacher to have those moaning parent/grandparents who come into to school. So, until this point, I had stayed 'out of it' and left my daughter to handle it herself, though obviously I have supported my grandson and daughter by assisting with reading, giving him extra tuition and encouragement at home. However, when it comes to the school I stayed out of it. Until parents evening at the end of the last term (his first of the year!) which I attended and until my daughter received that last report!

In his past parents evening his teachers main message was, he is very quiet with adults but getting more confident, he has a large friendship group and is confident with his peers, he is 'catching up' with reading and writing and had no problems with maths and he does not have special needs. Now obviously due to my experience I know he does not have any special needs. My assessment of him is that he is a reluctant writer (typical boy) he has struggled with reading but is now using his phonics really well, he blends etc. and he is good at maths. He also has lots and lots of support at home, well developed language and has had lots of experiences. None of these facts link up to a 'W' in Spring term year 1. So what do I attribute this low level of assessment? This is probably two fold: Firstly his shyness which has clearly, though not rightly been a barrier to his learning. Secondly, I believe he has been the victim of low expectation and has been set differentiated work of the lowest level within his setting.

The second event which has really made me reflect upon the whole issue of expectation and the subsequent differentiation is a video clip I came across on Twitter based upon the Pygmalion effect. See the video here.

Watching this video for me was an epiphany! I know I have been guilty at times of sub consciously limiting the progress of my pupils by putting them into groups, and whilst having expectations that they make progress I have then let that expectation be limited by my preconception of their ability. I have always extended the 'more able' and the 'middle' group but not always the 'lower ability' groups and that thought horrifies me. Whilst I am not happy with that revelation I think it is actually a positive one because as teachers we have to constantly reflect upon and refine our practice. Teaching is an ever evolving skill which changes constantly. Some of those changes are thrust upon us, some come about as a result of CPD, some as a result of experience and some as a result of our own reflections.

So how will this epiphany change my day to day practice? My first thought is vastly! I will, where avoid putting my pupils into 'ability' groups. Differentiation will exist but will be much more discrete, there will be a choice of activities to complete (increasing in difficulty) but the children will choose the activity that they would like to complete rather than me deciding for them. This 'choice' will be in
the form of a traffic lights system, some pupils will probably, initially choose the activity that is too easy but this is easily managed. Pupils will be placed in mixed ability groups and expectations of every pupil will be high. I will do my best to ensure that none of my pupils find themselves on a vicious cycle of low expectations. 

I will also try to encourage my grandsons teacher to watch ' the' video too!