Filed under: CPD, planning, teaching, web | Leave a Comment
Tags: blogs, Lesson plan, teaching, web
Others have written about the difficulties of lesson observation as a way to gauge teacher competence, such as David Didau who provided CPD at my current setting in September. These are my own thoughts and will be nowhere near as well referenced, but they are heartfelt.
What’s the point?
Are lesson observations intended to provide a stepping stone to progress (formative) or are they giving a judgement (summative)? If the latter, is it an internal judgement on the individual teacher (for interview purposes, progression or capability) or is it part of the school assessing the level of the team as a whole, in the same way as Ofsted use?
And that’s without any hint of what are probably the most powerful observations – peers learning from each other, swapping ideas and explaining reasoning – without any concern about implications. These are understandably difficult to separate from the other purposes when the observer, as is often the case, is senior to the observee.
Observing for learning
I really like the idea of ‘live’ observations where the observer plays an active part in the lesson. Not quite team teaching, this allows discussion and would hopefully be followed up over a coffee with suggestions. Informal but effective.
I also think it would make lesson observations much better if the observer was expected to model their suggested improvements for the observee with their own class. No better way than to lead by example, surely. @LeeDonaghy alerted me to the practice of ‘instructional rounds‘, which is linked to this kind of model. That’s my weekend reading sorted.
Observing for teaching
If a judgement is involved, how important is that judgement to the teacher and to the school? Evidence shows that if stakes are high, then individuals and institutions are prepared to make compromises. This may be considered acceptable – see below – but it should always be a conscious choice.
Should a teacher have to change the way they teach because they are being observed? I would say the implications of this depend on what change they are making and why.
Is an incompetent teacher making themselves look better by doing the things they know they should be doing anyway? If so, these are changes that should soon also be present in normal practice, possibly with support. Hopefully this is rarely a deliberate attempt to avoid making these changes permanent.
Is a competent teacher pulling out all the stops to ensure a positive result, making this one of the percentage of excellent lessons they are already delivering? This is more about timing, as none of us can – or, I would argue, should be expected to – be excellent every single lesson.
Is this a competent teacher having to change their lesson so that they are observed doing things the observer wants to see? This assumes that we can second guess the observer. Andrew Old made a great point (verbally, so I can’t link) that when we expect to be observed, we have to assume the worst about the observer. It’s hard to feel secure about Ofsted ‘wants’ when the political involvement in the process is so transparent, and SLT often interpret guidance in different ways. Mary Myatt blogs about what she, as an inspector, really thinks about lesson observations. Go and read.
Arguably the worst case scenario would be a teacher acting in a way that offers short term evidence of skills at the cost of long term learning by students. Are we justified doing something which is negative for kids if it gives us a positive result? This is particularly true when we consider the disruptive effect of trying to force pupils to show progress every 20 minutes, without fail, every lesson.
Of course I’m playing devil’s advocate here, perhaps being overly dramatic. There aren’t many things we could do in a short observation, as part of a showpiece lesson, that would truly have a long-term negative effect on our pupils. But it’s the same ethical dilemma that we face on a school level, isn’t it?
When do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one?
One of my many issues with performance related pay is that it makes us all subject to the same pressure. Many of us show, when we sacrifice other classes, marking or planning because of a coming observation that will affect our performance management, that we are prepared to put ourselves above our students. Would we do the same for exam results?
Will I play the game when it comes to lesson observations – and should I have done so already? Yes, probably. Would I do it if I believed it would really hurt my students’ learning? I hope not. Will I keep questioning why I make the choices I do?
Filed under: CPD, ed-research, teaching | 2 Comments
Tags: CPD, observations, Ofsted, teaching
I’m still not really sure why I got invited. But I was. I’m currently on a train home after spending a couple of hours in a discussion at the Department for Education, after a message from the @educationgovUK account.
The aim of the session was to get some viewpoints from classroom teachers on the new/proposed National Curriculum. Apparently later sessions will hopefully include primary teachers, but this was secondary with a dash of special education. It wasn’t totally clear how the seven of us had been selected, although I presume there were others who declined for whatever reason. I want to make the point that I’m reporting general thoughts, from my POV, so please don’t assume I’m accurately quoting anyone else. Please let me know if and how I need to make corrections or clarifications.
EDIT: post by cleverfiend now up.
It felt like a positive session overall, although of course the real test will be if any of our suggestions are acted on. In no particular order:
We felt that the biggest issue facing schools and classroom teachers was a lack of time. This applies not only to the time needed to produce innovative and interesting activities, on a day to day basis, but the time between the specification being finalised and starting to teach it. The meeting was jointly led by @trussliz and @jimm2011, who appreciated our insistence that schools need to pay close attention to what Ofsted and the exam boards say, more than the criteria.
The uncertainty – perhaps exacerbated by recent rapid changes to assessment rules – was linked by @hgaldinoshea and Janet (twitter link tk) to the number of schools opting for the iGCSE route. We were assured that the English and Maths specifications (for first teaching from 2015) would be published imminently. The others will follow, although no date was given. @mary_uyseg emphasised several times that for schools, assessment models would always be one of the first concerns, both to provide the best for their students and also because of results affecting the institution collectively and the staff individually.
The difficulty of getting information out to schools and teachers about national curriculum changes was discussed. The expectation is that all schools – whether formally linked or not – are expected to ask their local Teaching School for advice with new curricula and specifications. Their support may involved a fee but the DfE has provided funding for them to take on this role, which is less specific than the responsibility historically held by LAs. (Even I was not so insensitive as to suggest that maybe there are better ways to address communication weaknesses than by leading new policy ideas to the Daily Mail or Times.) It was suggested that making sure exam boards and Ofsted pass on details, perhaps simultaneously tweeting links which could be RTed via subject associations, would be worthwhile. I made the point that interest and participation from Department staff in twitter chats would be an easy way to show engagement, and apparently this will be happening starting with the next #sltchat.
(A personal aside; although it was suggested that Michael Gove take an overt interest in such things, I actually think it would be counterproductive. Not least because it would be harder for him to justify his errors (whether you consider them rare or frequent) to such a polarised audience. And the work of the misguided and cowardly @toryeducation tweeter doesn’t count as engagement.)
The balance between freedom to innovate and the time needed was raised. @oldandrewuk was not the only one to point that although the old QCA schemes of work were perhaps unnecessarily detailed, at least there was much less ambiguity. @cleverfiend used the example of levels – a whole different argument – to point out that schools would end up adopting any offered alternative simply to save valuable time. (If I had thought of it, I would have contrasted the different markets for off the peg and bespoke tailoring. Schools tend to offer uniforms in standard sizes because they work well enough in most cases. The benefit of individual fitted versions of the clothes don’t justify the cost in terms of work needed.)
It was suggested that subject associations would be in good positions to develop and share possible teaching routes once the exam specifications were available, including exam formats and timing. It was agreed that better links with primary are needed, and Liz Truss acknowledged that the new details will place demands on staff, especially areas like languages in primary. We suggested offering funding to subject groups like the ASE to improve their reach, at least during the transition.
Speaking of subject specialisms, it emerged that there are several expert discussion groups that are hosted at the department, made up of teachers and other educators. They are not paid for their time, receiving travel expenses while they address concerns like ITT provision during changing specifications. Readers may already be aware of the weakness of this model as demonstrated by the recent demise of the expert group looking at ICT/computing, (Link tk) an issue which was raised and received a very clear “No comment.” It wasn’t clear how these expert groups were set up and how they report outside the Department, let alone how they recruit.
I’m sure I’ve missed subtle points, and possibly major ones. Links to the national curriculum documents I reviewed ahead of time (found by me, nothing that’s not online) and twitter accounts will be sorted as soon as I’m a desktop, not tapping away on my tablet on a crowded train. Hope this makes some kind of sense in the mean time.
1 I’ve honestly no idea how my name came up. All of the teacher/blogger attendees made clear we had never claimed to speak for anyone except ourselves. I hope that for future events that @educationgovuk is able to sort out some kind of nominations system.
2 Yes I’ve met @oldandrewuk and he looks exactly like his twitter profile picture.
Filed under: assessment, CPD, political, teaching | 4 Comments
Do I turn over?
Do I write the questions out?
I don’t know this answer
But we haven’t learned about the lesser spotted wurble beast…
I think I spent more time in yesterday’s test getting up and down to answer these kinds of questions than I did marking. Like all of us teachers, time is at a premium so this was more than a little frustrating. I dealt with it in my usual way, by writing. Yes, slowly and painfully and no, my arm’s not better yet.
The questions, inane as they seem, are symptoms of a more general problem – one that arguably I’ve contributed to. They tell me that the kids don’t really get the point of a test. They don’t appreciate why they are doing it. They aren’t making a clear distinction between lessons, when questions are expected and encouraged, and tests which are intended to, well, test.
Are we taking too much for granted? Maybe I’m expecting too much of my students, not in terms of their content knowledge, but in their understanding of why we test them at all. So what can we do about it?
Well, I’m going to start with this particular test. I’ll leave one question unmarked, and we’ll go through the rest, modelling the process, before peer marking that one. This will lead to a discussion of lessons vs tests, both in terms of what we write down and what I can do to support them. I tend to find sporting or musical performance analogies help in these kinds of situations.
This will also reinforce the need for good questions *in* lessons, and notes that make sense even *after* a lesson. Hopefully it will be a chance to discuss how to improve answers depending on the purpose and context of the question.
Finally, I’m planning to have my students generate a FAQ list based on our summaries. By putting it in their own words I’ll provide a structure they can engage with, as well as setting up a format for future tests where I list common issues with a specific question or query. We’ll see how it goes.
Briefly: yes, I know I’ve not blogged much. I’ve also been quiet on twitter. Despite a minor fracture, I’m hoping to get back online now and I’m sorry for neglecting the electronic staffroom over the past few months of a new job, illness and general incompetence.
Filed under: teaching | 4 Comments
This is going to be a very quick post, end even when I’ve had a chance to process the day properly I’m sure it will be nowhere as analytical as my colleagues, some of whom also beat me to the keyboard. But it seems like a good idea to get this up on my site as soon as practical anyway.
What a great day.
If you made it, I probably didn’t speak to you – and I’m sorry. If you didn’t, then I’m afraid you missed a great day. But the videos will be up soon, loads of posts will no doubt be blogged and twitter won’t easily give up the #rED2013 hashtag. Which probably means we owe Taylor Swift fans an apology, but so it goes.
I shared my thoughts through the day, linking to the raw notes I was producing with Evernote. I tweeted the links as much as spotty WiFi and dying mobile batteries allowed. I’m linking the same notes – no added thoughts or reflection, no editing, no URLs – below. My plan is to post every day or so with tidied up, referenced and considered views on each of the sessions I was able to attend.
- Intro by Ben Goldacre
- Redesigning Schooling (two Toms)
- Dr Kevin Stannard: problems with ed research
- CUREE/Philippa Cordingley
- Chris Waugh – ed research from a class teacher POV
- Dr Jonathan Sharples
- Effect size debate
- Tom’s closing words
I had a great day, not only because of the excellent speakers (there were easily three times as many sessions I wanted to attend but couldn’t) but because of the audience. Even in passing it was great to meet fellow colleagues enthusiastic about developing our practice, and to put names to the avatars with whom I converse on twitter. Although I’m surprised I was the only person I saw who thought to put an avatar picture on my conference badge…
I have a few thoughts for the future and any possible ResearchED2014. These are not criticisms, just things I wondered about.
- How about a ‘speed-dating’ exercise, or simply a large room where teachers and academics can show up to meet? Perhaps have individual whiteboards by each desk, and let us write what we’re looking for or what we have to offer. “KS3 English classes, want to investigate SOLO for text analysis” or whatever.
- Host/start an electronic list where we can sign up with those same kinds of interests to find a mentor/partner.
- FAQ board – list questions at the start of the day, tagged for teachers/researchers, and anyone who wants can give their answers/thoughts
- Enough time for coffee! Admittedly I chose to forgo lunch in the interests of more sessions.
- A poster session where we can share successful projects with colleagues.
Last of all, it was clear during the day that some really big questions were being considered. I’ve long thought that CPD often has very different levels of application. I think it might be worth flagging sessions according to their interest for:
- Classroom teachers wanting to investigate methods to use directly with students eg Bloom’s, seating plans, group work.
- Senior management, heads of department, learning authority advisors (while we still have them) who want to make sure policies and whole-school tactics are informed by the best possible evidence eg uniform, length of lesson/school day, sets/mixed ability.
- Professional associations, government decision-makers, curriculum developers who need to set national, large scale strategies which can support us all in a broad way.
So more posts will be arriving, sooner or later. In the meantime, sorry for any typos, haste or lack of clarity int he notes linked above. Comments are, of course, as welcome as ever.
Filed under: CPD, ed-research, teaching | 1 Comment
Tags: Education, red2013, teaching
Some of my readers will already know I’ve been working, in fits and starts, on a second site to be used by students: Student Toolkit. This grew out of the resources I shared with my own pupils but is available to all, without cost or registration. The running costs of the site are covered, more or less, by being an Amazon affiliate although this doesn’t come close to repaying me for the time spent. But never mind. The reason I’m posting here is to flag up the site and share some display items you may find useful.
I plan to post about my own specific displays soon, as I check the files ready for the new term (in a new school!), but these are ready to go and I hope you find the signposted resources worth recommending. If you’ve a post to contribute or students who would like to be involved, please put them in touch via the site.
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As part of my application for #CSciTeach, I’ve had to put together a professional review. This is about demonstrating masters-level thinking in terms of actions, evidence and reflection. After putting it together I realised that the members of the board would be looking at a paper copy, so all my hotlinks would be, sadly, wasted.
So here it is, with links, in the vague hopes that
- The board might be able to find everything I was trying to point at in one place, and
- that the rest of you might find it vaguely interesting.
I have been teaching for the last nine years and in that time have taught across the ability and age ranges, from 11-18. Ofsted regard [my setting] as an Outstanding school with results well above the national average. I have no paid responsibility role but for the last three years have been the Radiation Protection Supervisor for the Science department. I have also worked closely with several of the student teachers we have hosted.
Professional Knowledge and Understanding
I read a variety of blogs and websites to keep up with discoveries and news in science; books let me look in depth at ideas which seem particularly relevant or interesting (most recently The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Packing for Mars). This has provided me with a range of material to use in lessons, from new applications to lively anecdotes. In particular I have developed my teaching of biology by reading about natural selection and genetics; this has allowed me to help students doing GCSE or A-level biology despite being a physicist by training. Some books get added to my ‘library’ shelf, a mixture of fiction and science books I loan out to students. Most come back and although the content is not always relevant to exams several have credited the challenge with helping their overall understanding and performance. I watch less TV but documentaries have been useful at times, despite the difficulty of saving parts or whole programmes to use in class; fortunately radio is often be easier to share, as I found with a recent Inside Health programme.
The same two approaches – websites and books – serve me well for developing my pedagogy. Of course as a member of the ASE I read SSR and EiS, as well as Science in School and the SCORE monthly email. It is difficult to keep up with educational research without paying a great deal for the privilege, but these are a good starting point. My reading on the use of testing as a method in itself for improving recall led me to introduce regular mini-tests for several of my classes; their KS3 test results have improved over this time. Participation in a trial of online CPD with the Science Learning Centres gave me the skills and confidence to improve the use of maths methods in science lessons. I have shared these ideas with colleagues within and beyond the science department; students now complete a workbook and refer to these examples when needed. My current focus is on the two complementary approaches for content and practical skills, the 5/7Es and Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) models. As I develop and update schemes of work – I am currently producing material for A2 Physics – I am using these principles to share concepts with colleagues.
I have found Twitter a valuable resource for both science and teaching information. This has involved sharing ideas with other science teachers informally and as part of the organised discussions #asechat and #SciTeachJC. Over the past year I have been engaging more with primary research by planning sessions for the Journal Club, defining questions and summarising afterwards. The most recent discussion has led me to think about how to more thoroughly assess the discrete teaching of skills for ‘doing science’ at an early stage. We already use this approach in my current setting but I am looking forward to developing this further in the future. The recent interest in evidence-based practice has been gratifying and I’m looking forward to attending ResearchED2013 this September.
National changes in exam specifications have given many opportunities to develop schemes of work within Science. As part of this I have had responsibility for several sections at Key Stages 4 and 5, as well as developing a new approach to the Space topic for Year 9. Practical and demonstration activities have been developed to better support students’ learning. I have been particularly keen on the use of the Predict Observe Explain cycle, which I am now developing into Predict Because Observe Describe Measure Explain. This has been effective in helping students completing the current controlled assessments.
This is one of many tools I have shared with students for effective investigative learning, including a display board which has been emulated in other labs. The focus of this is to enable students in their own learning, accurately describing their own level of achievement and recognising next steps for themselves. Checklists are useful for practical approaches and versions for exams allow them to plan their own revision, choosing from a range of explicitly taught methods. Students with more insight now recognise that this balance is important not just for their development in Science but in taking mature responsibility across all subjects.
Working to ensure radiation protection has resulted in two distinct roles; the surveys and purchases of equipment have encouraged me to check my own knowledge, and this has led to me producing both teaching and instruction materials for my colleagues. This ensures all GCSE students have the chance to see actual radiation demonstrations rather than simulations; colleagues who are not physics specialists now have a clear point of contact and so are more confident with this equipment.
I’ve spent the past two years trying out an electronic markbook; in the absence of a school-wide approach it’s been mainly individual trial and error. Next year’s will be significantly better and allow me to track pupils’ progress more closely against specific targets, using models from APP. I hope to combine this with classroom displays so that they find it easier to identify successful strategies for their individual strength and weaknesses. It has already made it easier for me to feedback to parents and complete reports, but I would like it to record and support more frequent formative assessment.
The positive response of my students last year to their involvement in I’m A Scientist was very encouraging. They were able to use their chat sessions to get a better idea of ‘hands-on’ research projects and apply the mindset, if not the details, to their own investigative work. 19 of the 32 students met their upper quartile GCSE target. It is hoped that this kind of project will continue to support our excellent numbers for AS level science in general and Physics in particular, following my action research project into progression of able students. We are currently expecting just over 40 students to start AS Physics in September.
As a teacher I aim for my students to Enjoy, Learn and Achieve; in fact this is how I start the school year. Most have told me that although they may not be as enthusiastic about science as I am (they used the word ‘geek’ for some reason) they do feel my lessons help them to see the relevance of the ideas to their lives.
I find that the freedom of my blog has allowed me to reflect more openly on the successes – and ‘learning experiences’ – in my lessons. My evolving CPD tracker allows me to identify specific points from both formal CPD and less structured activities. Comments and feedback from colleagues near and far, as well as the direct experience in the classroom, have allowed me to tweak activities for better learning. I have applied the same approach to educational research, aiming to apply it to classroom methods when relevant. Applying ideas on better demonstrations and enhanced use of practical work – I discovered Ian Abrahams’ work following a workshop with Alom Shaha and David Sang at the 2012 ASE conference – mean that my students give better descriptions and propose more detailed explanations than in the past.
Although I have not sought a leadership role in Science I am recognised as a colleague with a strong interest in the research base behind professional practice. I have led shared INSET days with colleagues across [my city], most recently on approaches to enthuse gifted and talented pupils. I have also attended and presented at teachmeets, reporting on one for the Guardian. I find these an excellent opportunity to share quick ideas with fellow teachers across the curriculum, and so give familiar topics a fresh edge.
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