Collecting Evidence

As promised – and much faster than usual – here’s a modified version of my own CPD tracker. The idea of this is for teachers to keep track of evidence towards the Core Standards during their training or NQT year. I think it might be useful for those doing GTP as well as the PGCE route I took, and presumably for other approaches such as TeachFirst. Obviously, this isn’t official or endorsed by anyone, but it seems to me that it would make filling in paperwork much easier even if you can’t submit it as primary evidence.

How To Set It Up

  1. You’ll need a Google account. You may wish to set yourself up a ‘professional’ account (Mr.J.Smith.Sci@Google.com or whatever), especially if your current address is, shall we say, informal.
  2. ‘Save a Copy’ of the spreadsheet I’ve done to your new Google Drive and consider renaming it. Make sure it’s set to Private, not Shared, to start with.
  3. Have a look at the data entry (‘Form’, then ‘Go to Live Form’) to see how the prompts match the columns.
  4. Edit the column headers (and linked GoogleForm) if necessary.
  5. Save a link to the form on your mobile devices and desktop.

All of this should only take you a few minutes. You can add data to your spreadsheet directly, which may be useful for catching up with previous pieces of evidence. I think it’s easiest to edit them on a desktop, but this can be done less often. My main aim was to produce something which can be easily updated ‘on the go’, potentially by a variety of people, and then demonstrate a continuing record of progress towards the Standards.

How To Use

After any event – a seminar, discussion, observation, taught lesson etc – which shows your progress against the Standards (listed on a separate sheet), fill in the GoogleForm from whatever device is easiest. The prompt questions are to help you organise your responses to the event, consider how they match up to the Standards and plan further actions. In theory, all assignments should contribute to something; don’t neglect less formal situations like staff room discussions, reading a teaching magazine or catching up with professional blogs.

When you review your spreadsheet, choose a couple of areas to develop further. These might be those where you have less evidence (as shown by the highlighted Standards), or those where you have identified problems or weaknesses. Advice from mentors or colleagues will help you decide what to do, whether it’s about planning observations of particular staff members, talking about practicals with the lab techs or reading a recommended text or article.

Try to ensure that at least some of the rows include a link or reference to further evidence. This could be to the full lesson observation form, or to the university assignment, for example. A couple of ring binders, ideally different colours, will let you match up paper with electronic records quickly and easily. In addition, you may choose to record details in a linked blog or in EverNote, which allows you to access longer notes from anywhere if you paste a note URL into the GoogleForm.

I suppose there’s no reason why you have to be the one to fill in the form. If you email the link (to the form, not the spreadsheet itself) to your mentor they could fill it in after lesson observations or joint planning sessions. You might also choose to share the spreadsheet (I would recommend read only access) with your mentor, ITT Coordinator or University tutor. Try to stay in the habit of spending a bit of time every few days adding your thoughts. It’s a habit that is easy to forget once teaching a full timetable!

I’d value any comments from early-career colleagues, ITT Coordinators, NQT mentors and anyone else with particular interests in this area. My aim was to streamline the record keeping; we all want to spend more time on gaining skills and less on paperwork, after all! Hopefully this will help make life easier for all of us.

 

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A Public Portfolio

Happy half-term to all my colleagues, near and far. Or if you’re back at work this week, I’ll try not to taunt you too much. But I’m off; reading lots of books, taking time over breakfast, playing with kids and kittens… oh, and blogging. About work.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Anyway. I’ve been playing around with this idea for a bit and decided there’s no good reason to wait. As of now, my recent CPD record is available to anyone who cares, via GoogleDocs. I will see about adding in previous CPD, including big courses and stuff, but the whole point of this approach is to make it quick and easy to add reflection to a continuing portfolio. I can’t see any disadvantage with making it public, and several advantages:

  • if you want to see what’s caught my attention and interest, professionally, you can
  • my contemporary notes are also accessible, where I’ve put in the links
  • if anyone wants to headhunt me, they can see what I’ve been up to and I don’t have to update a pretty CV
  • when I get around to putting in my CSciTeach application, I can email the URL instead of filling in a form. #kidding #maybe

A couple of health warnings:

  • the primary purpose of the record is for my own reference; I make no guarantee about spelling, readability etc.
  • most original rows get added via GoogleForm on my phone, so it will obviously change as I regularly go back, add links or further reflection
  • if I specify any individuals or classes, then the names will already have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent
  • anything I don’t want to fit into a GoogleForm will be blogged, as ever

I’d welcome readers’ thoughts about this; am I breaking new ground or opening myself up to a world of trouble?

PS – an NQT/PGCE/GTP version of this form and spreadsheet will be appearing in the next day or so. Right now I have dinner to cook, kittens to play with and presents to wrap. I must NOT get these instructions mixed up…

Expectations of CPD

Students – and so schools – clearly benefit from having well-trained, informed staff. The problem is not so much money as time. There has been a shift recently to offering training out of school time, partly because of ‘Rarely Cover’, and partly because of more general financial constraints. Fine – except that it’s still working time for teachers. An email I received this week really brought this home.

The ASE/SLC West Midlands Supporting Practical Work Conference looks really interesting; the keynote sounds intriguing and the workshops would be relevant to me and to my school. The cost is pretty reasonable; as an ASE member it would be £30. The travel costs would be less than £20 for me (not first class, I’m not George Osborne). I’m tempted to sign up.

But it’s at the weekend. My family consists of one wife, two kids, two chickens and two kittens. Losing a day at home was a consideration even before I noticed the last ‘selling point’.

There is an IMPACT award worth £150. This would be paid to my school, not to me. Why should they get paid for me giving up a day at the weekend with my family? I appreciate that it would cover travel and attendance cost – but that is already discounted because I (personally) pay to be a member of the ASE. Giving teachers time off ‘in lieu’ isn’t really practical. I strongly doubt they’d pay me supply rates for the day, or any other kind of ‘overtime’. So yet again, it comes down to the goodwill of the teachers concerned.

I want to be clear, this post is in no way a criticism of my school’s policy on CPD. My school is pretty good about external courses – obviously it’s easier when you can show it’s relevant to exams or specific needs. Understandably, twilight or weekend courses are preferred, as it saves disruption and travel costs. (Although if the Assistant Head really wants me to send a form every time I want to do any CPD, he’s going to get a lot of extra paperwork.) For example, there was no hesitation when I asked if the cost and travel to the Saturday of ASE 2012 could be covered. I didn’t ask about the two teachmeets I’ve attended in my own time – perhaps I should have done. Instead, it’s about wider expectations.

Who should have the responsibility for CPD? If we want to think of ourselves as professionals, then it must be done at a personal level, albeit with support from our school or workplace. Equally, a school must ensure a certain level of professional practice for all employees, and provide training for all, matched to local procedures or needs. I’m sure there are legal definitions of these, by the way – but I don’t know what they are offhand. Perhaps I should.

School-delivered CPD is rarely relevant or informative for everyone, but usually we all have to sit through it. How much of ‘INSET’ time is actually spent on useful training for us as individuals? Personally, I think I get far more out of my own, self-directed CPD. Perhaps my boss disagrees. I have no problem with an expectation that as professionals we should maintain our own professional knowledge. I can even see that we should be responsible for the cost of that, for example But I do object to our schools getting a practical or financial benefit out of use giving up half of our weekend.

I will soon be writing about my own CPD in detail, as well as linking to my reflections on it. In the meantime, I’d be very interested to hear people’s opinions and experience of paying for their own CPD, and how their extra time commitment is recognised in the workplace.

B1 Active Summary

A quick one, this – and, you’ll be glad to hear, totally nonpolitical. I’ve expanded my idea of a revision checklist to make it a revision booklet. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t do this. I’d give kids a stack of blank paper and make them write their own damn headings. Deciding what matters most, what order it should go in, which areas should be linked together and so on would be a great activity. In fact, I’d recommend using that – perhaps in the format ‘give me ten episodes for this series’ – as a starter before handing this out. Kids could write ideas on post-its then argue about the best combinations. In reality, if we don’t give them some kind of structure they’re probably doomed.

B1 active summary as .pdf

Anyway, this is scaled for A4 but in most cases should copy down okay to an A5 booklet, two double-sided A4 pages. You’ll have to ask nicely at Reprographics. I spent ages sorting out the sequence on A5, messing around with page numbers, only to be told they needed to reduce it from A4 anyway. Oh well. Learn from my mistake and ask first.

The first page is a recap – for my students at least, who are probably sick of hearing about MORSE code revision – of effective approaches to exam preparation. Six pages of headings matched to the B1 exam of the AQA Science A specification, which many year 10 and 11 students will be sitting in January and June. And the back page is a checklist for them to assess their star rating, from 1 to 5, for each section. I usually make them tell me the difference between confidence and competence before I let them write on that bit.

Oh, and I included page references to the CGP revision guide (Core Science, Higher Tier). it’s the one we use and recommend, but obviously there are others about.

I’ll be doing an equivalent to this for the P2 module in the same course; please let me know if you’ve any suggestions for improvements in style or approach. And if you use this, I would very much appreciate you commenting below; I’m working on my CSciTeach application and it would be nice to show that my blog gets read and used by distant colleagues (as those in my department use the resources, but don’t know who I am online…). If you want the original .docx file, ask in the comments and I’ll send it your way.

How I (Want To) Mark

After joining (read: barging in on) a Twitter discussion on marking between @HThompson1982 and others, I thought it might be worth blogging a little. I wanted to think through what marking should be, what it is, and how I personally try to bridge the gap between them. Basically, you see, blogging is my chance to reflect on what I’m doing, what’s working and what isn’t; that you people also read my wittering is just a bonus.

thanks to @mrgpg for making me aware of this stamp

What it should be

There are many purposes and many ways to mark, but in the end it should come down to just two reasons.

  • To help students get better at what they do.
  • To check that they’re actually doing what we expect of them.

I suppose you could add a third reason – because my HoD tells me to – which is fairly depressing, when you think about it. It’s more likely that department or school policy will influence how you mark, which is not always according to best practice. Like most of us, I don’t enjoy marking but try not to get too behind.

What it should do

A lot of research – familiar to anyone who’s read work by Black, Marzano, Hattie – has shown that students respond best to comments that don’t include a grade. I found the discussion in Alfie Kohn’s article The Case Against Grades particularly interesting. A grade distracts students from the comment – which is where the formative assessment lies.

This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t consider the level of a students’ work. It just means that giving that level at the time is counterproductive. That grade is only a snapshot anyway, of what students achieved on one task, perhaps with help, perhaps rushed over breakfast. What is much more useful is to give students an overall assessment, regularly, but emphasizing that this is an overview. I dislike the word holistic, but I gues that’s what I mean. Grades for individual pieces may be recorded, but should be detached from the comments.

The point of marking is almost always formative assessment. It should tell us how they’re doing, add to our overview of how the class is doing (and by implication, how well we have taught a particular aspect), and guide the next steps for student and teacher. far too often we note what is wrong with work, students skim it, then make exactly the same mistakes next time. Because there are no consequences.

Different settings have different rules on what we should look for while marking. You will have your own opinions on what matters most. In general, I would see five categories of mistake that will need some kind of feedback:

  • Content – where students show by their answers that they have failed to understand the science
  • Maths – equations, arithmetic, standard form, graphs…
  • Literacy – misplaced apostrophes are my personal obsession, but spelling can also be a never-ending task
  • Presentation – yes, it does matter, if students are to read their notes and learn/revise from them
  • Effort – missing, incomplete, rushed or plagiarised work may reflect misunderstanding, but is still a choice by the student

You may find it challenging when ‘expected practice’ in your setting is not the same as the best evidence-based practice around. Ideally, raising the evidence within your department or during INSET – perhaps offering to lead some CPD – might have a positive effect. Be wary of subverting accepted policies if you are not in a position of responsibility/power. Or start looking elsewhere.

Consequences

When work is marked in class, using ideas from the students and as a chance for students to see each other’s work and wording, part of the activity should always be to make it better. Too often, this doesn’t happen when we mark folders or books. Students should understand the expectation that they will learn from what we have written down. We should not have to repeat ourselves, any more than we would in class when telling them something. Feedback is the start of a conversation, where students show by word or action that they have taken on board what we suggest.

Ideally, we could identify the problem, perhaps provide a hint and let them figure out the remedy. This might be by reminding them of a page reference, formula or agreed layout (“working?” for example). We could refer them to a board display, or a checklist they (should) have to hand. Giving them a direct instruction may not be as effective, as it means they can be obedient without understanding why. This means there’s a higher chance of repeat offending. If we need to make the same comment the next time their work is marked, something hasn’t worked. If they make progress, then as well as getting better at our subject they’ve learned how to improve how they learn.

I try to include a time limit on actions; this may be implicit, for example by the next time work is marked. I’m experimenting with a feedback page at the back of folders, where students add a summary of what they need to do, change or remember based on my comments. The aim is for them to refer to this, a personal checklist of past errors, before attempting future work.

Making it easier

This is yet another one of those areas which work much better if there is a unified, consistent approach. Students need to know from you – and from your colleagues, in your department and others – will expect them to act on feedback. The progress they make, or fail to make, should result in appropriate consequences. How you work this is up to you, but notes home for positive progress – even a line in a HW diary – can have a huge impact. You wouldn’t make a kid wait until parents’ evening to pass on the bad stuff, so why fail to recognise the good promptly? Like most teachers, I need to be better at this. It all takes so much time, doesn’t it?

Save time by getting kids into good habits early. Give time in lessons for them to act on feedback, proofread work, transfer comments into reminders in a personal checklist, refer to a dictionary or borrow a ruler for that table. Make sure they know that the changes will help them, that they are not for the teacher’s benefit. There’s a lot going round at the moment about marginal gains, and this is a good example.

Comments that you need to write a lot – about graphs, perhaps, underlining titles, or praising good use of detail – can be printed on stickers (or stamped, see above) for speed. This saves longer comments being abbreviated when you’re rushing, or being completely illegible. Each time you mark work, write yourself a prompt in your planner to speak to a couple of kids, in detail, individually – different ones each time. Each half term this will give you a mini-tutorial with every child in the class.

Feedback

So, this is your chance to practise what you preach. Choose one aspect of your marking that could be better. Spend a few minutes figuring out a way to make it better – perhaps steal some ideas from a colleague, at your school or online. Ask if you can flick through someone else’s marked books for tips. Then focus on that every time you mark work for the next month. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments below!

This is what I’m doing at the moment; my October target was to improve my marking so that students got more out of what I did. I’m setting myself a different aspect of my work every month to improve, looking at evidence and tweaking what I do. Which, after all, is what formative assessment is all about…