Awards

I got nominated by somebody (thank you, whoever you are) for the #ukedchat Favourite Educational Blog award. Which is nice.

But

It’s all very well being nominated. And I don’t mean to sound grumpy, especially when someone else is doing all the hard work. But it’s difficult to see… well… what the point is.

I love getting feedback on my blog, via twitter or (even better) as actual comments. It’s like when kids leave the classroom arguing about the ideas they’ve just been studying; you’ve made a difference and there’s no better feeling. I’ve recently started asking readers to take a moment to add comments via a Google form so I can build up evidence of any impact I have beyond my classroom. (Thank you so much to those who have done so.) So applause/thanks/suggestions are all welcome. So is coffee. Or used fivers.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a nomination for something I’m never in a million years going to win doesn’t really make much difference. (And I should add, don’t deserve to win.) That’s the fault of how we see awards. Maybe we need to move on a little bit.

Popularity Contest Or Judged?

This award is a straight system: one email address, one vote. (I presume duplicate votes will be picked up anyway.) This means that popularity, or notoriety, will make as much a difference as quality. Putting a shortlist together, itself often based on popularity, has its own problems. Back in 2012 many of the originally nominated entries for the Education Blog Awards had every student or colleague in their school voting for them. That’s kind of missing the point. And if you’re getting people to judge it, who are they? How can you show that they’re both expert and unbiased?

Best at What?

What’s your favourite food? I like chocolate. And coffee. BBQ flavour doritos. Bacon sandwiches. Lemon mousse. Peanut butter biscotti. My own spaghetti bolognese (roasted peppers and a few spoonfuls or porridge oats make all the difference).

Like choosing a favourite book (impossible!) I’d find it hard to pick a favourite education blog. Categories would make it much easier; science teaching, teacher-led, class blog, education policy, sharing resources… how could I compare ideas from a colleague on practicals with reviews of political implications for teachers UK-wide?

There are loads of blogs on loads of possible topics. This means some excellent blogs will be missed because people can’t possibly have read them all, or in some cases have a meaningful opinion on them.

Formative, not Summative

What matters isn’t whether somebody likes what I write or share. What matters is the feedback I get on it. That helps me make it better. It picks up my typos, fixes broken links, gives better references or improved examples. And that means my students get a better education. If they listen, that is.

I don’t care whose blog is the ‘favourite’. I’m pretty sure it won’t be mine. But I do care about why people might choose to vote for me – and why they wouldn’t. I’ll always listen to criticism, and where possible respond. I might ignore the suggestions, but it’s my blog and my choice. But if I can do what I’m trying to do better, I’ll thank you and try to put it into place.

Constructive criticism and praise are the best ways to improve. Those are worthwhile. But a gold star is applause, not feedback. And is that award for a particular post? The last three? The response to comments? According to many views on performance management, I’m only as good as my last observed lesson. Does that mean my blog is only as good as my last post?

How about a project looking at what makes a blog worth reading, then people submitting their recommendations according to those categories? Votes only count if accompanied by comments, all of which are published afterwards. A list of the top five in each category, stripped of numbers of votes, practically writes its own article in the TES/Guardian.

Enlightened Altruism

Blogs aren’t in competition with each other. The whole point, as I see it – maybe you think differently – is to cooperate. When I write and you read, we both gain. And that’s true when you’re the writer and I’m the reader. So instead of voting for me – or as well as if you’re that committed – why not tell me, through a google form, how my blog has helped you.

 

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Feed Me Seymour!

I’m a bad person.

This is not because I tell off students (although I do). It’s not because I told my son that revolving doors are powered by mice (and when he doubted me, pointed out that they squeak). It’s not even because I’ve been known to write really depressing poetry (for therapeutic reasons, and usually unshared).

It’s because two days after it was made available, I haven’t managed to watch Demo: The Movie.

I will, really I will. But at work I still don’t have speakers, making watching anything on my desktop an exercise in frustration and lip-reading. And at home I’ve been busy cooking, washing up, child-rearing and taking a mostly-dead mouse back outside, much to the disgust of the cat. So it is as yet unwatched, despite my certainty that it will be interesting, funny and well-produced. With luck it will be watched by me over the next couple of days, so I can (a) blog about it over the weekend and (b)contribute to the forthcoming #asechat. So watch this space. I’m sorry, Alom.

In this context, it seems a little cheeky that I’m the one asking for feedback. But I wanted to post about my latest hare-brained scheme idea, as suggested in my previous item. I’ve set up a google form, but this time it’s not for me. Instead, I’d invite any and all readers of my blog – and, I suppose, twitter feed – to take a moment to record what I’ve done that has helped them.

feedback

I’ll be including a link in every (non-political) post from now on. My hope is that instead of paying me, you’d be happy to document an ongoing portfolio of my impact outside my own classroom and school. A crowd-sourced testimonial, if you will. You don’t have to leave your name, just a few words about how what I did made a difference. If you’ve blogged about it, I’d love for you to include a link. Tweets are transient, comments on the posts are hard to collect together, but this would really help.

Blog Feedback via Google Form

Of course, if this post inspires you to add your own evidence-gathering Google Form to your site, and you link back here, the internet will quite possibly explode in a frenzy of recursion. So be careful.

Payment by Feedback

It’s safe to say I’m not making money out of blogging. Not directly, anyway; it’s given me a chance to polish my writing, which has meant a few freelance opportunities, and I’ve been involved with resources and reviews. But if I was daft enough to compare the time spent with the financial outcome, it would be even worse than my hourly rate teaching. Which is depressing.
Fortunately, I do it for other reasons. I blog (and tweet) to get my own ideas straight. I share resources to help out colleagues, and because their comments help me make the resources better, or use them more effectively. It means I can complain or moan ‘virtually’ and avoid making the staffroom even more depressing and negative than it is already. Despite my black dog, I aim to make sure my posts are fairly positive, and the responses often make me feel better because I’ve helped someone else out. Selfish altruism, as it were.
I know there’s a lot of discussion about putting teaching content online and how it can be profitable – in terms of money, rather than reputation. Some teacher/bloggers have written books. (Maybe some day.) Some become consultants or providers of CPD (Probably not). There are already some ways to get paid for your resources, summarised in this recent post by @teachertoolkit.
I have issues with letting someone else make money from my work. Some websites charge for access, while others eg TES sell advertising based on how many people come to download the resources. I find it interesting that, for example, Guardian Education now have bloggers who don’t get paid but provide content that goes alongside that of their journalists. In my view this is unpaid freelancing and it’s a con. But that’s my view and YMMV. (I wonder how the journalists feel about being replaced by unpaid amateur writers, too…)
I’m not expecting to get paid. If you want to help out, then follow one of my Amazon links next time you shop, which means I get a teeny percentage. Last year this about balanced the cost of my domain fees for my other, slightly dormant site, studenttoolkit.co.uk. I suggested to Has Bean Coffee that it would be great if I could put a button on my site which would let people apply a nominal contribution, perhaps via PayPal, to help me with my coffee habit. They’re looking into it, which is quite cool. Ed Yong used to have a PayPal tips jar on his excellent blog. Charles Stross explains why he doesn’t have a tips jar and what you should do instead; Cory Doctorow has a similar viewpoint. If you really feel that I’ve helped you more than versa vice, then help the BHA give copies of a good book to UK school kids.
But what I really want is feedback.
“Feedback keeps me at my keyboard and off the streets. Trust me, you want that.”
.sig file from my fanfic days
Tell me on Twitter and comment on the original posts. Share your links. Tell me what was good. Tell me what sucked. I hope it doesn’t need to be said that I will never edit comments to change opinions (I reserve the right to correct spelling, because I’m me), nor remove your comment because of your opinions (unless you’re choosing not to listen, eg chiropractors).
These comments not only help me improve my practice (I used ‘reason’ rather than ‘because’ to make PRODME’ after a comment on my last post) but help me show that what I’m doing is helping colleagues. But I’d like to make it more formal.
Over the next few days, I’m going to put together a google form for feedback. I’ll include the link on each teaching post and prominently on my pages. This will let me build up a list of anyone who has found a resource useful, either with colleagues  or students. There will be the option to paste a link to your own post about it, if relevant.
This will take minutes, if that. It won’t cost you any money. And it will include all the evidence I could ever need about the impact I hopefully have outside my own school. If I’m going to use my blog as evidence of my teaching and a record of my CPD (which needs updating), then I might as well get my readers to build me a list of ‘as used in x school’ testimonials.
Thoughts?

Too Much Applause?

A very quick one, because I’ve got marking looming as usual. I read an interesting post on Lifehacker about seeking feedback rather than applause. It reflected something we discussed at a recent department meeting, that we need to ensure that to help all students progress, we need to be specific with praise as well as constructive with criticism. I think we all know about giving students specific and measurable targets to improve when marking books; Underline all titles rather than Keep work neater for example.

But we need to do the same when we praise students too. We need to tell them why we thought that a piece of work was excellent, so they know to look back at it for guidance when they struggle with a related task or concept. Otherwise it’s just clapping. Applause is nice – but feedback is better.

My browser is refusing to let me add the link so I’ll just have to paste it: http://lifehacker.com/distinguish-between-feedback-and-applause-to-get-more-u-1500218034