Monthly Archives: December 2013

Primary Tweeters to follow in 2014

I’ve watched the #nurture1314 hashtag go from strength to strength, but it’s not really my sort of thing. However, as my end-of-year-review, I’m finally getting round to following up on @Samfr‘s excellent post on 75 education people you should follow. It was quickly noted when it was published back in early November that there were very few (if any) primary tweeters listed. That wasn’t because of some bias of Sam’s but rather because of the differences between his interests and those of most primary tweeters. I strongly recommend Sam’s list as a starting point for anyone new to Twitter in education.

I’m not going to attempt anything like a list of 75*, and just like Sam’s list, mine will be wholly subjective based on what has interested me during 2013. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, more primary teachers who also use Twitter, but these are the people who have sparked my interest over the last year and whom I recommend to you for 2014 if you’re not already following them. Many also have excellent blogs well worth looking out for. Of course, you should also be following me!

*I had to stop myself at 25, mind!

Primary Blogger – an account set up not long after my plea for more primary bloggers. It re-blogs and then tweets blogs which are primary-linked, and so is an excellent starting point.

Prawnseye – a new twitter account promoting things of interest to primary – may be one to watch in 2014?

Senior Leaders

Alison Peacock – newly damed (who knew that was a word?), headteacher of Wroxham Teaching School (Also tweets as network leader for Cambridge Primary Review @CPRnet)

The Primary Head – a primary head in Bristol, with a great sense of humour as seen in his blog.

Old Primary Head – another Bristol Head – something of a double-act with The Primary Head!

Chris Andrew – a primary deputy who has also begun to tackle Ofsted from the inside!

Bekblayton – another London-based deputy, and creator of Digital Classrooms

Stephen Lockyer – deputy in South East, proud proponent of #goprimary hashtag!

Tracey Griffiths – primary deputy and ‘Future Leader’ from London

Phil Allman – Junior School Head, not afraid of sharing his views.

Betsy Salt & Manwithadog – another pair of primary headteachers in Bristol (what’s with them down there?)

Classroom Teachers

Claire Lotriet – Y6 teacher in London, with plenty of good ideas to share.

Miss Horsfall – brilliantly self-described as “Year 3 wrangler-in-chief”, also in London

Miss Smith – Another London teacher, not afraid to have her say.

Emma Hardy – Infant teacher (god bless ’em all!) and Labour activist, as well as co-organiser of Northern Rocks

Mr Chadwick – Y6 teacher & maths leader in the Westcountry.

Jo Payne – Y4 teacher, organiser of Teachmeet Sussex, and avid Pinterest user.

Amy Harvey – Y6 teacher and curriculum leader

Classroom Truths – soon quick to put me in my place following my call for primary blogs, but adding plenty to the debate too.

The Erasmus Collective – not as odd as the title suggests: infant teacher and mum in East Anglia.

Nancy Gedge – writes particularly on matters affecting SEN

Cherryl KD – another SEN expert who teaches across phases (and who has recently kindly added a hyphen for clarity)

Others with Primary involvement
I should say that many of these are also classroom practitioners either by training, experience, or on-going classroom work, but are perhaps more primarily involved now in other linked fields.

Tim Taylor – Creator of Imaginative Inquiry, teacher, and writer.

Sue Cowley – famed for her teaching books, with a particular interest in Early Years.

Andy Jolley – primary governor, with a close eye on the impending free meals for infants fiasco!

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5 nonsense sayings/analogies about education

1. The Spiral Curriculum

tangledslinkyThis is a favourite, particularly in mathematics, and comes from a very sensible starting point. I prefer the idea of building a wall or a house. It makes sense that you need to secure one layer of bricks around the whole building before trying to build too high. The problem with the spiral idea is that it’s led to the nonsense of whistle-stop tours of subjects, and no-one worrying about securing knowledge because “we’ll come back to it next term”. The spiral is too tight and doesn’t actually achieve any height… just lots of circling.

The spiral has become a slinky. And a tangled one at that.

kindling2. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. (supposedly by WB Yeats, but no source I can trace)

I can see what he was getting at here, but as is so often the case, it’s too easy to misconstrue.

However, some good advice about starting a fire is to get a good collection of kindling and firewood in place, which will need to be gathered, organised and delivered to the fireplace. A pail would be a good container to collect this stuff in. Frankly, it’s a pretty good place to light a fire, once full, too.

3. Teaching a fish to climb a tree, etc. (again, supposedly by Einstein, but never with any actual source)

Another one that seems fine to start with. Except for a few things: some fish can climb trees; if tree-climbing were a useful skill in the world of fish, you can damn sure more would evolve to; we’re not fish. That last one is particularly important.

Actually, if what this analogy is suggesting that only some students can achieve whatever the metaphorical tree-climbing represents, then surely the matter at hand is not whether more students can achieve it, but whether it’s valuable to. If it is, then as teachers shouldn’t we be providing every possible tree-climbing class going?

4. You understand 90% of what you do, but only 10% of what you read (and similar made-up figures).

coneI have never changed tides, developed a flying machine, fought in the Battle of the Somme, carved out an oxbow lake, cooked a Baked Alaska, voted in the House of Commons, spread Bubonic plague across a quarter of the globe…

Need I go on?

5. Teachers should be a “Guide on the Side” rather than the “Sage on the Stage”.

I’m not sure what the intended implication of this is, although it is clearly connected to number 4. I try to imagine it in the context of that other widely-understood teaching role: the driving instructor.

Tutee: I don’t really know how to get it to go forward…
Instructor: Well, what do you think you could try next?
Tutee: Do these pedals do something?
Instructor: Perhaps you could do an experiment to find out?
Tutee (after much exploration): well… one makes a lot of noise. The other two don’t seem to do anything…
Instructor: Well, your target now is to try to include a greater number of factors in your testing.

There’s a reason why “coaches” take experts and develop them, but novices are “taught”. I suspect that an instructor who insisted on acting as a Guide on the side, might soon be out of work.

I feel as though there are probably many more of these. Comments with other examples welcomed.

Christmas Music Quiz

Christmas MusicPure frivolity in the form of a hastily put-together Christmas Music quiz, but after an hour or so spent twiddling with Audacity, I figured I might as well share it.

It’s just 20 short clips from Christmas songs which require teams to either guess the next line, or in the case of a few questions in the middle, to guess the title from the intro. Answer clips are provided that reveal the next lines, etc.

Nothing fancy, but good enough for an afternoon’s fun in KS2!

Access here via Google Drive. (Zipped file, 12MB)

Primary Assessment: It’s complicated

Assessment is complicated. It is always going to be complicated, and we were foolish if ever we thought that it could be simplified to a 1-10 rising scale. Or if we think it can be solved by a private organisation producing a glossy folder (which they inevitably will at some cost!)

As I’ve covered previously, half of the issues with our current assessment system come from the over-use of National Curriculum levels. Whenever I go back to look at the 1999 NC levels it seems quite clear to me that they’re adequate (if, admittedly, not brilliant) for what they were originally intended: to differentiate broad bands of achievement after several years of study. The problems arose when we began – quite rightly – to look for more subtle and nuanced approaches (if nuance is a word we can use to describe the level of subtlety below broad-strokes-after-4-years!)

I have gone on record saying that I didn’t think that levels were all that bad. Let me also go on record to say that I think APP was a disaster. But one with the best of intentions I’m sure. Actually, I found that familiarising myself with the criteria for Reading actually improved my teaching, but highlighting the wretched forms probably undid half of that by taking up so much of my time. The intention got lost among the administration, as is so often the way.

So what solution?

Most of us seem quite happy now with the notion that planning and assessment should be linked. And most of us are familiar with the structure of long-, medium- and short-term planning. And yet, we seemed not to have married these two notions quite as well as I think we need to.

Whole School Overview

Most schools will have – in some form or another – a curriculum map which outlines the content of the curriculum in the broadest of strokes (If you haven’t, I shamelessly recommend my new curriculum jigsaws). It gives an outline of expectations that helps everyone to know where they fit in the big picture. It’s also likely to be largely based on the National Curriculum for the relevant Key Stage. This is also where the old NC levels came in. They looked at the broad strokes in very little detail, but gave everyone an idea of where they were going.

Naturally the new end-of-key-stage assessments (when they come) will form part of this, and in a way this will require some form of tracking en route. Sadly, until we know a little more detail of what will be assessed and how, schools are going to struggle to be clear about this level. Time will tell. But that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done in the meantime to make assessment useful in schools.

Long-term

As a Year Leader, I have a responsibility for the curriculum I provide for the students in my year group. That means I need to have some idea of where I want them to be by the end of the year. In the past for many of us the answer to that would have been “2 sub-levels higher than they were last year!” Not a helpful direction.

Rather, I’d like to have an idea of what I’d want from, say, a Year 5 child who is on track to achieve well in the future. This is a discussion to be had in my team, in my locality, and more widely. It can be guided by the new NC content, and in my opinion needs to be distilled to some key outcomes. @emmaannhardy reminded me of the Key Objectives  from the old numeracy strategy which I considered to be ‘not unreasonable’. If we can agree – at whatever level is appropriate – what we want from our children by the end of each year, then we can have a meaningful tool with which to review progress and share our understanding of it with students and parents. True, some students will fall short of these, and some will exceed: teachers can make adjustments locally to suit needs as they always have. But we shouldn’t shy away from saying that we expect to be able to teach the vast majority of students to reach an expected threshold. The task of outlining those key thresholds may seem initially easier for maths (and it probably is), but frankly if we can’t break down the requirements of English to make them meaningful, then what hope have our students?

It is this “long-term” view that I think ought to lead our discussions at school- and wider levels. Leadership teams should be interested in how year teams are working towards those key objectives; parents should see progress towards them marked at parents evenings and in reports; locality groups could use them for the basis of moderation and shared discussions. But, of course, this too is not clear enough for the students we teach to know how to make clear progress.

Medium Term

I’m going off “topics” as the building block of the curriculum. In some circumstances the ‘topic’ can be the driver rather than the vehicle for learning, and where that is the case, we need to move away from it. But when it comes to medium-term planning, our assessment intentions should guide us. In my ‘brave new world’ of assessment, just as we plan units of work to fit into our “big picture”, so should we plan our intentions and assessments. That’s not to say “teach to the test”, but rather to design the ‘test’ to test what we intend to teach; and then teach it!

I have written previously about how I intend to use a mastery approach for more than just maths teaching this year. I know what outcomes I want over the year, so why not be explicit about that in my planning and teaching? If we can agree – at whatever level – on the key outcomes for our year groups, then equally we can share this focus with children. And importantly, we can begin to break down the steps for them. If, for example, my key objective for a half-term is to use varied sentence lengths, then during a scheme of work I need to find opportunities to make that an explicit objective linked to different purposes, genres and uses. I should be able to see progress within that period towards the over-arching outcome, with some small steps en route. Perhaps students become familiar with use of shorter sentences for some effects, but are less able to develop longer ones? That can inform my short-term planning on the way to achieving the medium-term objectives.

This medium-term assessment is what I think ought to guide target-setting at the child level. If, as in the case above, a child is less secure with longer sentences, then a suitable target can be devised within the period that allows them to make progress in that area, while it is still being covered in the curriculum. (That should get us around the nonsense of children being given targets at the end of a unit on shape & space, when they won’t come to that content again for another 3 months!)

Short Term

Just as written daily lesson plans should be the exception rather than the rule, so daily assessment recording should be purposeful and informal, rather than directed and centrally recorded. Any good teacher will use his/her assessments in lessons, and from written work, to help guide future teaching. In the framework of clear medium- and long-term objectives, that becomes clearer. During a half-term’s teaching, the assessment of work can focus more closely on those aspects explicitly being taught and assessed. Of course, the other aspects will be covered, but Rome was not built in a day! We can build a coherent network of aims for students that clearly shows them what we’re aiming for over the year, over the half-term, and then explicitly for them in the coming lessons to help them to reach those longer-term goals.

This period should be led by the teacher, and focus mainly on the relationship between teacher and students. Much of the feedback in the short-term will not be explicit to the child, but clear to the teacher in a way that allows him/her to adapt planning and teaching to the needs of the students in the room.

Cohesion

Hopefully, if we can get these various strands of assessment right, then we can avoid the unwieldy paperwork of APP, the vagueness of National Curriculum levels, the nonsense of arbitrary sub-levels, and some of the worst vagaries of differentiation. But it needs a coherent approach at the school level. Each school must be clear about how it intends to make the progress towards the short-, medium- and long-term goals, and must be able to clearly demonstrate that it monitors that progress.

Of course, inevitably, Ofsted and others will expect to see some data-driven measures about progress towards whatever outcomes are determined to be expected at the end of the key stage, but within that framework it should be for schools and professionals to decide the way forward. This is, after all, what Mr Gove keeps telling us should be happening. I say we take him at his word and make assessment work for us and our students, and let tracking do what it says, rather than driving everything else.