Monthly Archives: May 2014

Primary Assessment conference: what did we learn?

This week I gathered at an Optimus Education conference in London along with over 400 primary teachers and leaders to consider just how we move forward with life after levels. So what did we all learn?

Firstly, let me confess that I think it’s a sign of how things are, that I was a keynote speaker. The reality out there is that schools have so much change to manage at the moment – from the new curriculum and SEN code of practice, to infant school meals and sports funding – that few can devote the quality time needed to devise and create an assessment system to replace levels. That means up and down the country school leaders are looking for guidance and inspiration. Significantly, that guidance is not coming from the DfE, and so it is often down to individual schools and leaders to share what knowledge they have. Thus it is that I have found myself in a situation of being more knowledgeable than average.

Conference began with a welcome and summary from Mick Walker – formerly of the QCDA – followed by Annabel Burns from the department. Ms Burns did an admirable job of delivering the departmental message of freedoms for schools, summarising the landscape in which we found ourselves and the apparent rationale behind it. She also kindly clarified for colleagues that the new accountability framework will require schools to meet either the new attainment floor standard (85%+ at the ‘expected standard’) or the new progress standard to avoid the perils that accompany falling “below the minimum standard”. It has since crossed my mind that we still don’t really know how progress will be measured during the transition years (essentially 2016 to 2023) while we wait for the new reception baseline victims students to work their way through the system… but that was only one of many questions that seemingly remains unanswered (unanswerable?) about this brave new world.

After I’d spoken about the pitfalls and opportunities ahead, the floor was opened to questions; understandably, most of these were directed at the expert from the department. The result was some clarification (checked against the public document released in March) about which subjects would be subject to teacher assessment, and some further confusion about how this would be done. Ms Burns explained that there would be “several” performance descriptors for KS2 Writing, for example, but appeared to imply that teacher assessment for other areas didn’t need them because there would be test scores for teachers to use (perhaps indicating the department’s view of the value of teacher assessment). She then clarified that in fact there would be single descriptors for Reading, Maths and Science creating a binary choice for teacher assessment of these subjects: either a student has met the expected standard… or they haven’t. No room for nuance here: that is apparently to be provided by the new “precise” scaled scores.

But enough of the DfE’s role. I presume that they draw straws to attend such events and then after the event head back to try to iron out the latest issues that schools have identified. The real strength of this event was to be the sharing of good work already begun in schools.

I was glad to be able to attend a presentation by the headteacher and assessment coordinator of Hiltingbury Junior School, who have been awarded one of the DfE’s Assessment Innovation Fund grants. Their school has been working on a model of assessment ladders showing objectives for core subjects. Creating simple booklets of the ladders they have begun to share assessment directly with children throughout their school and were sharing that model in their locality. The ladders certainly looked purposeful, and seemed to broadly meet the 7 Questions I’d previously set out – or will do as the full system is rolled out. Schools would be able to adapt the model themselves hopefully, with materials being made available free through the TES website due course. Certainly something worth looking at, and it was a great opportunity to see these in advance. My only question is one I frequently have about assessment in primary schools: why the widespread obsession with ticking things off exactly three times?

Later, having spoken again myself about approaches I’d taken to assessment, it was a chance to hear Bruce Waeland (@htbruce) about parental engagement in his school. He was honest enough to state that his school had not yet begun to implement a new assessment model, but it was clear that he had plans for keeping parents on board when he did.

Inevitably, the nature of workshop choices at conferences means that I missed some things I’d have liked to have seen. Andrew Carter of South Farnham school in Surrey presented his school’s model, and I’m hoping to what Dame Reena Keeble has to say about the model used at Cannon Lane in Harrow when the conference is repeated in Birmingham next month. It certainly seems that school-to-school partnership is the ideal path of travel, since the DfE clearly intends to offer little outside the accountability framework. Perhaps events such as this will become more common as schools take the lead?


Optimus Education Conference: Effective Primary Assessment after Levels

The Optimus Education conference will be repeated in Birmingham on Wednesday 18th June. For details of the day, see the link here. Readers of this blog who wish to attend the conference can obtain a 20% discount by booking with promotional code: MTIDD

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Primary Curriculum Jigsaws – editable template

templateSeveral people have asked me for these, and I’ve finally managed to get around to a serviceable version that I can share.

The original jigsaws were to highlight key strands of the curriculum in each year group, and gave a brief overview of content. However, understandably many schools now want to adapt that model to match their own curriculum, or to use the same approach for sharing curriculum structures with parents.

I’ve therefore put together a single-page blank version of the original jigsaws. This is slightly easier to manage than the original version of the whole document and so easier to share. I have placed text placeholders where the main body text goes so that schools can simply use the template to create their own model, or copy and paste text from the original PDF files as they wish.

I would be grateful if schools who use the template – particularly if they’re likely to share it – keep the footer on the page to reference the source, or at the very least keep the link somewhere on their document. Other than that, I am not precious about its use – although I always love to see and hear about what schools have done with my resources, so please do let me know (@michaelt1979)

Download the document from here:

Curriculum Overview template

10 tips for getting started with Edmodo in a primary school

EdmodoA few years ago I was an enthusiastic proponent of Moodle. This was partly because our local authority provided it for free, and partly because I was teaching in Year 7 and so anything to support kids with actually getting homework done was a good thing. However, I understood why colleagues were reluctant to master its foibles, didn’t like it’s clunky appearance, and weren’t really prepared to spend the time monitoring discussions or chat. And so in many year teams it lay unused.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I started to use Edmodo with just one of my classes a couple of years ago. It went with mixed success because those students had become used to the greater freedom on Moodle, and so were not overly impressed. But that was exactly what made it appeal to me when I considered my colleagues. So first, let me make clear some excellent advantages of Edmodo for primary schools:

  1. It’s completely free
  2. It’s relatively easy to set up
  3. Students can’t send private messages – everything is shared on the main group page
  4. Parents can have simple limited access to see things their child is doing
  5. The online support is quick and helpful, which is great when getting started.

With that in mind, here are my ten tips for setting up Edmodo in your school to make it as easy as possible to manage. I’ve also included links to the official Edmodo support materials. This is not intended to explain how Edmodo can be used. There are lots of better resources online for that, including Edmodo itself, and the excellent resources provided by Simon Haughton at www.simonhaughton.co.uk/edmodo/

Tip 1: Have two accounts (or more!)

If you’re the person leading the set-up of Edmodo, then I’d recommend having two accounts to use. It shouldn’t matter which you set up first, but make sure you start from the off thinking of one of them as your teacher account, and one as your admin account once you’ve set up your school network (see tip 2). Although Edmodo lets you be both with one login, I’ve found it much easier to keep the roles separate. Of course, if you’re the IT administrator rather than a teacher, then you may only need an admin account, but if you’re a classteacher, dealing with both roles in one screen can be a nuisance. I’ve found that by keeping two accounts, I can use my teacher account to manage my own class, but I used the admin account to set up all the classes initially. That way, other teachers can be added to classes as needed, but if and when individual teachers leave, the central adminstration is still managed by a single account which can add/delete classes. Equally, if I leave my school, I can transfer that admin account to someone else, and my absence won’t be problematic. (Oh, and I’ve seen Edmodo themselves suggest it, so you won’t get told off!)

In fact, I also set myself up a mock student account that allowed me to see things as the students do. I never use it now, but in those first few weeks it was invaluable in understanding how the whole networked operates.
Edmodo: How to Sign Up as a Teacher

Tip 2: Do set up your school network.

Edmodo offers a function to set up a school or district network. At first this sounds a bit American and I wasn’t sure about it, but actually it brings several advantages. Most importantly, it makes it easy to handle those cases where kids forget or lose their passwords. It also gives your kids a direct link to a personalised site, such as ourprimaryschool.edmodo.com, and helps you to monitor activities, and even collect statistics about use. It’s another free feature. If your school has a knowledgeable IT technician, you can also note IP addresses to go directly to your school login page when accessing Edmodo. If.

Edmodo: Sign Up for your School Network

Tip 3: Don’t fret about managing lots of groups…

The way Edmodo is organised, it encourages you to set up a new “group” for each class. At secondary this might mean one group for each timetabled set you teach, at primary it makes sense for it to be class groups. Having previously used Moodle, I was initially reluctant about setting up 20+ different groups for our school knowing that many might lay fallow, and so opted for just one per year group. This was a mistake! Even if groups are underused, they cause no bother. On the other hand, if large groups take off they quickly become unwieldy
It’s actually very easy to manage larger numbers of smaller groups. For example, when setting homework it is possible that you’d want different deadlines for different classes. That is possible with larger groups because you can create subgroups, but actually it would have been much easier to have kept to one group per class. That’s my intention for next academic year! If you then want to send a message, homework or link to more than one class, it’s as easy as selecting them from the list and sending it to all at once.

Next year, my intention is to include even more groups to make it easier to differentiate content. So, for example, as Y5 leader I might include:

  • 5A homework
  • 5B homework
  • 5A discussion
  • 5B discussion
  • Y5 general

If I want to set the same homework for both classes, then I can simply add both names to the task; but more importantly, by keeping homework separate from discussion, if a child wants to see just a list of homework tasks, this will be presented to them as a clickable option.

Edmodo: Create a Group

Tip 4: …but try to avoid a later proliferation of groups

I found it easiest to set up the groups we were planning to use over the summer holidays. By doing that under the admin account, I could then keep an eye on activities in all of those groups from one central login. It means that even if individual teachers don’t monitor closely, or are absent or suddenly leave, I can still monitor and manage those groups. For that reason, I have discouraged colleagues from setting up their own groups, even though this is relatively simple to do.

Tip 5: Do standardise children’s log-ins

I’m still not sure if I see this as an advantage or not, but the way Edmodo groups are set up requires every child to sign up with an account and then sign into the relevant classes. There is no option for centrally setting up accounts with a spreadsheet or similar. At our school we’ve managed this approach with Y4 up and it went smoothly as a single ICT lesson, but it does require some preparation. Because the software doesn’t dictate how this is done, we found it useful to dictate a little. In fact, I set up cards for all the children in my year group and gave them the username and password I wanted them to use. The username was based on our network logins, and the passwords were randomly allocated. It avoided the likelihood that children would instantly forget a foolish username, and reduced the likelihood of them not remembering their passwords. It didn’t solve all the problems, but it certainly reduced them. Be aware, though, that simple usernames like “jsmith” are long likely to have been taken! Note that students don’t need to enter an email address to sign up; parents and teachers do.

Edmodo: Join a Group

Tip 6: Do get parents on-board

One of the great advantages of Edmodo is that it is far more reassuring for parents to have some access to the website. Parents can set up their own accounts which are directly linked to those of their child. This allows them to see any homework that’s been set, and any discussions that take place between you and the individual child. They don’t, though, allow them to see anything of other children’s information. We used the initial parents’ meetings at the start of the year to explain the introduction of Edmodo and encouraged parents to sign up. It hasn’t had a massive uptake, but it has comforted some of those who are less enthusiastic about e-learning and worry about e-safety. It’s also worth noting that Edmodo has apps for both iPhones and Android which many parents find more useful, and you can use Edmodo to send messages directly to the parents of particular groups.

Edmodo: How to Sign Up Parents

Tip 7: Do use the Edmodo support community

I was amazed at how efficient this was. As a teacher, the support link appears in the communities section, and works just like another Edmodo group. It allows you to post questions or seek help, and to receive pretty fast responses from one of the Edmodo staff members – normally in less than a few hours, often in minutes (I presume depending on US time!) There are also tonnes of help pages which explain how the various elements work.

Edmodo: Get help in the support community
Edmodo: Help pages

Tip 8: Learn about co-ownership

If you’ve set up your groups as a single admin account, then you will need to add other teachers as co-teachers of the relevant groups to give them full rights to set homework, etc. (and to stop them getting homework alerts as if they were students!). Do this by getting them to join the group using the group code, and then finding them in the members list. Again, it’s a bit of admin at the start of the year, but well worth doing to make managing the whole thing easier.

Edmodo: Add a co-teacher to your group

Tip 9: Use badges

Edmodo comes with a few standard badges which allow you to award little icons to individual children. I couldn’t work out whether it was worth it at first, but I’ve been astounded by how much ten-year-olds value those little icons on their profile pages. The great thing is that it’s also relatively easy to create badges of your own by uploading small images. We have tables badges, house point badges, reading badges… all sorts. They’re simple to award (a couple of clicks) and they show up on the child’s profile and are shared with parents. It’s a great extension of our rewards scheme, and they can’t lose them in the washing machine!

Edmodo: Badges

Tip 10: Recruit a few like-minded teachers to get started.

As always with technological things, it’s much easier to get things moving if you can get a groundswell of action at the beginning. I was greatly pleased that a couple of IT-minded teachers joined our staff just as I was launching Edmodo as it meant that we had a ‘champion’ of sorts in almost all our year groups. That alone helped to get things off to a better start.

Conclusion

As with all things like this, it takes a while to get started with everything, and doubtless there will be things I’ve missed that you’ll discover in the early days of using Edmodo. I’d suggest that the summer term is a great time to start exploring Edmodo perhaps with a single class, or two keen teachers, just to see how everything works. That way, over the summer you can iron out any problems and start in earnest across the groups in September. Be aware, too, that each September your children will need to join new groups for their new classes; what better time to revisit those important e-safety messages?

If you’re thinking of getting started with Edmodo, please feel free to ask me queries either here or on Twitter. I also have a Word document booklet to support colleagues getting started with Edmodo that I’m happy to share if people contact me.

 

Primary Progression Documents for English & Maths

Example progression documentThe nature of the new curriculum documentation is such that the primary section alone lasts for some 200 pages. It makes sense that it is organised in year group order for the core subjects, but it also makes it harder to visualise the progression of concepts and skills. That’s particularly problematic if you’re trying to identify key thresholds for assessment or planning.

Therefore, I have created these simple documents to support schools. They are not revolutionary, but simply present the objectives from the National Curriculum in a sequence of progression strands from Year 1 to Year 6 across Reading, Writing and Mathematics. Hopefully they might help schools in organising their curricula, and also in identifying progression across these very large subjects.

As with all my materials, they are also available at www.primarycurriculum.me.uk/support, and I recommend looking at the other resources available there to support schools’ journeys in implementing the new curriculum.

The documents are all shared here for ease, including easily printable versions:

English progression document (editable Excel file)

Reading progression document (printable A3 PDF)

Writing progression document (printable A3 PDF – 2 pages)

Maths progression document (editable Excel file)

Maths progression document (printable A3 PDF  – 3 pages)