Lets get more grown ups in school

Last week I was taking a group of year 8s just off of our school grounds to do some Mission Explore work for their geography lesson. (See http://www.missionexplore.net)
The next day I received this email forwarding on concerns from a concerned member of the public who had rung in to the school. The email also got copied into some members of SLT. It was like I has been caught doing something I shouldn’t. Here is the correspondence

“A member of the community expressed concern that on Friday morning some of our students were behaving oddly. The member of public saw girls running up and down Woodland Path, some others on their hands and knees on the zebra crossing, causing villagers to remark on their odd behaviour. They thought the girls were truanting from school.”

Do you know what? I am rather proud that my class were doing their mission explore work so well that they got this reaction. They weren’t just indolently lying about wasting their time. They were interacting with their surroundings and seeing their own environment from a new perspective. To me this both good Geography and good Learning.

I am worried about a lot of adults’ opinions of schools. Firstly, these viewpoints are based on what they experienced 10, 20, 30 , 40, 50 , 60 years ago. So their ideas may not all be relevant to how teaching and learning is today. Secondly, and more worryingly, is that these opinions are based on personal perceptions formed by children and teenagers. We all know how a pupil can say about a really caring teacher “oh he really hates me.”, when it is quite obvious this is not the case and the pupil has completely misinterpreted being told off for being disliked. These false understandings then get fixed in the memory as truths. On top of that, these selected and possibly incorrect recollections are then stretched out to form a whole philosophy of education, which is then applied en masse to any situation or issue in education whether it concerns their own child or a whole national government policy.

This is why schools should be getting parents and the wider community across the threshold and into the classroom; not so we can tell them what to think, but in order for their opinions to based on up to date, relevant and accurate information and experiences.

my first ever Teachmeet

I have been meaning to go to one for ages, but you know, pressures of work, young family, tiredness, football on the telly that night…..

So I was  pleased with myself and high on anticipation as I drove along the M27 to the 2nd ever TMPompey, held 100 yards from HMS Victory at Action Stations. There were over a 100 there and quite a few 2 and 7 minute presentations lined up. I was wary of all these keen young teachers (maybe I should be SLT or a “stuck in my way” kinda teacher at this stage of my career) with their new snazzy ideas, because I recall when I first joined twitter and made the mistake of thinking I should be trying every new idea and philosophy going. I just ended up tired and didn’t see anything through (apart from there is still a dose of SOLO in my lesson). Would tonight be the same?

Well no. There was no superiority going down. There didn’t seem to be any hierarchy. The order of presentations was decided by one of those random name generators I have never got round to using in class and so there wasn’t a support-and-headline act type feel to the evening.

No one mentioned the ‘O’ word. This was simply teachers sharing stuff they were enthusiastic about and would recommend for others. People spoke and showed. the aim was collaboration and sharing; not trying to outdo and compete with others. This, more than the ideas themselves, is what I found refreshing and rewarding about the session. Too often we have allowed ourselves to over-worry about getting a higher % of A* to C passes than last year, than the rest of the department, than that other department, than the school across town. Teaching shouldn’t work like that. Learning isn’t measurable, it is too ‘messy’ (description stolen from Tait Coles) and comparisons and tables and competitions are meaningless anyway.

This approach and philosophy is what i would love to see more of. Where good practice is shared, not to gain more outstanding lesson observations and tick the boxes on your appraisal form about pass rates, but instead because a good idea shared develops exponential powers over a good idea withheld. Maybe next time I might even find one of mine I could pass around…….

The Joy of Learning Returns

Yesterday I was bemoaning all that pressure and work we are heaping on our teenagers and how this was killing their joy of learning

Today I saw this talk by Hans Rosling and I was reminded that the Joy of Learning is not yet dead, even if it is feeling under the weather at the moment. If you haven’t seen Hans talk before please do look up others of his video on youtube

Revision Classes and the Death of “The Joy of Learning”

It is the end of the school day. You have finished your 6 hours of learning. In every lesson you have worked as hard as you can.You have worked as hard as you can for nearly two years now. This morning, you heard the headteacher talk in assembly about the importance of good grades and how last year’s Year 11 gained the school’s best ever set of GCSE results. You have listened to everyone of your subject teachers tell you your target grade, your predicted grade, your current grade and the % chance you have of reaching your FFT. At the week-end you got cornered in the kitchen by your parents as they lectured you about not wasting your opportunities and your talent. You are going home tonight to 3 hours of revision – as you do every evening.

You are looking forward to the 20 minute walk home were no one can bug you at all. But you are an earnest and diligent 16 year old, so what do you after school instead of going home?

Of course – or go to an extra after school revision class.

The school is providing many each day of the week. In fact there were some in the Easter holidays and there a couple at half term too. You get the impression that there is nothing at all in your life other than revision and work. How many GCSE grade points will you get? How many A-A*? How many A*-C grades?  It feels there is no other way of weighing up your value to the school or the school’s value to you, other than by your exams results.

From being a bright and enthusiastic Year 10 with a passion for 3 or 4 of your subjects in particular, you now feel burdened by the never ending expectation and pressure to work and achieve. The joy of learning? More like the over bearing duty of it.

I worry about what we are doing to our teenagers; what we are telling them about what matters in life; what pressures we pushing down on top of them. Just how many extra classes do they need to go to reach their potential?

Teachers,  headteachers, governors and the government – we are all to blame. We have begun to judge each other and at other schools by exam passes and grades. We have fallen into the trap of simplification and as a result, the joy of learning and of thinking is being sucked out of our pupils, our lessons and our schools.

If I was to say “Stop! Relax class. Exams aren’t everything. What matters most is how you treat each other” I would be regarded as a naive simpleton. My point of view would not be taken seriously and my teaching methods would come under scrutiny. I would be asked “How do you know if every pupil in every class has made progress in every one of your lessons today?”

Because to far too many people,  measurable progress is all that matters in education.

What they don’t tell you about using IT in class

This week I am planning for my GCSE pupils should make a short video of their work to present to the rest of the group on tourism in Kenya. I haven’t done this before; I feel pleased I am doing it, but I think most teachers have been allowing their pupils to learn like this for quite a while.

I always feel that other people are using newer technology in their teaching, other classes are learning with more appropriate ICT, other schools have quicker PCs or netbooks or tablets and other teachers are going to more useful CPD and meetings than I or my classes ever manage. Because I spend a lot of time on twitter, where there are naturally a higher proportion of IT savvy teachers per square mile than elsewhere in the world, this feeling can sometimes be overwhelming.

Our school, like all the others over the country, is short of cash. When I take my class into an IT room there are 20 machines with at least one or two that need some repair or another. The children therefore don’t have a machine each. Also there is not enough space in the room so they are almost sat on top of each other. When I unlock the door (having arrived 5 minutes after my class as i have had to traipse over from my last lesson) there is a rush for the best seat and the least slow PC. The slower, weaker, less popular pupils end up in the chairs with the wobbly legs furthest from a computer. It then takes 5 minutes for the teacher laptop to warm up and for me to get the presentation up on the IWB. Meanwhile I have to work out which of the pupil computers is the one today on which the mouse isn’t working. Finally, after silencing the group and getting Emily off her emails we are all ready to go; 16% of the lesson has gone. I do tell my pupils to save their work regularly in case connection is lost, but they don’t always and then at the end of the lesson disaster can strike. That excellent site I found at home is blocked at school.

So when I read your blog or listen to your speech telling me how easily you got your pupils into the school grounds with their tablets or collaborating on some online app or site I feel that I am going wrong or missing out.

When I hear the secretary of state for education saying that IT teaching is boring, but that there is no money left for school to buy new equipment or time and finance available to let me have CPD to find out about new technologies I wonder how I am supposed to keep up to speed.

Anyone got any ideas?

Learning Objectives

At tea last night, over jam on toast my daughter, 8 asked her elder brother what he liked most and what he disliked most about school. He said he liked “games and PE and maths because you don’t have to do any writing in those lessons except of course the learning objectives.”

“do you have to write a learning objective every lesson?” I joined in

“yes”

And my year 3 daughter confirmed she had to the same as well. “But sometimes they let you write LO instead of learning objectives.”

So my children know exactly what they are going to be learning. They can measure their success or not at achieving it. They know where the lesson is heading.

In the lessons I teach to my KS3 and KS4 classes I want my pupils to know what I am trying to help them learn. I want them to know how it links to the last lesson and where they should be by the end of the hour. But I also want them to enjoy the learning, to develop a taste for investigation, for enquiry and for the PROCESS of finding out. If the lesson structure is all about the goal at the end of it and whether you are red or amber or green in achieving it, then where is the emphasis on “HOW” going to come in?

My SLT also want me to teach ‘objective led’ lessons just like it looks like the SLT are asking my children’s teachers to do. Teachers are supposed ‘light the fires’ of our learners. How can we balance these two strands? How can we open up our lessons so the pupils can take some control over the learning yet still fit in with the demands of curriculum and SLT ? How can the lesson both allow the students to experiment with finding out and know what they have to achieve in order to pass exams?