Unless you are studying at a university or work at one, it can be very difficult to access academic research. It’s all very well encouraging people to become critical thinkers and take their CPD into their own hands, but if you are relying on the information provided by others it can be restrictive.
Following every ResearchEd there has been a ripple of frustration at the lack of access to published research – there is even an online petition to ask the Secretary of State for Education to make online journals free to access for teachers. Whether or not this is a feasible idea (corporate sponsorship of research and all the reliability pit falls), it shows that we are in need of a solution. This is an incomplete list with just some of the ways to access research. I intend on adding to it as I find anything else that may be useful.
- Free access articles – http://www.educationarena.com/
Taylor and Francis Online/Routledge @educationarena have a selection of articles available to access for free. There are monthly collections available around a certain topic (cyberbullying, autism awareness month, leadership etc), and topic selections available for a longer period of time. This is fantastic but does limit it to what someone else has decided and there isn’t the ability to read around a subject.
- Public library access – http://www.accesstoresearch.org.uk/libraries
In February, thousands of free articles became available in public libraries http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25981183. The major downside with this is that you can’t access anything outside the library and you aren’t allowed save anything. If your local library isn’t currently part of the scheme you can ask them to apply. This is a really good step but it is limited.
Using this hashtag you can ask twitter members to access an article for you and someone will save and send you the article you’re after. Not an option if you are after a large amount of information and not necessarily legal.
‘CORE aims to facilitate free access to content stored across Open Access repositories’. This looks promising but it is tricky to navigate. There is a lot of information available but it might not contain exactly what you’re after due to the limitations of Open Access.
- Email researchers directly.
If there is a specific paper you require it is a good idea to contact the author. Contact details are often available alongside the abstract of a paper. An advantage of contacting the researchers in person is that they may be able to provide further reading and up to date advice in the area you are researching.
A way for academics to share research papers online. It is free to sign up – you don’t have to be a researcher or employed at a university. Users can follow the research or a particular academic or institution. Think of it as social networking for academics.
- Research libraries
Many educational organisations have online collections of research or links to research.
CfBT – Research Library http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library
Curee – Links to research http://www.curee.co.uk/category/5/27
- Education Endowment Foundation http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/
The EEF are funding a huge amount of research at the moment. The website has summaries of research findings and descriptions of what is underway. You can download the full reports of completed projects. A good starting point and their Toolkit is a great resource.
This is a small, searchable database which is Ontario based. The focus is on day-to-day practical challenges in schools and there are a limited number of papers. This might be a good source of articles for use in journal clubs and as starting points for further research.
- Self-Published Work
A small search online reveals several easy ways to publish your research online and Open Access. This has the benefit of being low cost and reaching a wide audience but the downside of lacking peer review and regulation. As a starting point, self-published articles can be brilliant to start off a debate or as a journal club article for picking to pieces. That’s not to say what you find won’t be worthwhile, but critical analysis is key.
An example of where self-published work can be valuable to both producers and consumers of research is the Sandringham Learning Journal (http://www.sandagogy.co.uk/learning/?q=upload/sandringham-learning-journal). An annual, anthology of research and reflective practice from Sandringham School. A valuable piece of internal and external CPD.
- Local university library membership.
Universities often offer membership to their libraries to members of the public. Birmingham (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/libraries/membership.aspx) and Nottingham (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/library/libraries/using/joining.aspx) offer membership for around £50 a year to access their libraries. Again, great, but this includes limited electronic resources and you can’t print or save any of them.
The ‘leading aggregator of online resources’. Familiar if you have used online access at university and with the OU, they’re fairly comprehensive. They have education specific collections for institutions to purchase membership. If you are lucky enough to be registered with The General Teaching Council for Scotland you will have free access to journals through EBSCO (http://www.gtcs.org.uk/research-engagement/education-journals.aspx), but if you aren’t, these are some options.
All figures are from May 2014.
A subscription to Education Research Complete (http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/education-research-complete) would be £995 + VAT.
They provide a smaller version of Education Research Complete called Professional Development Collection which is £250 + VAT. (http://www.ebscohost.com/public/professional-development-collection) This also includes free access to Teacher Reference Centre. (http://www.ebscohost.com/us-high-schools/teacher-reference-center)
You can coordinate with a number of institutions to allow them to also have access to Professional Development Collection or Education Research Complete, then they offer a buying group discount of 3% for two Schools purchasing, 5% for three, 10% for four and 15% for five Schools all purchasing their own version of PDC or ERC.
E.g. Taylor Francis publish a large number of academic journals. Their prices for each journal are available here – http://www.tandfonline.com/page/products
They list for individual and also for institution. For all their educational journals, online only access would probably be around £2million per year which is quite a lot, but you may be willing to subscribe to key publications.
- Societies – BELMAS, SEBDA, Nasen etc.
Societies and associations in more specialist areas of education often have their own academic journals. It may be more cost effective to join an association in order to access a journal than it is to purchase access to the journal directly. There are different levels of membership available for different organisations. Some have special rates for students, TAs, whole schools etc.
BELMAS offer your first year’s membership free and this includes access to journals.
E.g. Nasen produce the journal ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties’ on a quarterly basis. Taylor Francis list this for £79 a year (individual use, hard copy). Membership of Nasen is £55pa (individual member, online access to current and back issues), and of course that comes with other benefits of being a member.
- Alumni Benefits
Check out the Alumni pages of your old university. Not all universities offer this service but more and more are. You probably have to register and get a magazine every now and again for the privilege – but it’s a pretty good privilege.
I’ve only looked at a couple but University of Essex (my old haunt) do so have a look at this to see what I’m on about:
Turns out I can also have access to the library on campus. Worth a trip to Colchester just for that.
I mentioned in a recent post that as part of our drive to increase the boys’ reading, we were planning a few events. This turned into a (fairly loose) Book Festival which is lasting for about a month, starting with an author visit for KS2 and ending on World Book Day (which will also only be KS2). The bits I’ve organised so far have been whole-school things including a Blind Date With A Book and a ‘We Are Writers’ book. I wrote about our first Blind Date With A Book here so I thought I’d take the opportunity to briefly explain and write about how it was different this time round.
The idea behind going on a blind date with a book is that you pick a book without knowing what it is and you give it a go. Events tend to happen in schools, book shops or libraries around Valentine’s Day, for obvious reasons, but it’s also useful as the closest Friday is normally the last week of half term so it’s a nice way to finish things off before the holidays. Some people add descriptions of the books, some have a display of wrapped books to borrow, we use it as a way to give each pupil in school a book to keep.
Last time I did all this I categorised each pupil into rough reading-ages, made them fill out a fake dating profile and then the ‘results’ of that told them which colour wrapping they were best suited to. It’s been two years since I did that and the school has grown quite a bit which made grouping each pupil a tricky one. So, for 2016 I went through the whole process of buying 100s of books to suit all size of pupil and then instead of categorising them myself, I got each class teacher to pick a book for their pupils before I wrapped them and added a Valentine’s card.
I bought a lot of books from Scholastic again – free postage to schools, earning money off books and some great January sale offers meant that I could get a lot for my money. They also have a great range of books for lower level readers based on poplar tv shows and films. This meant that I could give a Year 11 a copy of ‘127 Hours’ rather than yet another Brinsford Books classic that he’s probably already read. I did use Amazon for a few extras that I thought they might not usually pick like some Tolkien and Gaiman, plus a few books that featured in the TES lists of books pupils should read before leaving Primary and Secondary school, and I threw in a few from the box of free Book Trust ones I have. I had to be fairly realistic though, it doesn’t matter how well I wrapped it or whether they got to keep it, there are a lot of books that they wouldn’t even give a chance to, so the options weren’t a million miles away from things I thought they’d normally pick (shocking number of books with farting or bums in the title).
The art room had some awful pink paper buried in a corner so I stole that (with permission), and I decided that instead of simply writing each pupil’s name on the front of the packages, I would give them all a Valentine’s card from their book. They had poems. As we’ve only got a maximum of 8 in a class, I wrote 8 poems and put them in 8 different cards using my all my best TA skillz. Wrote ’em, glued ’em, stacked ’em. I was pleased with myself.
Class teachers were given their pile of books and able to choose when they gave them out and how they followed it up in class etc. I only saw a few children throughout the day but the ones I did see seemed fairly chuffed with their books and I get the feeling it was a success! We also used that day to display the entries for our We Are Writers front cover design and have a vote, and it was the last day for pupils to submit their stories for the book too. I’ll write more about that further along in the process.
If you are interested in holding your own Blind Date With A Book and want some little cards with awesome poems in, you can find mine here:
I vaguely followed the Michaela debates on Saturday, picking out bits from the people who were there and the conversations that took place for the rest of the weekend. A topic that seems to have caught wider attention is ‘“No Excuses” discipline’, with lots of Twitter activity and a few blogs setting out thoughts. Since then I’ve had a think about where our school sits in all this and actually I’m not sure it’s quite where I would’ve said it was on first thoughts.
My initial thoughts on ‘No Excuses’ are that it sounds great for some, but what happens to the ones that have to move on? I’m not the only one to think like this and I’ve seen references to SEND, family crises etc. What happens to the pupils and families that don’t ‘fit’? Where do they go? As Rachel Humphrey asked on Saturday, can the ‘No excuses’ setting only exist because there are others that will take the fall out? Quite often in these discussions, people put special schools to one side – “of course you’ll be different, you have different/ extreme circumstances” – but actually, as an SEMH school, all our pupils have all come from mainstream where they’ve left behind just as many pupils that could be here. We can’t afford to have strict ‘No Excuses’. We’re the end of the road. If I was asked during the debates, I would have said that we operate flexibly around our pupils’ needs. Having thought and read though, I think we do have ‘No Excuses’. We don’t let our pupils make excuses, but we do understand they have reasons.
Reading Jonathan Porter’s speech in favour of ‘No excuses discipline works’ I was struck with how much I agreed with – and how much of that we do. I wouldn’t have said it was ‘No Excuses’ but it seems to fit. I suppose it’s how we sanction pupils that’s probably different. Jonathan mentions the understandable points of uniform, time keeping, equipment. We have an awesome Attendance Officer solidly enforcing the expectation pupils are in by the 9.00 bell, so we get that one. Uniform’s not quite the same as it’s not compulsory, but they do get randomly rewarded if they’re in it when the Head does a spot-check and most of the boys wear it. As far as PE kit and equipment go, we recognise that there may be issues with these and so we’ve taken the problem away by providing (and washing) it all. No arguments over forgotten kits or swanky pencil cases. No excuses.
I recognise the tale of ‘Tom’ all to well. Our pupils come with chunky files and muliple agency recommendations. Very often there’s a history of sporadic school attendance and often a request for phased introduction. I’ve baselined kids hiding under tables, brandishing weapons and screaming their hearts out – some are being properly naughty, most of them are just scared. They’ve heard all sorts of tales, they’re pretty much de-schooled and I’m sitting there asking them to reveal the how embarrassed they are about their reading levels. We don’t have them start part time. They come in full time and if they have a tantrum we sort it out and get them back in class. That’s where the vast majority stay for most of the time.
So it seems like we’re actually a lot more ‘No Excuses’ than I’d thought we were. Some of this is probably to do with how my idea of what ‘No Excuses’ means is perhaps a bit harsher than the reality, but I keep coming back to this idea of ‘Reasons’. We have our fixed heirarchy of sanctions, and obviously if there’s something violent or seriously disruptive there’ll be serious consequences, but we if we can understand the reasons for a behaviour, we can help solve the problem. For that reason I’m much more comfortable with John Tomsett’s approach.
If a pupil doesn’t take their medication in the morning, we don’t let them use it as an excuse not to behave. We deal with the behaviours as they happen, but if they reveal half way trough the day that they haven’t had their morning dose, it goes a long way to explaining why they’ve been up in the air and we know there’s nothing more serious* going on. We’d much rather they tell us first thing that they’ve not had their tablet – not as an excuse, but as a reason why they may need a few minutes out or be struggling to focus.
*I saw Sean Harford commented around safeguarding and ‘No Excuses’. This is another big niggle I’ve got going on. We know our boys. We know the patterns of behaviour they have and this is really important for spotting safeguarding issues. I worry that ‘No Excuses’ means that you can miss the reasons and miss what’s going on in a pupil’s life. They change so subtly and it’s for us to spot these things. this isn’t a special school thing, this is an every school thing.
One of the points in favour of ‘No Excuses’ that I read was how you can’t have different things for different people or it all falls apart. I agree with this for the majority of the time, but I also think there are occasions where it is acceptable, and even beneficial to other pupils, to allow for concessions. I think it can be good for them to see that other people get different things sometimes. They don’t always like it at the time, but I think it can be important for pupils to see that sometimes things get in the way and consideration is given, whether that’s not having homework because they were kicked out of their home in the middle of the night, or Year 11 allowed to go off site for lunch and the others not. The way we deal with and explain it to pupils is important.
We aren’t perfect. There are times where we need to be more consistent and I would argue there are probably times where we could’ve been more flexible. We are facing the challenges of a fairly rapid school expansion within a building that doesn’t expand at the same rate. We have staff with 20+ years service (at our school) and staff fresh from a mainstream setting. There are more voices and opinions of how things should work than ever before and we need to do the best we can for our pupils. We are good at reviewing our systems regularly and understand that what works for KS4 one year might be totally inappropriate for the next. We’re small and can afford to make changes, but as we grow it is becoming harder.
Ultimately though, pupils like boundaries, they like to know where they stand and quite often ours come from a home life where the boundaries don’t exist. We can’t offer a ‘No Excuses’ environment where if a kid, or their family, doesn’t tow the line then they can go elsewhere. We are the end. We are it. People are surprised when they see how our pupils behave and what they achieve. We don’t let them use their backgrounds as an excuse not to do well, but there are reasons why they have a place with us and we need to recognise that.
There’s a phenomenon when it comes to forced participation. If it’s not quite for you and you don’t want to join in you’re accused (openly or implied) of being miserable and boring. I am one of these ‘miserable and boring’ people – to the point of stubbornness. Thing is, why should I feel I have to prove something? I don’t like clapping in time, I don’t want to join in with actions or move round a room in a role play. I’m far from mature but I’ve got a comfort zone for a good reason, and it’s comfortable.
Last week I went to a teachmeet that was kicked off with a positive motivation-fest. For quite some time the impending keynote was enough to make me not go at all, and I had to give myself a talking to – why should I miss an evening that I wanted to go to for the sake of 30 minutes at the start? I cringed my way through it (using ‘taking photos of the participation for Twitter’ as a superb cover for not joining in), but afterwards was left feeling that I really needed to prove my get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials. I had a bit of a moment at work the next day. Still irritated by the forced participation, I let my views on the subject be heard and heartwarmingly, everyone there agreed with me. I felt much better.
This isn’t a dig at our keynote speaker, they’re very good at their job and very successful at keynoting. Lots of people were probably there as much to see them as I was there not to. They were excited and happy and motivated in all the right places which is great. It makes sense that the best we can be for our pupils is happy and positive and for them to feel the same – it’s just that different people get that in different ways.
I’ve thought about it quite a bit – why, if we work with children, are we expected to want to jump up and down on command in a room full of people we don’t know? Or perhaps, worse, do know. Surely there’s a difference between being happy and being extrovert? Why should those that don’t want to be told how to have fun be labelled as – ‘lemon-suckers’ or ‘dark lords’? I did my fair share of joining in when I was a youth – sometimes it was ok, sometimes it was awful. After a careful consideration of my experiences I have decided I’ve done enough of that stuff and I’m happiest not to. Makes me think though, I’m a grown up and to a great extent get a choice, but what about those more introverted kids that we work with? We plan great events, performances, shows and for every child who revels in it, there’ll be those for whom it’s a nightmare.
Is it perhaps a primary thing rather than a secondary thing? Are you more likely to have an expectation of extroversion if you work in a primary setting? I had an interview for primary teacher training light-years ago that was enough to put me off schools for life, and there was certainly some gentle ribbing about singing with actions in assembly when one of our secondary trained staff left for a primary school. Do secondary schools go too far in the opposite direction? Do they turn their noses up at things like this? I certainly think there’s more reluctance among staff to ‘take part’ – a workload thing? Maturity? Losing face?
I’ve actually got some pretty good ‘get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials’, thank you very much:
- We very successfully ran the University of Essex Silly Society, that’s pretty daft. We were so good at that it probably had an impact on my degree classification…
- I’m quite adept at a Steps routine. Perhaps a little rusty nowadays, but give me half an hour with the Gold DVD and I’ll be fine.
- I make dens in the garden if I get bored in the holidays. Actually, Howard’s never quite sure what he’ll come home to. I’d created the whole Solar System out of coloured paper and stuck it to the ceiling one year.
- We used to have a sign on the back of the front door reminding me to check if I’d drawn cat whiskers and a nose on my face after I once went to the post office without remembering to wipe them off.
- Eurovision ALWAYS involves fancy dress.
- Actually, anything can involve fancy dress. I’d go to the pub as a pirate just because I’ve got the hat.
Why do I need to list these things? Maybe because there’s also these things:
- I make Howard go first and talk to people (restaurant, hotel reception, shops – anywhere).
- I make sure I miss out numbers in bingo so I don’t win and have to yell out.
- I hate talking to people I don’t know on the phone. Have to properly work myself up to calling any company to sort something out.
- I’m rubbish at networking or talking to people at parties. The chances are I’ll be sat sitting in a corner.
- I’m even more rubbish at self-promotion. I don’t have t-shirts or anything.
Turns out there’s not one thing or another. It’s perfectly possible to be a bit of both and to be honest, I think that’s what makes it seem natural. If you’re ‘up’ all the time it doesn’t seem genuine.
Now I’m fully aware that the comfort zone can be a dangerous place and I’m getting quite good at stepping out of it, just to test the waters. In the past few years I’ve done scary MEd tutorials, scary speaking at conferences, sat at the front in a comedy club and got picked on (seats were allocated, I’m not completely daft). I do a similar thing with olives – try them again every one in a while and see if I like them. I’m at a place where I wouldn’t pick them off a pizza, but I’m still not buying a pot from the deli counter.
There is one other reason we might be asked to do all these stupid things of course. The joy of uniting in hatred of the motivation. The swearing in corners, the days of feeling disgruntled either side of it, and the coming together with a common enemy. Maybe it’s all a clever tactic to unite us? The ultimate team bonding exercise as we debrief at the pub afterwards. Shouldn’t be at the expense of making us not want to go in the first place though.
Two days after the motivational incident it was my birthday and I got the most wonderful necklace from Howard that I think says it all. Meet the Indifferent Iguana. The card inside the box reads, “With the exception of you, this little reptile doesn’t really like human beings all that much. She is very sarcastic and will give you confidence and help you to stop worrying about stuff“. I think the iguana has got it pretty much sorted. Let’s listen to her.
In part 1 I talked about motivating pupils to read, particularly in Catch Up sessions. Obviously there’s a bit of a difference between persuading a Year 8 (who’d rather have a fight down the corridor) to come for a reading session, and getting a whole bunch of them to pick up a Penguin Classic* over playing Potty Racers on their laptop at break time. The art of encouragement is a thin line between showing them something that will develop into a lifelong passion and creating a force so stubborn they will refuse to even judge a book by its cover. *or Horrid Henry to be honest.
We’ve got a few things on the go at the moment to encourage a culture of reading and quite a lot involves simply giving them books. Our approach is reasonably subtle and we don’t force them. I would suspect this a natural reaction to having so many pupils with low levels of literacy and poor relationships with reading. That’s not to say they get away with not reading of course, just that we’re more likely to whack some bonus points towards kids that do some awesome reading than take breaks off one who doesn’t.
Anyway, some of our encouraging things. Probably best to list and explain.
- World Book Day – Key Stage Two are pretty good at doing this each year. I’m mostly aware of it when I see Iron Man or an Oompa Loompa traipsing down the corridor. I know they’ve got a visiting author coming this year.
- 10 minutes reading – This is during tutor time after lunch and it’s supposed to be the whole school. It settles the kids down from whatever has kicked off during football and hopefully encourages a culture of reading across school. We’ve probably slipped a bit. I don’t know if everyone who doesn’t have pupils with them at that point reads anymore, but I love my 10 minutes sitting by myself with a book (‘Us’ by David Nicholls at the moment).
- No library – This isn’t particularly a good thing. We’ve got scraps of space and the room that was the library has now been turned into the catch-up room. What has happened though is that the books have been moved into classrooms so hopefully there are more that are instantly accessible to the boys. We’ll get our library back with the new build hopefully, but I also hope we keep a lot of books in classrooms.
- Trip to Waterstones – With some ring-fenced money we had an open-to-all-staff trip to Waterstones one Saturday. General books were chosen and class teachers had got their pupils to make lists of what they would like in the classroom. They could pick anything.
- Blind Date With A Book – I did this a couple of years ago and I’m doing it again in a couple of weeks. Read my BDWAB post for a full rationale, but it’s basically an excuse to give each child a book to keep. I’ve put a few in that I think will challenge them and that they probably wouldn’t try given a free choice, but I’m not stupid so I’ve gone for ones that won’t alienate them completely.
- We Are Writers – We’re writing a book. Scholastic run a scheme where you can get your pupils work published – a chapter each to write whatever they want. We’re using the pupils’ creative writing and I set it all up the other day so hopefully we’ll get started soon. In addition to the BDWAB books, we’ll give each pupil one of these from school, and let parents buy more if they want them.
- Read to them – Underestimated I think. For most of us this is our first experience of reading. Pupils love it no matter how old they are. You can get them to follow in their own book or let them just listen. They hear how you intonate and express yourself; they hear words they’ve never read. A couple of weeks ago we had a heating and electricity failure at school. As I cursed the powering off of my computer halfway through an email, I heard the teachers in rooms either side of me both start reading to their groups and it was lovely (not as serene as you might imagine. The power had gone which is almost as thrilling as snow to a 13 year old boy).
- Prizes – Comes under the ‘give them free books’ banner. Money and chocolate are lovely prizes but books are great for prizes too and less likely to be frowned upon.
- Book crossing – Haven’t tried this with them yet. It’s that thing like geocaching but with books. My thoughts are along the lines that they’ll have to pick a book they love and then leave a copy for people to find. We could do it in-school and have a map with pins or go wild and do it properly.
The Rights Of The Reader by Daniel Pennac
I bang on about this book every now and again. It’s essentially an essay about reading, and there’s a lot of it that makes sense – especially if we’re into getting pupils to enjoy reading for the sake of reading. It’s not a book about strategies or methods, it’s just something that made me stop and think about what ‘gets in the way’ and how we might learn to love reading again. I would love for more people to read it (there’s a poster illustrated by Quentin Blake you can download too. I have it above my desk).
He starts by showing a child’s journey through reading. From bedtime stories and learning to understand words, or being told to put a book down and go out to play; to analysis of texts and the use of ‘If you don’t do your reading, there’ll be no television’. At some point, it’s possible for reading to cease being a wonder and become the enemy.
There are stories from Pennac’s teaching career with ‘reluctant’ readers, uncovering the pleasure of reading and developing a thirst. Stories from his youth and from parenthood. The book concludes with the ten ‘Rights Of The Reader’. There is an explanation for each right, and in the words of Pennac, ‘if we want my son/my daughter/ young people to read, we must grant them the rights we grant ourselves‘. So here they are:
- The right not to read.
- The right to skip
- The right not to finish a book
- The right to read it again.
- The right to read anythihng.
- The right to mistake a book for real life.
- The right to read anywhere.
- The right to dip in.
- The right to read ou loud.
- The right to be quiet.
I would love it if all my boys adored reading and shunned the real world as they opted to bury their heads in the pages of their imagination…
There are a few who are like this, but they’re more likely to be up until the early hours playing XBox online with some kid in America than up until the early hours reading books with a torch under the duvet. I know that’s the case with a lot of children, not just my rock-hard behavioural gang, and it’s certainly not a new issue. I’m not sure what the statistics are for the amount of books children have at home, but I do know that quite a few of ours aren’t likely to have a duvet, let alone a bookshelf, so it’s one of our priorities to give their love of literature a boost.
I work with various literacy interventions, but the most structured one I use is Catch Up Literacy (EEF project here). We’ve been running this successfully for about 8 years now and the impact on pupils who receive this intervention goes beyond learing how to read. The EEF report highlights improvements to pupil motivation and attitude to learning, as well as confidence and enjoyment – certainly something we’ve found as well. Quite often our pupils crave attention and recognition from adults, and dedicated time for 1-1 interventions gives them that. I generally have a whole lesson for a 20 minute intervention and the luxury of that extra time means I can focus on a particular target, work on other skills or look something up that they’ve been reading about. If they spot a book in the room that they’re interested in I’ll let them have a go no matter the level and give them a hand.
They’re eager to read. They see it as something mature and aspirational. They want to read about Biff and Chip because it’s safe and familiar, but they’re aiming for books with a spine and no staples because they’re ‘proper’ books (doesn’t matter whether there’s one word on a page, that spine makes a massive difference). It’s hard when they’ve got bits of knowledge. They (like many others) have been in and out of school (sometimes several) picking up the occasional topic; great with graphs, not so hot on shapes; learning about ‘igh’ but no idea what to do with ‘th’. We’re gap filling and when they think it’s too ‘baby-ish’ their enthusiasm can wane.
One of the things we use to combat this is rewards. We have a range of different reward systems throughout school and with Catch Up it’s stickers. Simple enough; each of them has a bookmark that they pop a sticker on after a session and when it’s full they get a prize and certificate. I like to think I’m fairly well versed on the ins and outs of rewards and motivation, and I know that the ultimate aim is for each and every one of them to be intrinsically motivated to participate. To be honest, most of the time they are, but that 16mm square sticker and the thought of a funky pencil at the end can be the most wonderful carrot when necessary. Intrinsic is great when they’re in a good mood, but we all need a bit of extrinsic now and again whether that’s a shiny sticker or a pay cheque.
Actually (this is the researchy bit) quite often they forget to put their sticker on, or we don’t quite keep track of how many blank squares are left, so all of a sudden we realise it’s prize day and it all gets very giddy. This of course is a great way to do rewards – my own disorganisation turns a spot of fixed ratio/fixed interval reinforcement into variable ratio/variable interval. Brilliant. Also, as a point of interest that I should probably re-investigate, when I was researching rewards and behaviour during my MEd, I found various bits of evidence that whilst extrinsic rewards/token economies don’t necessarily have the impact most teachers want, they do work with pupils with SEN. Wildly searching through old notes and a rescued hard drive, things I’ve found that may support my crazy statements are below. They may or may not be of use:
Capstick, J. (2005) ‘Pupil and Staff Perceptions of Rewards at a Pupil Referral Unit’, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Vol 10. No. 2, 95-117
Hufton, N. R. and Elliot, J. G. (2004) ‘Motivation Theory and the Management of Motivation to Learn in School’ in Wearmouth, J., Richmond, R.C., Glynn, T. and Berryman, M. (eds) (2004) Understanding Pupil Behaviour in Schools: A diversity of approaches., London, David Fulton.
Witzel, B. S. and Mercer, C. D., (2003), ‘Using Rewards to Teach Students with Disabilities’. Implications for Motivation, Remedial and Special Education, Vol 24, No. 2, 88-96
So is reading its own reward? Most of the time I think it is. Sometimes things need a bit of a boost to get going and I’m happy with the system I’ve got. But what do we do on a wider scale, once we’ve taught them to read? How do we encourage them to read widely and for pleasure? Part 2 will look at some of the things that we’re trying in order to get them going.
So, I’ve done a few things research-related with our Teaching Schools Alliance now, and when I was asked if I would share my journal club work at their upcoming event ‘Using Research and Evidence for Improvement’, I was happy to. Basically I wheeled out the usual presentation and took advantage of the opportunity to hear some brilliant people talk without having to pay for the pleasure.
The event, held at the National College for Teaching & Leadership’s Learning and Conference Centre in Nottingham, was a collaboration between Transform TSA, George Spencer TSA, Minster TSA, East Midlands TSA, and The University of Nottingham. It was a chance for the TSAs to promote engagement with research and development in schools and to showcase some of the work being done across our region.
Our keynote speaker was James Richardson from the Education Endowment Foundation. For all that I’ve seen and heard about the EEF’s work at various events, I didn’t think I’d actually gone to something specifically about them and I was completely wrong. Looking back through a wealth of conference notes, I saw James Richardson at researchED Midlands in 2014. Actually, in my notes* I have scribbled the phrase ‘Research Champion’. That was the start of A LOT. Things have moved on quite a bit since 2014. The EEF Sutton Trust Toolkit is familiar to a lot more people and used in a lot more schools. The focus has changed from making people aware of their work to updating them on research that has been completed (and is being replicated) and guidance to use the toolkit in their own setting. I’ve got lots more bits to look into and lots more badgering of SLT to do. *I have also scribbled that the DIY Guide will be interactive soon. I thought that was familiar when James said it on Friday…
Mary-Alice Lloyd – Vice Principal and Director of the George Spencer Academy TSA, shared her school’s journey to becoming a research engaged school. Starting in 2005 they created a ‘drip-feed’ model of CPD in addition to their INSET and focused strongly on AfL. After evaluating their school’s level of research engagement, they introduced Teacher Learning Communities (TLC), including all staff, that meet at least ten times throughout the year and staff are able to collaborate and enquire on their practice together. Following the success of the TLCs, they set out to use the TLC approach to enable all staff to engage in classroom based research and they linked this with the new Teachers’ Standards and now, working with The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University, GSA have developed a practitioner enquiry cycle that works with the TLCs. This year they have extended the enquiry model to include Lesson Study as an approach.
Providing excellent examples of school-university partnerships was Professor Qing Gu from the Centre for Research in Educational Leadership and Management in the University of Nottingham School of Education. She described the role HEIs can play in interpretation and guidance in implementing findings from research in schools, and the potential for partnerships in fulfilling the role of a critical friend. Qing went into detail about this role with a local school with a focus on the Senior Leadership Team’s role in driving forward school improvement. A report on this can be found here – http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/education/documents/research/crsc/research-projects/kten/brochures/bookletsouthwoldpr.pdf There was a lot of advice about the process of school-based enquiry and I’m pretty sure that if Qing was to make a researchED appearance it would be a wonderful thing.
Before lunch we heard from colleagues leading research projects in their schools. The first, from KYRA TSA and whose name I didn’t jot down, spoke about their experience of the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn small scale research projects. Whereas our school’s involvement was with one of the large scale projects (Research Lesson Study), many schools were trained and developed their own RCT projects. I actually went to one of these training events that was aimed at special schools and it was interesting to see what other people had done with it. Following completion of their projects, schools were given a poster template to write up their work and these were shared in a marketplace style event. It was suggested later in the day that these posters may be a good source for discussion at a journal club.
Chris West from Redhill TSA shared his experiences at trying to build enthusiasm and participation in research engagement (something many of us are familiar with). Things he has done include creating his own examples of simple research write ups, a research Teach Meet and ‘Research in 100 Words’ postcards. These (I think) are here – http://www.redhilltsa.org.uk/course/view.php?name=Research#section-3 Chris’s focus is encouraging staff involvement and setting the structures in place for this to happen.
Journal Club was after lunch (where we discovered that ‘gourmet’ pies contain either steak or gourmet…), usual drill. This was the biggest one I’ve ever done. We looked at ‘Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?’ (Manna and Cadmana, 2014) and never have I been in a room with so many engaged people saying the word ‘boredom’. It seemed to go down well, particularly with the man next to me who was, and I quote, ‘all about this’. Oh. Biscuits = Cadburys Fingers (lots in box and slim line to fit in bag).
Last up for the day was Matilde Warren from GSA talking about their use of Lesson Study. As mentioned earlier by Mary-Alice Lloyd, staff at GSA are able to pick Lesson Study as their focus this year. I looked at Lesson Study a fair bit with our research project so I’m aware of how the process has been adapted from the Japanese model for the way it is commonly performed over here. What was brilliant was that Matilde has been over to Japan to see just how they do it and study their process. She’s well aware that there are lots of elements that wouldn’t work here (40 teachers in a lesson whilst the kids just get on with it; leaving a whole primary school whilst the teachers all debrief), but what the experience did highlight was where they hadn’t been prepared and where they could tighten the process up. It would be brilliant to hear from GSA again and see how it all goes.
There’s no way I can write about everything that was part of the day and I hope I’ve represented everyone well enough. As with most school engagement with research, if you dedicate the time and resources, the results can be amazing for staff, pupils and the school as a whole. It was great to move away from the researchED glare and see what’s happening more locally. I know there are a few Transform ideas knocking about and I’m hoping I hear that more people are setting up journal clubs. Mostly I hope people just keep plugging away and trying because it can be tough but it’s definitely worth it.
The ‘Nottingham-Shire, a Voice for Education event held at The University of Nottingham, organised by Howard Stevenson, was part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science and billed as an opportunity for ‘students, parents, those who work in education or are simple interested in education’ to discuss and explore how we can ‘rediscover, reclaim and reinvent democratic public education’ in Nottingham City and the County. Intentionally broad, it covered all phases and interests. It was free and lunch was provided. Worth a shot.
The day was orgainised around four workshops that were presented in the morning and repeated in the afternoon, giving an opportunity to attend a couple of options. The opening thoughts centred around four themes:
- Community – Forming a community based on collective values and our position in society amongst others.
- Creativity – Challenging traditional notions of ‘activism’ (including the style of events like this one).
- Connections – People are often triggered to come into something by being against it. We need to connect being ‘agianst’ with being ‘for’ something.
- Co-construction – Challenging the notion ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’.
It’s easy for people to adjust to the environment they’re in and narrow their expectations. We should promote the idea that there’s ‘no such thing as no alternative’, a concept Stevenson illustrated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
Whilst I am a member of a union, and I do think it is important that we stay up to date and challenge things that threaten education (whatever the sector), I am not by any means an ‘activist’ in the common sense of the word. I am interested in the idea of how we can work together across education and in collaboration with wider society to establish what we need. Particularly how once we have come together over what we are against, we should work on what we are ‘for’.
Don’t get me wrong, unions are an important part of the collaboration. They are experienced and hold a high level of knowledge and skills needed to bring people together and have their collective voice heard. I can’t be the only one though that can feel intimidated by loud opinions that seem closed to debate, or presume that everyone has the same thoughts (something Martin Robinson wrote about in May), and I worry that there is public and education sector fatigue with repeated campaigns. To hold onto the proposal that we need to revise our notions of ‘activism’ and think creatively, I am encouraged by the enthusiasm for getting a wider community together – alongside unions – to challenge decisions but also to put together solutions.
Developing Collaborative Alternatives in Schooling
The first session I went to showcased the successful collaborations that have gone on in Leicester firstly to resist the acadamisation of their schools, but as a result of that, their city-wide reading initiatives including the ‘Everybody’s Reading Festival‘. I have two pages of notes about this session which are pretty much crammed with ideas – from Storytelling Week and Author Week, to bookmarks with tips for parents and reading champions in schools. Elements that stood out for me were the combination of CPD, networking and sharing ideas; schools bidding for ring-fenced literacy project funding; the potential uses of data collected from the (required) survey completed by each school; and the spread of this beyond schools and into the community. I am very jealous of what they’ve got going on there.
Due to a small train hiccup, the keynote speaker, Hilary Wainwright, was a little late so her talk was after lunch. She spoke about how we need to break the idea that change isn’t possible (using Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success as an example) and deep notions of democracy as people working together to achieve this. Having already heard about how unions can bring a community together, I wondered about the idea that unions could have a role as co-ordinating drivers for change – rather than simply focus on wages and conditions for members, a wider social role?
The Action For ESOL Campaign: Protest, Professionalism and Pedagogy
For my afternoon session I went to hear about the Action for ESOL Campaign. The particular subject matter isn’t something I have anything to do with but as a very specific section of education I can see some parallels with special education, and when it comes to fighting for funding and resources, I wonder if there are lessons to learn from their success. Through the coming together of professional, national and local networks (outside of a union structure although there was involvement), they successfully fought to keep provision accessible.
Analysing how and why this worked is of even more importance now as the renewed threat of cuts to the FE sector move closer. Earlier in the day we had discussed as a group what our ‘ideals’ in education were and points about access, valuing education and lifelong learning were central to this. It seems to me that we all need to have a greater awareness of what is happening in FE at the moment because for something that encompasses all the things we value about education, it’s not being valued elsewhere.
Seeds of a Nottingham Campaign For Education
The round up of the day included space for some local campaigns and initiatives to have a say and a break of into groups to discuss some of the issues arising from the day. I joined the ‘City’ group to discuss how we felt we could respond to the current consultation into the 10 Year Plan for Nottingham City. The consultation period is only a month long which seems woefully short, particularly as there doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of promotion around it, and our group felt that whilst the proposals were reasonable, they weren’t particularly ambitious or joined up with other work being done nationally around issues such as teacher recruitment and retention. There was a suggestion that we could put together a Citizens’ Jury to bring together the community and build an idea of how our whole community feels and what it needs.
It was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking day that I’m sure will be repeated, and even with a small toilets-not-working issue (which Tom Bennett having fixed a few of those during researchED events would probably see as standard), there was definitely a spark of something that I am keen to see develop and bring together the whole community, creatively, to challenge those that tell us what we need with what we know we need. If there’s a next-time, I think it would be good to encourage more parents (other than teacher-parents) to attend and there is definitely space for the research slant on things. We’ve got two big universities in Nottingham so why not take advantage of that expertese. Having mentioned researchED, I also think there might be an opportunity for Howard Stevenson to present something about this at one of the conferences.
Incidentally, a tweet from Tom Sherrington in Februaary started doing the rounds again on Saturday morning. In many ways I think this fits brilliantly with the message that was being shared and it’s something we should keep in mind as we think about where we want this to go.
More information about the day all these things can be found here: https://nottsvoiceed.wordpress.com/
Last week I finished reading Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C. I knew it would take me a bit of time to process my ideas but I keep thinking about it in relation to things so I decided to write about them now even if my processing hasn’t finished yet. I started reading it in the summer, mostly in the garden and a long way away from work (there’s a squished ant inside the front cover and everything). Back to work and things take over and it took me a while to pick it up again, but I did.
First off. I loved it. There is a mixture of history and theory, working out of ideas and backing them up with evidence and viewpoints, and finally a plan of how all of this can work in schools today. His proposal explores applying the trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) to contemporary education. Combining the building blocks of traditional knowledge with questioning and debate, before communicating and expressing what has been learnt. This isn’t just a book with a single idea or research at its heart – it’s a quest that Robinson has set out on to construct a better path for education, putting his ideas together through intense background study, seeking the views of others and debating different opinions before communicating his message via this book (see what he did there?).
There were times when reading this book that I felt very uneducated and did that very British thing of just rolling along hoping I’d understand at some point. Mostly I did, sometimes I checked back. I’ve not read a lot about the history and development of education. There was a bit here and there on my MEd courses but that was research centred and I found it fascinating to see how all these ideas of how to educate were formed and transformed – something I should probably look at more. I’m not going to focus on that here, I’m going to pick out my favourite bits from the last section of the book about how we can put it into practice, because that’s the bit I’ve been thinking about most.
This bit will make little logical sense as I pick out some favourite bits and ask myself questions. It’s only in this order because that’s how it is in the book.
The description of The Renaissance Person p.162
I love the idea that we’re all exposed to so much more information now and we should embrace this and allow it to shape us. Our pupils come from some pretty limiting backgrounds and we do our best to throw as much at them as possible whilst they’re with us. I think this is a really good foundation for any school ethos. I also found myself linking it with the recent ‘futurologist’ guff – not the learning styles stuff, but the many different careers stuff. Maybe it’ll be a Renaissancey thing where they can move from passion to passion because they have the opportunity?
Parental Engagement to Close the Gap p.191
Totally agree with this one. Especially working with the ‘naughty boys’ where you tend to get the ones ending up at the PRU and an SEMH school like ours, and the ones put in a residential school (or the well off ones packed off to boarding school). I’ve read a few things on parental engagement and we discussed it at our first TSA journal club. At the moment if there’s anything I’d like to do some research around, it’s probably this.
Active Citizenship p.223
LOVE this idea of pupils bringing issues into the classroom that they can work around and campaign for. Get to know their local and wider environment, build confidence and challenge opinions. Brilliant.
Awesome Quote p.227
“When teachers have the choice, they must not choose knowledge by how accessible it is, but by how important it is; they should then use their professionalism to make it accessible.”. I’m ALL about this.
The Authentic Curriculum p.241
I linked this with the Active Citizenship idea really. We need to make sure it doesn’t matter where they come from, they all get a chance and quite often we’re trying to keep ours out of prison. ‘Real experimental learning’ is a bit like extreme work experience with opportunities from all over the place. We do a lot of this already and I like the fact we can give it a name. I spent the best part of two years trying to start up a Scout troop in school and it’s fallen at an administrative hurdle. I hold out hope…
The simple tables on pages 236/7 of Teaching styles and Learning methods categorised with each element of the trivium have been the thing that has really shifted my thinking around. All the other things are interesting ideas I want to ponder on and see if there’s a place to use them in school. The trivuim set out in these tables is something that has prompted me to change the way I think about what I’m trying to achieve with my work.
The tables set out how to teach (and learn) within different elements of the trivium. From Grammar and getting a solid foundation, through Dialectic with more independence of ideas, to Rhetoric and the formation and spreading of thoughts and opinion; I think it fits the classroom well, but it’s also made me think about how we should approach research engagement in schools.
It’s easy to forget how little engagement most teachers have with research when you’re in the researchED/Edu-twitter bubble, but it’s said often enough about CPD that if we take into account the needs of pupils when teaching, we should take into account the needs of staff when training, and research engagement should be no different. I’m wondering where school research sits and how I can use the idea of the trivium in my role as research lead.
For me, most of the people I work with are at the beginning of their research journeys (I cringed too but I can’t think of another way of saying it). They need the grammar. Before rushing full pelt into research, I need to work out how we can build up a solid foundation of basic knowledge and terms, familiarity with things like EEF toolkit, get into the habit of asking for evidence. I need incremental steps, to provide resources, increase capacity incrementally and to scaffold. I need to encourage reading, accessing information and learning to deal with not understanding. Once people are in a position where they feel more confident they can move to the Dialectic – questioning, comparing sources, habits of discussion and critique. Finally we can move to the Rhetoric. Self-reflection, expressing opinions, positing questions and connecting with other institutions and expertise. Only at this point perhaps are we ready to use the full potential of things like journal clubs – too soon and it won’t have the impact.
I’ve also considered Lesson Study. The impact of lesson study on teaching and learning is still questioned and some of that is about chucking a process at staff that they might not understand. One of the things that gets mentioned when the Japanese version of lesson study is compared with the emerging UK versions is that in Japan the research element takes the form of a massive piece of work. I wonder if the scale of this initial research means that teachers work through each element of the trivium as they are producing it. The scale allows for the time they need to work through the theory, argument and form an opinion, and by reducing that for our programmes, do we miss stages out? If teachers don’t have time to get grounded and really understand the research lessons they’re planning, is the impact going to be less?
I know it’s important that there’s room for everyone to develop at different rates and with the structure of the trivium (even if it’s in the way I think about it rather than a formal programme of development), it’ll be easier to see where people are headed and I don’t think it’ll seem quite so much like it’s falling on deaf ears, rather a matter of building experience. One thing I have wondered is if we need to be able to teach the whole trivium or do we specialise in particular elements? Does a research lead need to be better at the groundwork or good at all of it?
Finally, the other thing I’ve been pondering this week is our school motto. ‘Choice and Responsibility’. Robinson discusses using each element of the trivium to create rounded school mottos and I’ve been trying to think about what we could add to ours to complete the set. Inform? Challenge? Share? It probably depends how you categorise each word into the trivium. Is ‘choice’ about us providing a choice/well-rounded information (grammar) or about questioning and making a choice (dialectic)? Is ‘responsibility’ about using their knowledge to make the right decisions (dialectic) or about the conclusions they make and take forward (rhetoric)? I’m still thinking about it and suspect I’ll keep on thinking about it. Until I read the next one…
One of the challenges facing our school at the moment due to assessment without levels is our baselining procedure. Our pupils can come to us at any point from year 3 to year 9 (it’s rare that we take new pupils in KS4), with varying experiences of education. Some come straight to us from a mainstream school, some have been at the PRU and others have been allocated a number of hours of home tutoring.
We baseline new pupils upon admission in order to assess their levels, needs and eventually provide us with a measure of just how (hopefully) awesome our teaching has been. We use Hodder Oral Reading Tests and Graded Word Spelling Tests for reading and spelling (which we use across the school twice a year). Until last year we used the GOAL online assessments for English, Maths and Science, but with the removal of NC levels, this product was removed from the market and, much to the pain of SLT, nothing has replaced it.
We have reverted back to the paper version of GOAL formative assessment that we used before the online tests. This is a series of multiple choice questions with a simple ‘number correct=a NC sub-level’. There is information in the depths of the teacher’s guide to help analyse the results, but we just report the end level for our records.
An issue we find regularly with our pupils is that they come to us with huge gaps in their knowledge. Understandable if you’ve had a series of fixed-term or permanent exclusions. They’ve often missed whole topics and we find, for instance, that they’re brilliant at working out lines of symmetry but give them a 3D shape to identify and they haven’t got a clue.
Something that struck me as I baselined a new pupil the day after reading the ‘Commission on Assessment Without Levels: final report’ is how, as well as changing the way we assess generally, there must be a better way of assessing our pupils as they enter the school. We can’t rely on KS tests to give us a picture of what they can do and as the report says, ‘There is no intrinsic value in recording formative assessment; what matters is that it is acted on’. As we develop our school assessment systems we need to look at how we build baselines into this so we can identify exactly what the pupils coming to us can do and where the gaps are that we need to fill in. At the moment I give teachers an old NC sub-level that could be based on a pupil getting all the easy questions at the start of the test or all the harder ones at the end. To actually find out what the child can do, the teachers have to work it out themselves.
I was spurred further into thought as, aside from the Assessment Without Levels report, two other windows open on my computer were Michael Tidd’s resources of curriculum key objectives and Daisy Christodoulou’s slides from researchED with her focus on multiple choice questions. I’m wondering if we could use these bits of information to create our own baseline tests?
What do we baseline for?
- Identify what the pupil knows and can do/ may need help with.
- Set a starting point for us to gather data and measure progress.
For me, the first reason is the most important. I get frustrated when class teachers ask me how a new pupil has done and I have to report a vague ‘sub-level with caveats’. I want to be able to give them specifics, but specifics they will actually use. Even when we did online testing, I’m not sure how much of the data we printed off was actually used to assess pupil needs.
The second point is more linked to the development of the whole school assessment policy, and debate around the worth of measuring individual pupil progress would probably add another 1000 words, however we do need to follow the Assessment Without Levels report and ensure our ‘curriculum and approach to assessment are aligned’ and I’m very aware that whatever system we come up with, we don’t ‘reinvent levels, or inappropriately jump to summary descriptions of pupils’ attainments’. The report also specifically states that ‘for pupils working below national expected levels of attainment assessment arrangements must consider progress relative to starting points and take this into account’. Baselining is our ‘starting point’ and needs to fit into this.
How do we create our own, useful, baseline procedure that identifies where our pupils are?
Well we need to think about what our pupils need – no point coming up with something that’s great for some kids but our lot flounder with. I’ve done a lot of baseline assessments of SEMH pupils. I’ve had everything from pupils that hide under tables brandishing a weapon, to ones that fly through at genius level. In my experience, they are often quite de-schooled and not used to sitting and working for any length of time; they have lower levels of literacy and big gaps in their knowledge; they’re apprehensive of coming to a new school and scared they’ll ‘fail’ the test. We need something to put them at ease and keep them engaged. My, not necessarily complete, list of requirements so far includes:
- Easy to read/can be read to them
- Doesn’t have to be done in one sitting
- Adaptive to very different levels
- Questions that aren’t too lengthy (lack of stamina/ easily distracted/ simply don’t engage if a question even looks too long.)
The baseline tests we use now have multiple choice questions. Daisy Christodoulou’s work has prompted me to think about the use of these more closely and I’m wondering if we should use our curriculum to create our own questions. Is it worth going through the questions on the existing tests and evaluating where they fit our curriculum? Daisy shows the impact of different types of question, for example, using multiple correct answers to get them to really read the options, and thinking carefully about how our choice of the incorrect answers can inform us just as much.
Michael Tidd’s key objectives tables break down expectations for KS1 and 2 – do I assume that it’s worth measuring what they know of these before we move them on to our KS2 and 3 curriculum or KS4 courses? Does it work like that? Could we use Michael’s work to help us create our multiple choice questions? Certainly it would be easier to do for some objectives than others. How do we do that and avoid something like the old criteria based grids? (By recognising that it’s particular questions about that objective that they can/can’t do rather than securing that objective as a whole based on a couple of questions, I suppose.) It’s the gaps we need to find and fill in if they’re to access all the work we need/want to cover, so whatever we end up with needs to be both useful and used.
Is an administered test the answer? Might teacher assessment be more useful for teachers/ more specific? (Should probably mention we run a primary model of teacher to class for most subjects throughout 7-16, with some specialist subjects). We wouldn’t get the data for tracking progress in the same way but the data we start with at the moment is inaccurate anyway and whilst we used to, we don’t do the paper GOAL tests with them again to compare. But we need to bear in mind of course that we ‘should be careful to avoid any unnecessary addition to teacher workload’.
I’ve looked around for alternatives that are on the market since we found out GOAL Online was being removed and I’ve not found a lot. The Assessment Without Levels report warns against buying in products and this probably goes for baselining too. The most promising thing I saw a while back was Alfie as it covered English, Maths and Science (we want all three, most do the first two) and you can piece together your own assessment from existing questions. We tried the GL Assessment NGRT with the Closing the Gap trial we were part of and the kids couldn’t cope with that at all – too long and in one sitting. Most gave up and guessed so the results, as beautifully presented as they were, were useless. One of our teachers has been looking at what CEM has to offer and I think it’s worth investigating, but I don’t think it’s what we’re after as a ‘useful’ baseline, certainly with the criteria I’ve thought of.
Thinking about it properly is pretty daunting. It’s a lot of work to set up – the whole process for the whole school is, but surely as we get to grips with how we approach assessment without levels, it’s worth investing time and effort in the part that’ll start them all off? Do we wait for an online ‘bank’ of questions and go from there? Finding a balance between putting together a robust test, that fits our pupils and our curriculum, and avoids excess data management for teachers, whilst ensuring they don’t have to test them again after I’ve done it, is something I’m sure is possible. It’s on the tip of my brain but I’m not sure how we start.
I wrote some ideas about CPD in school last year and I rather suspect I overstepped the mark with that so I’m cautious about suggesting around this topic. Does anyone have any answers? What do other people use? Do I just carry on with what I’m doing ‘til told otherwise or I rock the boat a bit?
*The picture at the top isn’t an actual question from our tests. That’s just some stuff from our mantlepiece at home. Still, it’s quite similar to some of the questions so you can see where our problems lie.*
The recent news features about state school students outperforming private students at university have raised a few questions and theories about how to explain the ‘unexplained gap’ from all sides of the educational domain. Understandably, if you’ve forked out thousands for years of education you’d rather not rely on any connections to get ahead in place of academic success, and equally, if you’re paying for extra tuition you want to know it’s having an impact.
Anecdotally I know of people who have been coached, by either parents or professional tutors, throughout their school life, achieving high grades until the point where they no longer had that support and found themselves unable to study on their own. Whether that’s due to constant nagging to get work done, parental ‘input’ in coursework or being given revision plans instead of working it out for themselves, it’s not an unusual occurrence.
When we talk about exams and qualifications with our pupils we place so much pressure on that particular moment, those particular results; yet for most of us they’re just a stepping stone to the next phase. There’s no way we’re going to downplay what they’re working towards of course, and I think for some children (certainly with our lot) focusing too far ahead is overwhelming, but I do think it’s something for us (the grown ups) to keep in mind.
Thinking about where my peers have ended up is an interesting (and perhaps scary) exercise. People I was in a class with from 7-16 are in jobs as wide ranging as pub landlord, shop assistant and deputy headteacher. People I was in a class with from 11-18 include a web designer, an MP, a psychiatrist and a chiropodist. We all had the same education (state FWIW). We all had the same access to the same subjects, with the same teachers, and we’ve all gone down different routes. Some went to university, some travelled, some had decided what they wanted to do when they were in infant school and some took a while to choose. Obviously parts of this can be put down to different life experiences and we all know, try as they can, schools can’t force outcomes from children. Even within my own family though my brothers and I have gone for very diverse pathways. Between us there’s a teaching assistant, an architect, and Andy kills Mufasa every night* in the West End. *not every night. The other day he mended the Sun.
My point is that… I’m not sure what my point is.
Education prepares you and takes you to the next step. For most people, once they’ve got the GCSEs to get into their post-16 experience of choice, no one asks for their GCSE results (maybe a requirement for a grade in certain subjects). Once they have the required A level grades for university, no one needs to know those. Once they have a degree it’s about experience and fighting for jobs with everyone else. None of that’s new information of course, but it shouldn’t be surprising that the same education leads to different futures with different needs and values.
We like to measure things though. Especially if we’re doing well. This article highlighted today by Carl Hendrick explains quite clearly our need to be one-up, how we see some things as intrinsically better or more valuable. In education this is the same; we’re held accountable for everything we do whether that’s in school, parents, government or in the press – no one wants to be the one that’s seen to break the chain of progress.
The thing I think is most important that we take from the performance at university story is that we have a responsibility to think about preparing pupils for the next phase so they don’t flounder. Yes, our job is to arm them with the knowledge and skills to pass the next set of tests, but the way we do that should ensure that once they’ve moved to the next step they can keep going, so if working without the supports that got them there turns out to be a factor in success, they’ve got a chance. Equally of course, we need to keep the curriculum as wide a we can to allow them to refine their choices as they go and find out what they really love.