Access To Research

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. #icanhazpdf

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.

  1. CORE – http://core.kmi.open.ac.uk/search

‘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.

  1. 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.

  1. Academia.edu

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.

  1. 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

FFT – http://www.fft.org.uk/research-centre/FFT-Research.aspx#.VADEamObk3k

  1. 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.

  1. http://oere.oise.utoronto.ca/

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. EBSCO

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.

  1. Subscription

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

http://alumni.essex.ac.uk/jstor

Turns out I can also have access to the library on campus. Worth a trip to Colchester just for that.

http://alumni.essex.ac.uk/alumnicard

 

researchED: The Next Generation

redtng

A theory I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while now is that there’s an emerging ‘2nd Generation’ of researchED goers. I’ve increasingly found that discussing the day with people I’ve now spent time with (both during conference and in pub afterwards) at several events is quite different from some of the conversations I’ve had throughout the day with people who were just starting to engage with researchED.

When researchED began in 2013, no one knew quite what it would be like but it looked like it’d be a good day out. I’d had a year without studying and I was eager to see how I could keep my foot in with all the research stuff I’d slaved over for three years. On the day there were people you recognised, a wide variety of sessions to attend, and there was nothing to lose. It was grass-roots – but not yet a movement. I felt the same way I did after my first MEd tutorial – there were all these people interested in the same things and I wanted to do it again. I scribbled notes for my first blog post as we drove back up the M1 towards home, and so did other people. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do it again – there was a hunger for more. We all took different things away from the day but we’d gone along to take part and be part of that day.

There was a rhetoric at the first couple of Research Leads events that centered on the need for head teachers and leaders to have a ‘vision’. The vision to drive their institution forward and properly engage with research on a whole-school level or it ‘wouldn’t work’. The message seemed to have shifted from engaging individuals, to ‘how do we familiarise people with research’, to the requirement for a ‘whole school vision’. I don’t think anything is wrong with this. I agree leadership need to be on board of course, but I think there is now a group of people who have skipped the first bit and are aiming for the last. They may have been sent to a researchED event by their Head in order to bring back the magic bullet, or be that Head looking for ideas. They want to know how it’s all supposed to work in practice; where the common ground lies between schools and what the bigger picture is; what the point is. The theory sounds great but it’s turning into a big job.

At one of the events Tom Bennett made a comment about whether researchED was the new Brain Gym yet. There does seem to be a reflexive reaction to the growing interest in research in schools, “that looks good, we’ll try that, Ofsted will love it”, throwing everything into ‘research’ without stopping to think about what it means and what will work for your individual setting – perhaps heightened by Research and Development as one of the ‘Big Six’ key areas of focus for Teaching Schools. I’m part of it myself I suppose. I asked for the Research Lead role because I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I’m still happily moving along, picking up ideas and things to try out.  I’m in a different situation to a lot of people though; our school is small and think there are quite a few things that aren’t suited to us so I’m not so worried about figuring out how we’ll fit it in. I’m happy to cherry pick and try to work out what we can try whilst I continue to meet with interesting people and build connections for us.

Jude Enright used Pasteur’s Quadrant model of scientific research in her session in Cambridge. Our group discussion about where the Research Lead lies within the quadrant was interesting. pasteurtableWe pretty much decided that we can flit from place to place depending on what we are engaging with. I like to think that even though I’ve got a responsibility as Research Lead to consider how research is relevant and used, I can also delve into research for the sake of it; it’s like the indulgent me-time of research. As Research Leads I think a lot of our work is helping others find their quadrant and supporting them. Be that individually, as a whole school or perhaps as part of a TSA. I understand that schools don’t want to be left behind, and I really understand the need to be part of this – it doesn’t mean it has to be about finding ‘the answer’ all the time though. People can be nominated to do the role but there needs to be an element of personal interest.

I know the Leads events are more focused on what we can actually bring back to do in schools, the national conference has a broader scope and I’m glad it has continued to be that way. One of the best things about researchED is that it’s a hobby; I’ve seen people at teachmeets getting a bit haughty about research  – feeling like they’ve got to question things for the sake of it. It turns people off and spoils it. A speech from Tom Bennett is never complete without astonishment that so many people are giving up their Saturday to attend. We’re doing it for fun, it’s enriching but it doesn’t feel like we’re at work. At least that’s how I see it.

My advice to the 2nd Generation, for what it’s worth, is you don’t need to worry about rushing to find the answers. Take the opportunity to see what other people are achieving and think about how you can adapt it to fit. That’s part of working our what works, right?

researchED 2016 – The Humid One

I’m annoyed by how long it’s taken me to write about researchED 2016 this year. After a weekend spent absorbing so many ideas and then hurtling back into the working week, I think it’s taken me longer to process. I want to write about it properly but I’m still buzzing from it all and can’t quite order my thoughts so apologies if it’s all over the place.

red16blocks

This year looks like it’s going to be an interesting one for me researchED wise and this was a brilliant way to kick it off. The national conference is now firmly in the education calendar – with all the advantages of securing brilliant speakers and having a press presence. It’s also great to have the buzz of the run up and see so many people again (if not nearly for long enough in so many cases). The flip-side of this of course is that there is a core of familiar faces and we need to be careful not to become too cliquey; it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what’s going on. I also had a couple of conversations where people seemed a bit disappointed with the session they went to and I think it’s really important to remember that at the heart of researchED is an ethos of everyone being able to share with each other. That means polished speakers that forgo their usual fee and it means nervous teachers quite prepared for 30 Year 9s but terrified of 15 adults. Not everyone will be polished but it’s amazing that everyone wants to share and connect.

I had no particular method of picking my sessions this year and part of me wishes I hadn’t looked through the rED16 feed afterwards because I saw tweets about sessions I hadn’t even spotted in the programme. This is what I saw this time:

  1. Laura McInerney – Perfectionism
  2. Becky Allen et al – How to win the argument against opening new grammar schools
  3. Stuart Kime – Assessment: the unclaimed prize of learning
  4. Pedro de Bruckyere – Some basic ingredients for an effective education
  5. Sean Harford interviewed by Andrew Old
  6. Tim Leunig – How ministers make decisions when evidence matters
  7. Paul Kirschner – Urban legends in education: What does the research say?

I’m not going to go through each of them, but it’s worth highlighting a few bits from the day.

The first session with Laura McInerney (when I found it) was probably the one that was most personal to me. Laura explored the relationship between perfectionism and performance anxiety in teachers and how that impacts on retention. Looking at the links between type of person who becomes a teacher alongside how people act when under pressure, Laura focused on seeking approval and worrying about mistakes – connecting to this idea of ‘teaching fright’. She suggested that one of the reasons other roles that require dealing with people or performing don’t have the same issues with staff retention is that they are not asked to ‘perform’ for so many people, for such a length of time and repeatedly. It certainly hit the nail on the head as to why I don’t want to teach (and probably why I like working in a small school). The important things to take from this are that we need to work out who is likely to suffer from this anxiety, when, and how we can prevent it. Whilst it’s not going to be the only reason people leave the profession, it might go some way to helping those who do.

Understandably there was a noticeable undercurrent around the topic of grammar schools throughout the day and the session led by Becky Allen was all about this. I have never seen so many of the voices in education be so united against something as they are with the grammar schools proposal. Having spent so long pushing the message of evidence based/informed/led practice in education, for something that flies in the face of available evidence it’s understandable that people are cross (particularly as part of researchED). There are a lot of differences of opinion in education – probably magnified by Twitter, but the atmosphere was infectious.

Takaway message from Sam Freedman...

Takaway message from Sam Freedman in my notes…

On a similar note, Tim Leunig’s session on ‘How ministers make decisions when evidence matters’ was fabulous. I could listen to him all day I think. Not saying I was agreeing with everything he said, but definitely one worth looking at the video of. All the available videos and presentations are on the researchED website.

So now I need to use all this to get some stuff done. I’ve spent the past few rEDs with getting ideas for Relay in the back of my mind and wasn’t quite so worried about that this time. However there are a few bits I’ll write about and, for me, the evidence is clear that grammar schools are not the answer to our problems with education and the best way to stop this happening is to let people know. I’ve realised that surely one of the reasons for school to have me as Research Lead is that I can collate and translate all the information on this and encourage staff to respond to the consultation. I was going to do something in the next issue of Relay but I think there might be a bit too much information so I’ll see if I need to think of something else too. I’ve never written directly about researchED in Relay. Not sure whether that’s because I want to avoid bias towards my own interests or, as I remembered this week, it’s really tricky to talk about without sounding like you’re name-dropping! Mulling the idea of a ‘Research Special’ so who knows.

Finally, Howard seemed to have a good rED16 too and entertained himself by creating all sorts of interactive statistical analyses of the #rED16 hashtag. You can find these here: http://benchheaven.co.uk/rED16/

Next stop Washington

Summer Reading 2016

2016-08-30 10.19.07

Holidays have been a bit upside down for us this year so I’m cheating a little bit. We went to Tokyo at Easter and as that’s our ‘big holiday*’ for the year I’ve included the books I read whilst we were there too. I’ve also included one that’s a dip-in-and-out book and one I’ve not finished but think I’ll take into school as my ‘quite reading’ book.

*The plan was for a UK break over the summer and maybe some cheap sun at October half term but them someone went and signed themselves up to researchED Washington so now we’re going there instead…

Book 1: Runaway by Peter May (a Tokyo at Easter one)
Peter May keeps cropping up in these posts doesn’t he? Well I’ve managed to get my mum addicted too and she’s churning through them all aswell now.2016-08-30 10.27.12

‘Runaway’ is a bit of a change to the usual murdery plots of Mays books and if I’m honest I wasn’t 100% gripped with this one. There’s an element of whodunnit as it follows a group of childhood friends who ran away together in their youth and do it again as old men. There are flashbacks and the two stories are intertwined but it wasn’t really for me.

If you are at all tempted to give a May novel a go after me harping on, definitely do, but this isn’t the one to start with. No matter though – got another coming up in a bit…

Book 2: The Bat by Jo Nesbo (my other Tokyo at Easter one)
2016-08-30 10.27.24Having read all the available books with the various maverick detectives I’ve got on the go, I was looking for a new one to fill the void whilst some more get written. I read ‘Headhunters’ by Jo Nesbo as one of the staff Blind Date books and liked it enough. I found the Harry Hole books when I was looking at what else I could go with and as another detective to add to the mix goes it seemed perfect.

It’s quite cleverly set as an introduction to a Scandinavian cop (there are a few out there) as this one is set in Australia. We get the Norwegian feel but none of the formula that perhaps comes with the others (I believe there are others in the series set abroad too). Premise is that our detective is shipped over to Australia to assist in the investigation into the murder of a Norwegian national – peril ensues. I’ll definitely read more in the series, but might wait for when I need a gap filler rather than rush to buy them all straight away.

Book 3: I Left My Tent in San Francisco by Emma Kennedy (start of the Summer ones)
I read Emma Kennedy’s first autobiographical account last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. The amount of disaster that one family can have is quite spectacular and as Emma grew up it doesn’t look like things got much better.2016-08-30 10.45.44

This book picks up as Emma finishes university and hasn’t got a clue what to do next. Lured by promised riches on the other side of the Atlantic, we follow Emma and her friend Dee as they set out to make their fortune in San Fransisco and travel back across America before facing life as grown ups. Obviously, as this is a Kennedy tale, thing are far from smooth and I don’t think it would be spoiling it to say there aren’t exactly riches. What we do get is a glimpse into their perseverance and the generosity of strangers.

One of the most beautiful parts of ‘The Tent, The Bucket and Me’ was Emma’s relationship with her parents and that’s missing from this  book. As much as I prefer that book, I’m glad that wasn’t the end and we get a second installment. Worth reading if you’ve read the first.

Book 4: Animal by Sara Pascoe
2016-08-30 10.57.13This is a combination of autobiography and the story of female evolution. Using examples from her own life and experiences, Pascoe takes us through a history of what it is to be woman, answering questions of why we might behave and feel the way we do and how women fit into modern society. It’s not too sciency but there’s enough back-up to know it’s not just conjecture.

I’m the same age as Pascoe and I always find it quite easy to read things by people who were teenagers at the same time. I like the way she writes and read most of it with her voice in my head.She covers the topics of ‘Love’, ‘Body’ and ‘Consent’ in a funny and informative way, with things I knew, things I’d forgotten and things we should be shouting about.

I admire people who can be so honest about themselves and found a lot of what she wrote about familiar and motivating. This is the sort of book that makes you follow up on some of the references at the back and realise there are things we should all be shouting about a little bit louder.

Book 5: The Firemaker by Peter May

So. I promised another Peter May appearance and here he is.2016-08-30 11.18.16

The China Thrillers series have been out of print and are currently being reissued with the first few already available. As the name suggests, these books are set in China and follow a Beijing detective, Li Yan, through a period of immense cultural change in China. The Firemaker is the first in the series and is set at the turn of the millenium. May has spent time in China from the early 1980s and his witnessing of change in the country is evident in his writing.

The story runs at a good pace and contains all the elements I have come to expect from May. The introduction of American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell serves as our guide to the different ways and customs of the Chinese system. History is peppered through the book and the atmosphere is refreshing in a genre that is swamped with western backdrops. This is a great start to a series and a memoir to a point in time. I’m (predictably) looking forward to working through the rest of them.

Book 6: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

2016-08-30 12.48.50I’ve waited for a LONG time to read this. Having got the first ones in paperback I didn’t want to break the trend so had to wait and then decided to save it for our summer holiday that we’ve ended up not having. It was worth it.

Me n Howard love Cormoran Strike and his third adventure is a solid addition to the set. The relationship between Strike and Robin is moved forwards brilliantly, there’s enough to keep you guessing and trying to work things out, and Galbraith/Rowling has successfully built the characters over the previous novels into well-rounded figures that can work in changing settings. There’s not the same amount of explanation of the main characters now – just enough to remind the reader of previous books, and the case takes the front seat in a way I don’t think has happened before. This might be because it is more personal to Strike and so the two are more intertwined.

There is a satisfying few references of Doom Bar and we dutifully drank some because that’s what Strike would want. Just waiting for the next book now…

Book 7: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J K Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Well I can’t really say anything about this because that’s the rule.2016-08-30 11.54.25

I can say it’s brilliant and I really want to see it performed. The plays follow on from the first seven books and are set nineteen years later. The main gang are there and they have children.

It was really easy to read the story as a script so I’m not sure what some people have moaned about. I actually preferred it as I think there’s a lot of bits in the Harry Potter books that stray away from the story and with this there was just enough to allow the reader to build the scene for themselves. Having said that, the hints in stage direction hint deliciously at just how spectacular the stage production is. I doubt we’ll get tickets for London but when it goes on tour we’ll be trying our hardest to get tickets.

Book 8: Fables: Farewell by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

2016-08-30 12.02.52Oh Fables. I’d put this off but I finally read the last of the Fables series.

I blame my boss for this. He bought me the first in the Fables comic book series (trade paperback) for my 30th birthday. I’ve spent a small fortune of the rest now but they are completely worth it. The premise is that characters from fairy tales and folklore are in exile from their homelands and settled in New York. It follows their fight against ‘The Adversary’ and the challenges they face from their past and future. The series is creative and, despite the ‘fairytale’ themes, adult with no one spared for the story’s sake.

From what I can gather the series lasted much longer than initially intended and for that I am grateful. This collection of the final stories is the perfect ending to an amazing series. If you haven’t tried graphic novels then this is a series that is more than worth a try – I warn you it can be expensive though.

Book 9: What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Psychology by David Didau and Nick Rose

This is my dip-in-and-out book. A brilliant introduction to lots of  psychological principles in themes across education. 2016-08-30 12.30.26This is going to be an excellent go-to book for a wide range of topics that are bound to come up, with quick reference bullet points and longer explanations. The book is organised into three sections: Learning and Thinking, Motivation and Behaviour and Controversies. There’s going to be something for everyone in this – even if, especially if, it goes against what they already think.

The language is easy to read and not scarily academic, and there are a good number of references to follow-up and delve further into each topic. I can see this easily becoming indispensable for people at all levels of a career in education.

Book 10: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (the one I’m still reading)

2016-08-30 12.30.36This has been on the shelf for a while and was recommended quite recently on Twitter so it worked up the list. I say recommended, it was but with the word ‘harrowing’ alongside. I’m taking my time.

The book is set in mid-70s India and follows the stories of four characters who come together at a time of political turmoil. The book tells the story of each of them individually and together and I’m about a third of the way through. A couple of things have sprung to mind whilst I’ve been reading this: Anita Rani’s episode of the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ that followed her grandfather’s story through the partition of India, and the book ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and set in the Biafran War. Both these reminders give me a sense of foreboding as to the rest of the novel but also of importance that I read it.

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Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.

rEDYork 2016

I’ve not seen many blog posts about rEDYork and to be honest as I’ve not got anything down for a week I did wonder if it was worth it, but I quite often use these sorts of posts for my own reference so I’ll go for it.

It’s been an unusually long time since I went to a researchED event – well, September, but that feels like a long time especially with the frequency of rED events popping up around the globe. It’s felt like a slightly slower year generally researchwise for me too I suppose, but this looks like it’s picking up with a few bits and bobs on the horizon.

redyork

This was the second researchED event at Huntington School in York, the first I’ve been to. A much nicer balance of Research Lead focus and ‘things people have tried’ I think, and it sets it out as different to the national event. I had the usual dilemma of what to see and I realise I now have the added conundrum of whether to see things that catch my eye or things I think might make for a good piece in Relay (the Learning and Development bulletin I diligently churn out every half term with no idea how many people are reading it). I pretty much went with catching my eye I reckon. Here’s the list anyway:

  • Keynotes: Estelle Morris and Philippa Cordingly
  • Leon Walker et al: ‘How RISE helped develop an enquiry-based approach to curriculum development’
  • Gary Jones: ‘What would a curriculum to develop evidence-based practitioners look like?’
  • Lisa Pettifer: ‘Teacher-led professional learning’
  • Carol Davenport: ‘Unconscious bias in the classroom’
  • Alex Quigley: ’10 things a busy teacher needs to know about research evidence’

It was the sort of day I’ve become familiar with and was starting to miss. It was good to see some familiar faces and meet some new ones, with interesting conversations as standard. Not going to describe each and every moment but I’ll pick out some bits that have particularly stuck with me throughout this week.

It was great to hear about how the RISE project is going down at Meols Cop Hight School. Realising that the job of leading things was too big for one person (and having responsibility for the school timetable), Leon Walker has passed on some of the responsibility to subject leaders and we heard what was being done in English, Maths and Science. The one that caught me here was Jen Filson talking about their Maths trial based on a research paper she was given. I did pinch this as an idea for Relay so if you’re interested you can read a summary here (pdf), but it was a brilliant example of taking an idea from research and using it to spark something, and having the opportunity to do so. My absolutely favourite thing from the day was slipped in at the end by Leon who revealed in the list of things they’re doing next year that in his timetabling duties has pre-set parallel groups into the structure of the school in order to make enquiry easier. Blowing my mind timetable style.

It’s worth a bit of detail on Lisa Pettifer’s session. I almost didn’t go to it because I’d forgotten what I’d circled earlier and was getting swept away with the dining room crowd – glad I did go, she’s a guddun this one. Lisa talked about her role in the school’s pettiferProfessional Development Department – how this sits in the school and how the school sits within their community. I loved how professional development is very much an interwoven part of school life and not an after thought (or a tick list of certifications we all need to do). I loved that there are no senior leaders in the PD team. I loved the range of opportunities they help provide. I loved the diagram of their PD model (I got to scribble it in my notes and I took a photo with my shoddy phone camera. Bonus points if you can make it out*). I really loved that they were taking the opportunity to bring PD in-school, achieving ‘success through collaboration’, and I would like to explore how we can get some of all this going at our school.

Last one I’ll go into detail of is Carol Davenport on ‘unconscious bias’. This started with a breakdown of the reasons we have unconscious bias and how it can be useful (don’t misjudge a tiger for the wind) as well as problematic, before focussing more on the example of gender. I think working in a school where we only have boys, we are both more guilty of bias and more aware of it. I think for us, bias towards ‘boy stuff’ is often the easier option – football breaks, superhero themes etc. and there are reasons we generalise this stuff, the majority do like it. We do try though to move beyond it and consciously provide alternatives, whether that’s in exam courses like BTEC Hospitality alongside Motor Engineering or crafty options for lesson 6. Away from the ‘gender’ biases though I think we can be biased in other ways. Our boys come from very different backgrounds to most of our staff – culturally, economically, socially. We need to be careful not to pre-judge them and avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. This is something I’m particularly aware of as I baseline new pupils for next year. All our pupils have some sort of background that looks awful on paper and we can’t afford to focus on this too much.

I’ve pretty much decided that the next issue of Relay will be a sort of research focussed issue. I’ve tried to avoid it being too ‘researchy’ and give a broader selection of things so far (I don’t really want to bias it towards myself probably), but I think there’s so much going on everywhere that it would be a good opportunity to give a round-up of a bit more.

I’m proper excited for the National Conference in September now.

*Lisa Pettifer has fabulously provided the actual diagram which is very much less blurry🙂

We Are Writers!

WE WROTE A BOOK!

Ok, so the boys at school wrote a book, and it was through a scheme for schools to publish their work, but we have BOOKS!

Box-of-books

As mentioned previously our school has taken part Scholastic’s ‘We Are Writers’ scheme. I’d put a flyer to one side some time ago and I suggested it again when we were thinking of ideas for the reading festival. It’s open to all schools (and I think other organisations for children), for pupils up to 18 and it’s free to take part. There are various rules and conditions (all easily met) like you have to order a minimum of 50 copies and promise, hand on heart, to display posters etc – their FAQs are here if you fancy a look. Each book costs £5.99 and schools are free to charge what they like for copies so it’s a good way to raise some money, but we decided to use some of our Year 7 catch up literacy premium money to pay for one copy for each pupil and then gave parents and carers the option to purchase extra copies at cost price if they wanted them. As with all Scholastic orders, there’s the rewards scheme (so money towards more books) and free p&p to schools. Ooh, and school gets a free copy too.

The Process

When you sign up you’re given a timeline to complete all the steps – from writing chapters and editing to proof reading and front cover design. Each piece of work is a chapter (need a min. 50 chapters, max. 880 pages). You can include stories, poems, scripts, whatever you fancy. Just text though, no pictures. You set the book up on the website and pupils create a login to add their chapter. It’s all very simple and looks like a familiar word processing form – you can paste into the box if you’ve written it elsewhere and administrators can add and edit chapters anyway so don’t worry if you’ve got a sweary pupil. story

You can invite other staff members to help put it all together/ proof read etc. I don’t think anyone other than the admin can edit though. Completed chapters (and whole book) can be viewed and downloaded as a pdf so you can see what it all looks like. Even once you’ve submitted it, you get a printed copy to proof read and edit before placing your final order so it’s not too late to change it.

In addition to pupil work there is a space for a forward. Our headteacher wrote ours but it can be anyone. Every year there is an additional forward from a children’s author, this year’s is Eoin Colfer (which is lovely because I heart him a bit). The only regret I have with our forward is that we didn’t include the name of the boy who designed the front cover and we should’ve done because that’s the place you can do it.

The front cover includes your school’s name, the ‘We Are Writers’ title, and a square box for your own design. This is anything you want to upload. You could just use your school logo or, like we did, have a competition to design the image. Obviously the usual copyright issues are there. The background colour of the book can be chosen from loads of options. We went with the navy blue because we liked it but there are colours to match every school headed notepaper you can think of.

coverchoicesFinally, you will get a stock of customised posters to put up at school with your chosen price and a few sentences to let people know what you need them to know. Plus a stack of order forms to send home. It’s all very organised.

Our Book

This is our book. It’s beautiful.

book

We had a lot of different stories and a couple of poems. Lots of magic 50ps, zombies, and a few dreamcatchers (rather suspect these are linked with classwork). Interesting to see how different Key Stages write – KS2 particularly descriptive and a thousand alternatives to ‘said’; KS3 with lots of short, snappy sentences to build their tension. We had a special assembly to hand them out and for the most part I think they were really quite chuffed to see their work in print. Wouldn’t be surprised if we did it again.

I can’t share the whole book but here are a few of my favourites which will give you a taste of our creative genius and an idea of the book’s layout. The Key Stage 4 one is clearly based on the WW1 poetry he’d been studying in English (pleased some of that stuck in his brain so fingers crossed for results day). The Key Stage 3 one was a tricky choice – so many to choose from and I think this was one of the ones read out in assembly. The Key Stage 2 one is written collaboratively by the group that go out for extra reading. It proves that anyone can take part in this no matter how confident they are with writing, everyone can tell a story. I love it.

KS4 – The Sentry

KS3 – On The Run

KS2 – The Three Little Pigs – Our Version!!

 

Blind Date With A Book 2.0

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

bdwab0204

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:

Cards with Awesome Poems In (pdf)

No Excuses, But There Are Reasons

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.

The Motivational Incident

bethface

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.

iguana

Rewarding Reading (part 2)

books

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:

rights

  1. The right not to read.
  2. The right to skip
  3. The right not to finish a book
  4. The right to read it again.
  5. The right to read anythihng.
  6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
  8. The right to dip in.
  9. The right to read ou loud.
  10. The right to be quiet.

 

Rewarding Reading (part 1)

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…

stickersThere 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.