May 2013 Daily dailygenius

Posted on November 13, 2013

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Wednesday 22nd May 2013
Today was one of those incredibly busy SLT days, with meeting after meeting after meeting with staff and students. Apart from catching up with SLT colleagues about interviews tomorrow and links with local schools I met twice with my new co-teacher for Sociology, twice with Sociology students keen to discuss yesterday’s exam, once with someone I line manage about work towards their performance management objectives and so on and so on.

But the meeting that most put a smile on my face was the one I had with the KS3 Science Co-ordinator who wanted to talk about changes to their curriculum next year. During the meeting she mentioned that she had read my recent blogpost on National Curriculum levels (https://dailygenius.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/spirit-levels-exorcising-the-ghost-of-assessment-past/) and wanted to talk about how we could do something different next year. She also brought with her the Science KS3 National Curriculum itself and the attainment target which simply says “By the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study”.

We discussed the joy of assessment autonomy, but also the potential pitfalls of developing systems of our own, and we began to conceptualise a research-driven way forward. All well and good (and something to be developed further later I hope), but the main reason why I enjoyed this meeting so much was because it showed the power of blogging by school leaders. My colleague was under no illusions that the personal preference expressed here would become an institutional imperative, but she had the confidence in her instincts and mine to come with some ideas and some questions. That’s all we ask for from colleagues in the end, and to know that this medium can support that animus is a reassuring thing. Otherwise what the heck is it all for anyway?

Tuesday 21st May 2013
Call me Mr Grumpy Bum today but when did we become too afraid to teach students and show our skills as the most important agents of learning? I have been repeatedly struck recently by the capitulation of the profession to student discovery as the default classroom mode, and the consequent sacrificing of teacher expertise in the face of this learner-led approach.

Interview candidates are a case in point, although the malaise is spread more widely than this. At my school we give candidates for English posts a simple brief: Half an hour to teach one poem to illustrate one poetic technique with high levels of challenge for Y8.

What often happens is very far removed from what we are expecting because candidates often do no explicit teaching of the poem and no explicit teaching of the technique.

There are frequently interesting starter activities, but in a 30 minute lesson this is one of the first things that could (should?) be jettisoned surely. Where the problems begin is beyond the starters when candidates tend to hand over responsibility for the analysis of the poem to the students themselves, working in pairs or groups or individually with a worksheet. They explore for meaning or find key words or answer meaningful questions about the effect on the reader: Sometimes they even have to locate examples of the poetic technique that the candidates have been asked to teach them. But rarely, too too rarely, do the lessons involve direct teaching.

The truly sad thing in all of this is that upon receiving feedback all too many of the candidates respond by saying that in previous observations and precious interview lessons they were told that they had talked too much and needed to get the students to do more. Now I’m no fan of teachers bludgeoning students with unfocused talk about poems and techniques or for lessons that don’t involve students proactively contributing to knowledge transfer, but (and you can call me old-fashioned) I do like a teacher to teach.

Sunday 19th May 2013
Just wondering how many people who rightly criticise SLTs for flitting from one idea to the next do it themselves?

Sometimes on twitter we see pedagogic ideas come, gain traction, reach ascendency, meet resistance, falter and then disappear (mostly buried under the weight of opprobrium from people who were once ardent activists).

In my time on twitter I have seen “the new black” be SOLO taxonomy, Project Based Learning, Hattie’s Effect Sizes, Willingham’s cognitive overload, Randomised Control Trials, the Royal College of Teaching, direct instruction and so on and so on and so on. I’m still trying to get my head around SOLO, but so many ardent enthusiasts (the so-called #SOLOarmy) from summer 2012 are nowhere to be seen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy to see colleagues opening up and telling the world how their worldview has adapted and changed, and how much they have learnt professionally from their interactions with twitter. And I’m a major fan of people trying out new ideas and working through the difficulties of implementation. But I do worry when I see the short-range arc of good ideas on twitter and in blogs.

Now, more than ever, is the time to be wary of the latest posts by the most prominent bloggers, or to be constructively critical about the theme of the latest pedaguru book to be released. Now is the time to stop buying into things that we know we are going to disavow in a few months’ time. Now is the time to trust our professional instincts and to develop our own next steps, rooted in what already works for us.

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