Might be a starter for a reading challenge.
Thanks to my wife, Melanie, a Secondary library manager, for these suggested book lists for years 7,8 and 9.
Might be a starter for a reading challenge.
We need far seeing plans not simply a focus on what’s next.
Is the focus on single lesson planning, and with it, single lesson learning objectives taking away from and even possibly destroying the learning dynamic? I know there is the classic Mao statement about the longest journey starting with the first step, but it does usually help to know where you are going.
It is strange how a series of discussions can meld into one, when discussing the needs of early career, or ITE trainees. Recently, with School Direct trainees starting their journey towards qualified teacher status, there have been opportunities to “touch base” and see how they are getting on. Almost without exception, they picked on planning as their biggest issue at this stage.
Seeking to unpick the reasons for this was, and is, always illuminating, as the identified areas fluctuate between personal and school need. Not everyone is organised in their approach, so some need to address their time management, or devote some time to research more effectively and efficiently. We all know how long can be wasted on internet searches. Schools, in seeking to help their trainees, may give them detailed (sure fire) plans completed by a subject manager, the year lead or an experienced colleague. If the trainee is party to the lesson plan development, they have an inkling as to the underlying thinking. Where it arrives “cold”, the trainee will struggle to interpret the plan as intended and won’t have the skills to address issues that may then arise. It can be a recipe for failure, even for an experienced teacher.
Planning at lesson level seemed to come to prominence with the argued need to demonstrate progress within a lesson. This led to a variety of “lesson interrupters” like ill thought out “mini-plenaries”, or perhaps an ill-judged application of Assessment for Learning; thumbs up etc. The need to show progress may have taken over from the need to make progress. Activity lessons, lumped end to end, do not create a recipe for progress. Progress is made by engaging with challenge, exploring inconsistent outcomes, adding value through discussion and feedback and then evaluating outcomes to find further areas for development.
When a trainee tells you that they have spent three hours planning an hour’s lesson, there is significant imbalance in effort.
Instead of single lesson plans, I’d want students to begin to explore learning over time, as medium term plans. Then over one, two, three weeks, starting from an aspiration for children to make progress over that timescale, “medium term objectives” can be set that will guide the dynamics of that time, including the setting of home activity, that can then be tailored to support the journey.
Within this journey, each lesson might then have greater coherence, as it can be described as the next step. Checking the outcomes of each lesson, to support decisions on how to tweak the next lesson to the needs of the children become easier, too. Within “medium term objectives” can coexist the personal learning targets of each child.
The medium term plan, to my mind, would be a significant overview, with intervening lesson plans being the tweaks rather than further substantive planning, unless there are obvious gaps in learning that need to be addressed. These intervening plans can then be a less detailed, depending on the individual needs of the teacher.
I’d go a little further too, and, for those in a position to support the learning over the whole year, to articulate “annual objectives” for different children, within which the medium and short term objectives can have resonance and be made visible to learners.
Planning, in reality as a Primary teacher, is a multi-layered affair. The needs of a range of children across a range of subjects is at least a 3-dimensional jigsaw. To restrict students and early career teachers to single lessons can instil bad habits, in some, from the start. They need a very clear whole picture before they can make sense of the parts. They also need to be aware of those areas where they need to focus their own personal research and development efforts.
It is the same for the learners too. To know where they are going over a timescale that they can consider; this week, for two/three weeks we will be studying…, they can begin to make links for themselves that the teacher may not be making sufficiently explicit, lesson by lesson. Some schools send home a half term plan of what is coming up, so that parents can also be kept in the picture and can see the purpose of home activity when it is set.
Where a learner is experiencing learning issues, to be able to identify these within the span of a topic, then to appropriately focus efforts on addressing the identified problem, can ensure that the child is not left to flounder, and as a result to not make progress. Which, after all, is what teaching and learning is about. Every child making progress.
Semantics-it’s only words.
The narrower the teacher frame of reference becomes, the narrower the learner view becomes, as it is controlled by the former.
It is strange. For the first part of my school career, there was talking with children about their ongoing learning, sometimes as individuals, often as groups and then there was marking. As the talking and the marking were in the context of work being checked, edited, discussed, reframed, as a part of developmental approaches, drafting and redrafting ideas, the discussions could be seen more as “editorial boards”, with the recipient of the group discussion having to go away and recraft their work. As my career was largely in Primary, these were 5-11 year olds. The later classes also had the benefit of being participants in the National Writing Project, which had a strong local base.
I am beginning to reflect that, as the discussions were part of a known process, it was this context, with the need to follow up, to improve the detail that was the successful element.
Today, too often, as has always been the case in many classrooms, a piece of written work can be seen as an end in itself, with the potential that any critique, or support, offered at the marking stage, will only be tentatively applied, or retained, as the class moves on to the next topic.
This creates for me a broader question. Is it better to craft fewer pieces of higher quality, than a greater number of pieces of possibly lower quality?
The approach that I outline above, with a focus on the process, could mean that a piece of writing was developed over a couple of weeks, and, as this was all hand written, needed careful management, to avoid children just rewriting for neatness.
An example that I used, with one able group, was to spend the lesson time developing the ideas and planning carefully, with a home activity to write a (short, 15 minute) chapter draft, to bring back to the class to discuss and edit the following day, before moving to plan the next chapter. A lower achieving group had the task of developing their storyboard at home, to use in the lesson, to talk about, plan, draft, edit and create a “chapter” of three sentences. Lesson length varied with the needs of the task, to ensure quality outcomes. Topics were governed by the need for quality.
“Publication” was a hand task, with each child’s work mounted, bound and incorporated pieces of associated art work. Children were trained to mount their work with care. Their finished products made them proud and they became a part of the class “library” for a while, before going home.
Teachers talked together about the outcomes, especially within year groups, but also across the school, as a topic or a particularly exciting outcome was shared. Everyone grew, by talking together and being allowed to try things out.
My school, as a whole, took part in these approaches, and, as I was one of the leads for English, and undertaking my post grad in Language and Reading development, it provided a great platform for personal and institutional development. We talked improvement, created generic formulae to describe this from Reception to year 3 (It was still a First School) and we got children to an extremely high level of achievement, often not believed by the receiving Middle School. Many were at what would have been called afterwards, a good level 4.
It was in the last three years of my time as a class teacher when the original National Curriculum came into being. This gave a form of words to all teachers, across all schools, to discuss progress. More focused moderation began to offer broader insights into outcomes across schools. Ideas were shared more widely, but then there were also apocryphal stories about schools not able to do the same, as they were more tightly controlled in their timetabling or what they had to offer.
In many ways, the inception of the National Strategies, with the further development of Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) grids, to my mind, enabled a greater stereotyping of approaches, with ever narrower aspects being the focus for learning; losing sight of the bigger picture, especially as moderation then began to focus on sub-levels. The words of moderation killed off the teacher aspiration to hold onto the holistic process of writing, and to focus on ever smaller elements, which children then often had to put together themselves.
Rather than move in this ever-narrower way, within my school, we worked towards what became the two page approach to the writing process, embedding the best of the National Writing Project outcomes with what we felt was the best of the emerging development narrative. This enabled us to move to around 85% level 4+ in the 2005 SATs, with 40% at level 5. The process of writing was always at the forefront, with the discrete elements fitting together.
This approach was further developed across the curriculum, with a focus for each week’s main piece of writing. There was one book for all major writing, developed in the same way, over the course of a number of days, with a purposeful outcome; display or class book being the main sharing points. Shorter, note based writing also happened, to facilitate some other subjects.
Development discussions were always based on the whole level descriptors, with subject managers adjusting these, or advising, if there were discrete elements to be considered.
In essence, the school focused on
Order and organisation of thoughts. This might be aided, in any subject, by storyboarding, a series of photos, mind-mapping, story mapping, scaffolds, or some other structural aids. Some children crafted three sentence narratives, reports, letters etc, with a beginning a middle and an end, then were challenged to add detail. Others were able to develop a more coherent, extended narrative, but needed guidance to focus in some way.
Getting good at words. Collecting together, sharing, words and phrases appropriate to the needs of the writing, including thesaurus or class sharing activities. Talking about adjective, verb and adverb choices, crafting sentences.
Bringing in inspiration from what they were reading. There was a link with books read, as every class had an appropriate “Author of the Month”, with a set of books available to supplement other reading. This allowed teachers to read quality literature aloud, children to share with each other parts of books that caught attention, but also to write “in the style of”, from some experience. Guided book sets were also author linked where possible, so there was a joined up approach.
Modelling, as needed to some children, including TA as scribe for some at different times.
Oral rehearsal; telling the story out loud and capturing in some form, for those whose needs dictated that; in the early days with a tape recorder. Nowadays there is a multitude of digital alternatives.
Sharing developing drafts. Talking improvement, at every stage, with the “final” drafting being seen as capable of further improvement. It was the best it could be at the time.
The children were getting better at getting better. They were party to their own development, so their energies were clearly directed towards self-improvement. Becoming learners, they needed “feeding” rather than always needing to be led.
Of course, after all these efforts, to improve the outcomes of children, and even if 85% of them achieve the “national standard”, will Secondary schools accept these outcomes? That has been a question since 1987, when Juniors argued level 3 in infants was “different” in the juniors and Secondaries argued the same from their perspective. That question is, to me, the crux of future developments.
There needs to be a common language and common agreement about outcomes. For what it is worth, I did think level descriptors 1-5 described Primary progress imperfectly, but quite well as an overview.
The recent publication of the report from the expert group on assessment seemed to elicit an incredulous response, which can be summarised as “Is that it?” Which was a shame, as it had been long awaited and, with assessment being high priority, in terms of having a system within which children’s progress can be tracked, didn’t offer a great deal of detail.
If you want a very good summary, look no further than @MichaelTidd1979's site, after you have read this, of course!
I wrote an initial set of thoughts after that publication, but, in continuing to think about what the actual act of assessment entails, I started to tweet some basic “tips”, all premised on the principle of knowing the children well and getting to know them even better. A few people were kind enough to comment positively on them, so I thought I’d collate and develop them, where further exploration might help.
#assessmenttip 1 Watch what children are doing. Spot the difference between today and yesterday/last week/month. Identify and celebrate.
Observation is a key skill in assessment. Watch any EYFS practitioner and they will be very busy looking closely at what the children are doing in response to a stimulus. They may be capturing their observations in note form or through digital photos and notes. I’d always advise an ITE student, or a NQT to get their heads up and look around the classroom, to see what is happening. Avoid the head down and close focus with a group, to the detriment of the children.
#assessmenttip 2 Get children to talk about what they are doing. Ask Qs to clarify and explore their thinking. Ask Qs to challenge.
Questioning is the means by which children can be encouraged to explain and explore what they think. This can be scaffolded to the needs of the subject or personalised to the needs on an individual child. Open and closed questions will support different types of thinking.
#assessmenttip 3 Engage in what they are producing, both in terms of appropriate skill and also the detail of the outcome. Check, advise...
Unless children are engaged with during a lesson, the teacher has to rely on the end product to form opinions. This can then mask a multitude of issues, which could ensure that a wrong impression is given, creating a learning gap that may only become apparent at a later stage.
#assessmenttip 4 Keep records, be aware of outcomes that can show developing patterns that might require deeper engagement.
#assessmenttip 5 Ask questions that need answers to show clearly what a child "knows" (at the point of testing)
#assessmenttip 6 If in doubt, work closely with individuals, observe, talk, question, clarify, reflect, repeat as necessary.
Where a child is not meeting the teacher expectations, it is incumbent on the teacher to explore more fully what might be contributing to the problems. This might involve diagnostic marking, deeper discussions, enabling the child to explore the identified issues and to come up with possible ways forward.
#assessmenttip 7 Broaden your understanding of children's outcomes to balance your judgement, especially at the upper/lower margins.
This is probably key to decision making. It is easy to get caught in the culture of a particular school, or within specific parts of a school; eg always teaching KS1 in a Primary school. Learning is a journey though different years of a school. Knowing what has gone before and what will come after allows teachers to tailor their teaching to a known position. A teacher new to the profession will not cary with them a broad understanding of children’s outcomes. That is one reason why I’d advocate for a National Exemplar portfolio, or at least a school level portfolio, so that specific journeys can be moderated against a broader perspective.
#assessmenttip 8 Create learning challenge that enables children to demonstrate looked for skills and knowledge.
#assessmenttip 9 Know chn, plan challenge, engage learners, advise, adjust to need, check outcomes, know chn better. Refine next challenges.
#assessmenttip 10 Sit down, think of a child, sum up what you know about him/her and what you need to know next. Repeat for class.
#assessmenttip 10a Write a classlist. Who gets remembered early? Who gets forgotten?
I will always remember, early in my career, sitting down to write class reports and thinking I had finished, counted up the reports to find one child missing. At that point I decided that no child would ever be invisible again.
#assessmenttip 11 Write down essential information, to collate over time, to determine patterns. You can't remember everything.
#assessmenttip 12 Recognise limits of your own skill. Use skill, knowledge and experience of others to extend/enhance, to benefit learners.
Children are the responsibility of the school as a whole, even if they are in your class for a year or so. Others will have insights that will supplement your own. If a child is getting under your skin, then a chance to download with a colleague might just put everything into perspective.
#assessmenttip 13 If you can’t remember all the targets and the details of what you want from each and every child, tweak your work books, so that they become personal learning organisers.
Have a browse of this blog.
The world is full of things to know. There may be a need to debate what is important. Equally, there may be a need to consider how children engage with the world, in order to extract knowledge from their developing experiences. Just telling them will not create the mental images that will enable them to process for themselves.
It was with great interest that I read Mary Myatt’s review of E D Hirsch’s talk recently at the Policy Exchange, where she suggested that Hirsch’s views were often oversimplified by commentators and that he was putting forward a much broader thesis. He has argued for a core knowledge approach, which has been interpreted through the current National Curriculum as stuff that needs to be known and that, in itself, has released a tidalwave of commentary from all sides, with the extremes being very polarised.
It would appear that Hirsch proposed that children would get significantly more from their reading if they had an appropriate background knowledge to be able to engage fully with the text being read, proposing that reading was an interaction between the words being read and the mental images that these words were able to stir into use.
If this is the case, then this is an argument for children going outside at an early age, to see and feel the trees, to walk through long grass, to paddle in water, to create dens and have imaginary escapades, all the while talking with others; in other words, to have a childhood that I can remember, but which may not be the stuff of current childhoods. It was the adventuring that led me to read and find out, so that I could engender greater depth into the play situations, as did my friends. For example, learning how to tie knots was important, if we were not to fall from the tree swings over the river. Getting children to explore the world around them, so that they can then use the available resources, and yes, Google it, if necessary, in order to channel and enhance their curiosity
Where it has been simplified to a “knowledge curriculum”, possibly for political expediency and sound bites, it can be interpreted clinically, with some commentaries suggesting that children cannot think creatively until they know “everything”. If there is something that I have learned in life, it is that we operate within what we know at the time. Where that is found wanting, there is a need to efficiently fill the identified gap. We all work up to the limits of what we know, then use others to discuss, or research, to ascertain the gap filling expertise. In older variations of the National Curriculum, this was identified as “Use and Apply”, with English and Maths, especially, being used and applied across the broader curriculum to advantage all the subjects.
There is such an emphasis on English and Maths at the moment that the broader curriculum, in some schools, is under threat, with both subjects creating situations that then enable specific writing forms to be effected. A widespread example is the making of toast, or sandwiches, in order to be able to write instructions. Why can’t children write instructions for how to play a game of netball, or other sport, or perhaps how to make a collaged picture. There are so many opportunities in schools to write instructions, or reports; what we did on the netball pitch, or narrative stories; the final victory, which derive from other curriculum areas. By doing this the knowledge base is enhanced, together with the broadening of vocabulary.
Children need a strong language (knowledge) base, which comes from as broad a range of experiences as possible. Therefore it is significantly important to know the community habits of the children and the opportunities that are available and taken that can be used to enhance the classroom opportunities.
Mary’s review brought to mind an experience that must have taken place in around 2000, when John Stannard, the author of the National Literacy Strategy, came to talk with Hampshire Heads. His explanation of the Literacy Strategy described with some accuracy where my school had been before the introduction. The daily reiteration of the Literacy Hour, by politicians, and the further interpretations by LA advisers, who were the nominated “experts”, ensured that insecurity set into some excellent staff, who then adapted to the new style, often with disastrous outcomes and a downgrading of professional confidence. I rapidly made sure that we went back to a successful model.
Over the past several years, I have been able to work with a wide variety of schools, including a number in London. it appeared to be the case that these schools sought, wherever possible, to offer their children "real experiences", perhaps engaging with artefacts from local museums, experiences being brought into school, as well as going out. In this way, the school ensure that the language rich environment was maintained, enabling the children to read and write using their extended vocabulary.
It is a case of "something to think about, to talk about, then to read and write about." Without the "something", there is less to think, talk and write about, in depth.
Soundbites and what I have called “plug-ins”, are the greatest danger in the current climate. Keeping sight of the bigger picture is the means to ensure that any new initiative is explored for any potential benefit, but with the potential to reject, if it might lead to regression.
Professional competence and confidence are the bedrock of successful classrooms. Anything that undermines that is to the detriment of the children. The system, as a whole, should bear that in mind. It is not a bear fight.
This week has ensured that assessment has come back onto the agenda; the early part with colleagues complaining at the delay to the Assessment Commission report, the latter part in disbelief at the limited outcomes from this first expert group. In many ways this is very well summarised by Michael Tidd, who is a self-confessed assessment geek, so I don’t need to repeat all that he has said, as I agree with his analysis and commentary.
As someone who plays a role in ITE, through both a university and School Direct routes, part of my role is to support student teachers in their understanding of assessment. So I take, as my start point, a group of people whose knowledge across a range of domains is possibly limited and insecure. Some parts of this also apply to teachers who move schools, or who are still early career.
There are statements within the commission document that suggest that children should be experiencing a broad and interesting curriculum, and as Dame Alison Peacock was a part of the commission, this is the philosophy of her Wroxham School. Having visited, I was very comfortable with the approach, especially/probably because it accorded with the way my own school operated between 1990 and 2006. Children were set challenges at different grades of difficulty, which they were able to self-select, with dialogue to fine tune to need. While I would acknowledge that in my school the challenge was in line with levelness criteria, in some ways, it was not entirely clear against what criteria the Wroxham children were challenged, although one teacher did allude to levels at one point. However, it doesn’t detract from the fact that a broad, balanced relevant curriculum was on offer, with collaboration, peer support and challenge, quality dialogue throughout the learning process, so that the teachers knew the children very closely; again something which I saw in my own school. This closeness does embed more subtle aspects of teaching and learning, where the relationships allow for in passing comments that carry meaning. Relationships are key.
There is a suggestion that questioning is the way forward. Having read elsewhere that this is the methodology favoured by Daisy Christodoulou, it is not surprising to see this highlighted. However, and it is a big however, in order to be able to ask appropriate questions, the teacher has to both know their subject well and also the audience of children in front of them, so that the questions can be asked in forms that enable the children to take part in the learning “dialogue”. The confidence of the teacher to extend the dialogue beyond the initial answer is often key to success, so that the ensuing discussions show the extent of the understanding, at least from those who participate.
There is a suggestion of a question bank for assessment. Ok, so this might be helpful, in some situations, but assessment is not just the tail end examination of residual understanding. It informs decisions at all stages, so has an impact on teacher initial thinking and preparation, before planning. It impacts on the teacher expectation, leading to their in-lesson reactions and judgements “I thought you could do this”, or “How did you do it so easily?” It then affects the commentary in marking. Teaching standards 6&5 can be read both as judgements and adaptations between lessons, but also within lesson decisions. It is far more complex than just tail-end questions.
There is an exhortation not to recreate “levels”, but, in reality, there is a need for each teacher and schools to be able to describe progress and children need to clearly understand their “next steps”. I have so say that this can feel like semantics. Secondaries are not using levels, but are acutely aware of GCSE “grades” and a number will have extrapolated from the grades through the five years to GCSE as their guide. In reality, in Primary, the whole grade descriptors gave a general view of development across the range of abilities. A level 5 child was demonstrably more proficient at Maths and English than a level 2 child. I can see absolutely the Secondary issue with levels, as all other subject aspirations were premised on the KS2 outcome in two subjects. There was also the issue of wording that became more nebulous with the higher grades (6+). The original TGAT report with the 1987 NC, suggested that at some future stage the grading systems for Primary and GCSE would merge. That did not happen, so transfer was fraught with disagreement over judgements.
What we are currently given, in Primary, is yearness statements, with outcome descriptors that are seen in annual reporting to parents, implying that a child is at, below or above the “expectation”. But now the term “Mastery” is frowned upon apparently, after being introduced into the vocabulary in earlier incarnations of advice. So we are then left with the equally frowned upon “can do” statements; a child can do the year programme or not.
Many Secondaries did not accept the data from Primary feeders, so retested and reassigned gradings within their own establishment. This still happens and I suggest will still do so, even with the new outcomes from testing at the end of the 15/16 academic year, as they are comfortable with their systems.
The outcome from the expert group, with the implication that much has been “passed upstairs” for further reflection and refinement, or the appointment of a further “expert group”, does nothing to support schools and busy classroom teachers, as they seek to satisfy the varied needs of the different audiences for the outcomes.
PS From the reports on the Part Exchange/Policy Exchange group talk by ED Hirsch, it would appear that he favours a broad curriculum, as that contributes to a broad understanding, through extended vocabulary, supporting reading and writing. I am not sure that the politicians have accepted that analysis.
The past few weeks have been an interesting journey through introducing new entrants to the teaching profession, at this stage via School Direct routes. I am working with a couple of providers this academic year, in different roles, so my year has already taken on a new dynamic.
There is a regular mantra that is bandied about, that “anyone can teach”, and it has been in the back of my mind throughout, trying to differentiate between teaching and being a teacher. Reflecting on a blog where I explored the teaching standards, entitled 24652, I separated out the personal aspects of being a teacher from the longer term, making subtle changes to ongoing plans.
It is possible to create a model of someone who can stand in front of an audience (class) and speak about something that they know. This can apply to the invited local “expert”, as much as to an early stage teacher. This person has a certain “something”, either in terms of their demeanour, their voice, their apparent knowledge and their manner of delivery. They can “hold” the audience, sometimes in rapt silence, especially if they can involve the audience with something to look at or hold, or enabling interaction in some other way. They have a story to tell and can get it across. They are very useful in that regard, as they can offer an expertise that broadens the audience experience, including the class teacher. So, these people can teach, but, to my mind they are not yet teachers. There are much more nuanced decisions to be made that differentiate a “teach” from a teacher.
The “second level” of teacher thinking centres around the needs of the learners, rather than just the narrative being shared.
This is the 24652 dynamic. Know your children, plan effectively (over time), engage with their learning, tweak to needs, check if they understand; know them better, new baseline.
Teachers are judged on their children’s progress and outcomes (2). To know and understand he needs of children starts from a generalised understanding which is coloured in through experience within classrooms, working with real children. This can also vary significantly between contexts, where the demographic mix of the class and the community creates a different dynamic. Year groups differ, so a teacher who only teaches a narrow range of ages will not fully understand the needs of a different range. At an extreme, Secondary colleagues may not understand Primaries and vice versa, but this can also be an issue within a Primary school, if the Infants and Juniors are ideologically separate.
Being ordered and organised, being able to plan (4), over time is an important aspect of being a teacher, creating medium term plans, based on a good understanding of the starting needs, but also adapting these to the developing needs as they manifest themselves, as they will, while the children are working on challenge within their tasks.
To me, the most significant parts of the teaching standards are probably standards 6 and 5, which, although articulated as “Assessment (6) and “Adaptation (5)”, which can be effected between lessons at a generalised level, “did they “get it”, what do I do next?”, but which, if interpreted as the teacher “thinking on their feet, looking for prompt signs of learner discomfort” (6), leads to an engagement with any issues arising, coaching and support, or in more extreme cases, in-lesson adaptation to individual needs (5).
We are at the stage of a school year where teachers are meeting new classes. While Primary teachers will be getting to know their children quite well, in relation to other classes they have had, Secondary colleagues my only have seen some classes a couple of times, so the individuals who haven’t made themselves obvious may still be names, rather than people. It is in the nature of interactions; the more frequent they are, the better you get to know the person(alities). Some colleagues will have moved schools and be aware of the nuanced differences between their new experience and their previous school(s). It can be a shock to be seen as an outstanding teacher in one context, only to find yourself challenged in another. The context can be a significant factor, whether it enables you to pursue teaching over the longer term. ITE students often find the second practice more challenging if they have had the first in an “easier/nicer” school, especially if they are carrying the “high” grade potential with them.
Which leads on to the “Teachest”. These are the teachers who have taught for a while, have had experience across a wide age range, in different contexts, which enable them to cope with change, occasional difficult children (or colleagues), and who can, at the drop of a hat, magic up a very solid, or even a very good lesson, when covering for another colleague. They have sought, filtered and adapted the best of their experiences to provide a nuanced “performance”, probably make teaching look easy, but also, at times, be unable to explain every aspect of their actions, because teaching is them, they are intuitive, but due to practicing their art/craft with embedded and ongoing reflection.
In other words, they put all eight teacher standards into practice with ease, day in, day out.
It is this last descriptor to which I’d hope all teachers aspire. To develop to this phase, though, teachers need to pass through the other two, the “teach” and the teacher, with the teacher phase being the essential good stage, which is required of all teachers.
The “teachest” comes over time, but also the interrogation of experience as a self-development tool.
The skill of self-evaluation is the significant skill which can be shared with developing teachers. Focusing on the processes of development, rather than just passing on simple tips and hints, enables the developer to reflect on their own practice, so that tips and hints can be explored within a development dynamic. A pack of tips and hints does not make a teacher, without reflection.
To some extent, teachers and “teachests” grow themselves, by regularly reflecting on the new and occasionally “sloughing off” aspects of the old, so that they can move forward with greater ease.
Perhaps the best teachers are a bit “crabby”…
Get it, got it, good (3G assessment, in a nutshell)
I want to introduce a new assessment system, of my own devising, so it is freely copiable and available to all.
The premise is quite simple, in reality, as it relies on the “3G’s”; did they get it? have they got it? Good, we can move on.
Of course there a number of underlying principles, which need to be taken into account in reaching this stage.
At this point, the teacher can ask the simple assessment mantra, “Get it, got it, good”, with the aim of moving the class on in the next lesson.
Of course, it is possible that the “3N’s” come into play, “not getting, not got, not good”, in which case, the teacher will reflect on steps 1-7 to see what might need to be addressed to get the “3G’s”, look back over the lesson and decide what to do next; it won’t be moving on, yet.
The advice to “take a look at yourself”, was given to me early in my career. It is easy to assume that “they are not getting it”, because it is “their problem”. It can be a case of “talk so they can understand”, or quite simply “know how with show how”…
You may decide to be ultra-modern, though and develop "4G or 5G", to be ahead of the game.
This refrain has been the backdrop to a number of visits to schools, as I was working in schools last week and this week. Although there were many descriptions of very fulfilling holidays, the back to school tiredness had caught many by surprise. Reassuringly, there was also the realisation that it was inevitable and would ease.
It did make me think about my own holiday, which, this year took on a slightly different complexion, as my daughter wanted to take her family to my holiday home in France for a couple of weeks.
I had the chance to work in Cornwall in the last week of the term, so decided to take advantage and book a few days away, to make the most of the necessary long drive. It gave the opportunity to visit Tate St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and the Eden Project, all firsts, and all in the July sunshine. It rained on the way home! But it had provided a pleasant start to the holiday.
Two weeks at home allowed days out to places not normally visited and time to catch up with different family members.
Then we got away on the ferry to France, to enjoy two and a half weeks of either very hot, or very wet weather. There was little in between, so it was either get up early and get something done, or be prepared, after 10am to find the available shade. This did allow time to read, and, for the first time ever, I ran out of books, so had to visit our local Anglo-French charity shop to top up. Eclectic tastes.
Wet days did enable some daubing of paint on paper as a pastime. I won’t ever be a Monet, but the pleasure of immersion in a task did provide space for thoughts. A few of these were developed into drafts of future blogs.
I also planned my autumn project, to take down our current shed and replace it with a purpose built shed of my own design. This has been a while in the thinking stage, but there are some days that appear to be promising later this month (a space in the diary) so will be the start point. The pleasure I get from creating like this is immense. I built a summer house in France a few years ago, from scratch. Immersion again, with a very clear focus.
And then, three days walking Paris, visiting the available galleries, many free. I fell in love with the simplicity of Zadkine, with similarities to Barbara Hepworth. The Pompidou was worth every cent of the entry fee and, as for the Museum of Modern Art, I’d have spent each day there. We covered thirty plus miles in the three days, so were very much immersed in the whole experience.
We came back early, as I had a series of School Direct days to cover during the holiday as the schools wanted the trainees in school from the beginning of term.
There was a holiday, creating a range of memories, which will provide the backdrop and colour to autumn and winter, with the promise of next year.
Why do schools vary at all? It’s an intriguing question, as they have so many factors in common, but within those factors lies the variability that can mean that at one stage the school is operating at a high level when a short while later it seems to have issues.
Spending a great deal of my time in and out of schools it strikes me that there are possibly many simplicities to explore.
The school income is determined by the number of children attending. If the number on roll is healthy, then, like any good business, decisions about current and proposed future spending are relatively secure. Having sufficient staff or up-to-date ICT equipment can depend on the simplicity of “bums on seats”. Losing children over a short time scale pus all decisions into limbo; you need adequate income to survive.
Budgets buy staff, which buys time, to release staff to undertake development activities. Budget limitations limit development, unless staff are prepared to do that in their own time, which many do, through teachmeets, Pedagoo or similar.
A school exists within the walls created for it by an architect for the time that it was built, so schools operating within Victorian buildings may have heritage and some advantages to celebrate, but also the limitations of ageing systems. More modern buildings quite often have flat roofs, which can bring a greater number of issues that need addressing. Keeping a building up together and in a positive state of repair has, in the past, been a Local Authority issue. If the processes have been followed, a rotational system should ensure that every so many years the school is decorated, at least outside and if lucky, wooden, single glazed windows replaced with double glazed PVC, reducing future maintenance. Academy chains may well have a different approach to building maintenance.
Buildings provide the space within which the school operates. Visionary strategic use of space can make the systems work well, whereas a simpler view may mean that there are unforeseen issues that have to be addressed afterwards.
The grounds and the building are the first selling points of the school. A run down, uncared-for appearance will deter applications, parents, children and potential staff.
There are essential basic resources, and then there are the “nice to haves”, which can be capital intensive. The staffing and resource base of the school are determined by the income; if there’s not enough in the pot, you can’t buy things. On the other hand, some schools have a surfeit of riches and cupboards full of spare resources.
Teachers need resources to be able to teach. With the larger number of schools being well equipped, any school not as well-endowed is likely to struggle to attract high quality staff.
Although every school is a collective of staff, teachers and non-teaching staff, there can be very significant differences between staffrooms. The longevity of a headteacher can impact positively, through continual development of practice, or negatively, by keeping things the same as it has always been. A new headteacher may well feel less secure, as will new staff, so a large number of NQTs and new staff may well take time to settle. Turnover of staff does not enable a collective memory to be built or retained.
There seem to be three messages, we aim to, we do, we always have. Each shares a different message to prospective staff, who then fit that with their own career aspirations. It also tells the story of where the school sees itself in development terms.
The number of applicants for each role is likely to be a very significant factor. If one school gets tens of applications and another receives less than a handful, the scale of decision is very different. The available quality therefore might be of a different order. Schools need teachers and support staff. If not enough apply, then, with the need to appoint, some qualities can be compromised.
The visual evidence and the convincing, developing, positive nature of the headteacher/school narrative is likely to be key to success in this area.
This is another changeable variable, in that, over time an area can alter as houses are bought and sold, or in the case of social housing, different groups arrive. Some schools serve communities that rarely change, as generation follows generation.
The amount of pupil “turbulence” has a significant impact on the school. It is a truism though, that the more you have the better you get at dealing with it, as long as the staff stay sufficiently long to be able to use this understanding and to mentor new staff appropriately. Otherwise, there can be slight chaos.
The context is totally out of a school’s control.
A school is where it is, with the range of factors that impact, over time. Change is inevitable and with it a different dynamic emerges within the school. This can sometimes be rapid and catastrophic.
Therefore a school has to work with what it has, provide the best possible education it can and support each child to reach the best point they can. Being able to describe where the school is in dynamic terms, is always likely to be challenging, but is the reality for many.
Long career in education, classroom and leadership; always a learner.