Tag Archives: learning

Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!

 

Getting staff to lead by @Mroberts90Matt

Recently I read a tweet from someone (I wish I had taken a snapshot or retweeted or something but I didn’t) which posed the question: “As a leader, should you encourage your best teachers to lead more or keep them performing at their absolute best for the school you are in?” I have paraphrased the question but the meaning behind it matches what they asked. I’m sure they were asking to develop discussion.

First of all I guess that this question is dependant on the teacher’s desires to lead. I mean, I’m sure there are many teachers who are brilliant at their job but who want stay in the classroom doing what they do best, teaching. I remember reading another tweet which I found ironic but very true: teaching is one of those few professions where the better you get at the job, the less you do it. When I think of our SLT this certainly is true. They are strong, model practitioners but their responsibility on the SLT requires them to be out of the classroom more than other teaching staff. As such – a responsibility leading standards through the wider school may not be a goal for all.

However, whilst not a non-negotiable as such, subject leadership is expected of most teaching staff. In this role, all teaching staff are given an opportunity to develop skills in leadership. They take responsibility of this subject and how it can develop at the school. Subject leadership can see the curriculum transform at a school, or slip slowly into mediocrity. The question is – how can subject leadership develop the knowledge and skills of the leader themselves?

1. Glimpsing the Bigger Picture

As a member of staff are given the role of playing a wider part in school development, they start to see how vital their subject is to the vibrant life in a school. They also recognise the planning, preparation and impact their direct leadership has on the children in the school through their subject. Subject leaders are required to evidence progress in their subject and as they do, they begin to recognise the importance of information and data from around the school. This understanding will then support an appreciation for effective, necessary educational change later on.

2. Enhancing Own Practice

As a subject leader, there begins to be a recognition of the need to improve own practice. An effective leader recognises the impact of their practice on those around. They need to model excellence in teaching and learning, at least in the subject area they lead. As they do this, they can begin to recognise areas they can develop in other subject areas and as such, use their experience as a leader to improve their own practice. This experience could be likened to the leader being encouraged to raise the bar on their practice so they can influence others to do the same and see an impact in their subject area.

3. Develop Self-Awareness and Confidence

Without experience in leading a subject area, it can be difficult for practitioners to develop skills and expertise in a way that brings their practice into a spotlight. I know that as I was offered the opportunity to lead PE and Sport in my school, I was horrified at the thought. I had never planned and taught a PE lesson independently never mind led the subject across a 2-3 form entry school! However, after research, observations and practice, I have developed in my confidence in delivering this subject in my own practice. Whilst this has improved my PE teaching, it has done much more! I feel much more confident in my ability to take on further challenges in my professional life as I have seen the successes of my leadership. This is the potential power of getting staff to lead – the opportunity to improve self-confidence and the recognition that they have the professional ability to influence positive change in their own practice and those around them.

So, in conclusion, it is vital that teachers are given the chance to lead. Yes it is necessary to ensure excellence in all areas of the curriculum (one cannot do it alone) but there are more, impressive outcomes from empowering staff to lead the curriculum in a school. They become more aware of the bigger picture in the school, they enhance their own practice in general and recognise the power they have as a practitioner.

Teamship

Recently I have been lent a book by Alastair Campbell called ‘Winners’. It basically breaks down different winners in history and the characteristics that they have. That’s a very simplified version of what this great book covers. Of course, different winners have different styles but it identifies winning strategies which can be applied to a number of different contexts, including in education.

He refers to Teamship and how if leaders can build a team goal or vision which all team members are dedicated to, no matter their role, then there will be success. One example he gave was a pit stop crew. A race can be won or lost in the pit stop. If the pit stop crew lose a fraction of a second in changing a tyre or making a slight modification, then it can throw the entire race for the team. As such, a clear structure and set roles are vital in this team. They have a clear objective – complete your task in the quickest time possible – win the race. The same could be said in a school team. No matter the roles or responsibilities of each team member, if they have the same vision (maybe provide the best education experience possible) and fulfil their roles for that common goal then that team can succeed.
Out of interest, I googled the quickest ever recorded pit stop that Alastair Campbell made reference to. 1.9 seconds! You have to watch extremely carefully to see that they actually do something to the car! Watch it here:

Alastair Campbell also makes reference to another experience which I had heard before but is excellent on this topic. It is also debated whether this story is true or not but it teaches a valuable lesson. Reportedly, John F Kennedy visited NASA on a regular basis during the race to the moon. They were working against other countries to be the first to do so. The intensity of this race was highly pressurised. During one trip he came across a cleaner, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

We can learn a lot from this response. Clearly this man was not literally engineering a rocket ship to take a man to the moon. However, he had caught the vision. He knew he was art of a great organisation that had this significant goal. He knew he was part of the organisation. He knew he had an important job – to make the working environment in this organisation clean so the people working there could complete their roles efficiently and comfortably. Teamship is about recognising the goal and get the team there.

Cleaner in NASA

Influencing Others by @Mroberts90Matt

As part of my NPQML, may main task is to evidence that I have developed my leadership against certain ‘competencies’ of effective leadership. I was asked to share a 360 Diagnostic Review of my perceived leadership with leaders in my school context. One of my areas to focus on was ‘Influencing Others’.

Fast-forward several months and I have presented the main staff meeting to the majority of the staff about my initiative that I want to implement about Talk4Maths. Many steps have followed before – research, presenting to SLT, forming a team, trialling the Talk4Maths amongst other things. This was a massive learning experience for me. I’m sure some that read this will be very used to presenting about educational matters but this was my first time to try and influence others to act on what I was going on about in front of them. These are some of the things that I have learnt about trying to influence educational change:

1. Clear knowledge and understanding

One thing I recognised straight away was the need to know what I was talking about. I had become so convinced that the Talk4Maths strategy had an impact on children’s learning and would particularly be useful for our 80% of EAL learners in our school. However, it was important to demonstrate this certainty with a backing of theory and research which proved that. Not only that, but I had to convey this in a way that would make sense. I am very good at rushing through concepts because I am aware of them (a habit I had to curtail in my classroom practice in my teacher training).

2. Build a rapport

In our school we have had many speakers and consultants come and go and there is one thing that rings true from the best ones – they related to the listeners. I could have easily given a crystal-clear, knowledgeable presentation, faultless in knowledge and understanding but lost the audience. If I did not try to relate to the listeners then I would quickly be glazed over and the valuable learning I was trying to present would be wasted. It can be done very simply. For example, when I presented the training, we had not had a functioning colour printer for a few days – something that was becoming a running joke between the staff (it had to be a joke, otherwise we would be very annoyed). So, at a point in the training I gave a handout but of course the beautiful colour had been lost. I made a quick comment, they chuckled and we continued. Now, not the best joke but it showed a moment of togetherness, of ‘isn’t this silly right?’ which would have endeared…well maybe only one or two. This was not the only example but one that comes to mind.

3. Interactivity

I hate nothing more than a presentation where I sit and am talked at. We would condemn teachers that do this to children, so why would leaders in education who should be modelling excellent teaching and learning find it acceptable. Okay – the whole ‘teacher talk’ is different to staff CPD than it is in the classroom. ‘Teacher talk’ is required in staff CPD and teachers, as professionals, should be expected to listen and take in information attentively, no matter how little interaction there is. However, again the most memorable CPD I’ve had includes interactive activities, preferably demonstrating the concept or information we are trying to get to grips with.

As with most of my blog posts, there are probably more things that I’ve missed on my non-exhaustive list of things that help us influence others but I’d love to hear more from you!

Boosters… Must Be Spring! by @Mroberts90Matt

The nights are getting shorter, the weather is getting milder (kind of) and the half terms are getting shorter! Although, Year 6 teachers know what this means.

“Oh, there you are [insert Year 6 teacher name], I believe you have 55% of your children working at expected in Maths. What are you planning on doing to improve this?”

“Well [insert Head name] I was thinking about trying my hardest in every Maths session and increasing the amount of Maths sessions in these children’s school weeks.”

“Oh great! Thanks [insert Year 6 teacher name]…anything else?”

“Err…no. Is there anything else you think I could do?”

“Wellllll…..I was just wondering if you could think of anything else, maybe extra opportunities outside of school time?”

“…”

The thing is about boosters, in all the schools I know (I know there may be some that will do this), sessions based on the premise of ‘boosting’ children’s attainment are found uniquely in Year 6 (in Primary Education) and maybe Year 2 (sadly). Yes I know there are ‘Maths Clubs’ and ‘Book Clubs’ and ‘Reading Breakfast Clubs’ but I am talking about the groups that are formed for the sole purpose of raising children’s attainment to increase percentages of children at the expected level.

Why is this? I know the answer is fairly obvious but surely, if children are ‘boosted’ at other points in their school life, there will be less need for such a grand boosting in Year 6.

Of course, I am not suggesting that all teachers should be expected to hold boosting sessions outside of school hours. To do so would be unacceptable and beyond the job description of teacher’s employment. However, if Year 6 teachers continue this acceptance (as I have) of holding booster classes a half term or two before the SATs, will other teachers eventually be made to feel obligated to ‘boost’ their children to raise attainment in their cohorts?

This is dangerous ground.

Having said this – the above dialogue is fabricated. Whilst I’m sure it does happen (Year 6 teachers being encouraged to hold booster sessions) this did not happen to me or my Year partner this year. We voluntarily offered to hold a 50min session each week…why??

I will give two reasons why:

1 – Support the school

I love the school I work at. I think it is such a vibrant place and it is continuing to get even better. As such, I feel a certain level of duty, or loyalty, to it. After all, it is the place that gave me my first teaching post, trusted me to teach in Year 6 straight away (one of my personal goals) and have literally provided for me to embark on the leadership path I want to take. Therefore, I want to produce the best results from this Year 6 cohort that I can to provide protection and evidence for when external eyes come looking and to develop the school’s reputation as one of the best.

2 – Support the child

This is the major reason. Ironically, the results of the tests that my Year 6 cohort sit will not have a direct impact on their pathway in life. However, this test to the child is of vital importance. Whether this sense of importance has been imposed by parents, teachers, the government or the child themselves is irrelevant. Whilst a few will not mind what result they get, two years of giving results one-by-one to my previous classes show the majority really care. I remember vividly in my 2014-15 class giving a Maths result to one of the children. She achieved a Level 3 but I know she was capable of a Level 4. She was gutted. I find myself not wanting this to be a regular occurrence. Therefore, I boost.

As Year 6 practitioners, if we have chosen to support and boost our children outside of school hours then this is admirable. However, we must make this choice carefully, in order to avoid creating a culture of expectation, rather than voluntary.

 

Eradicating Maths Anxiety by @Mroberts90Matt

I recently came across this post bringing up an issue in Mathematics which has an impact on learning across the nation, for adults and children:

http://ukedchat.com/2015/08/31/maths-anxiety-by-mathscraftgame/

The natural reaction to anxiety in Maths is avoidance. Even in members of teaching staff there are some who feel they are ‘no good’ at Maths and therefore they avoid all possible interaction with the subject. Of course, when children are then raised by these parents with anxiety about Maths, this attitude can be passed on.

The biggest challenge we face as teachers in Mathematics is encouraging those children who experienced doubt or anxiety to engage fully – otherwise these children may fall further and further behind. As such it is vital for all Maths practitioners to identify what can cause anxiety in Maths and how they can support learners to either avoid this anxiety or guide them through it. And is anxiety even a bad thing?

1. Parental Influence

Children receive the strongest influence in their early development by experiences in the home. They are moulded and taught there first. Parents teach (actively and passively) behaviours and preferences to their children. This can be magnify feelings about Maths. If parents convey negative messages about Maths (or indeed any other subject), that is more likely to rub off onto the child. Of course, this is not guaranteed but it can be a factor. If a parent also experiences maths anxiety, they are likely to avoid it and therefore not support their child as much.

As teachers and schools, we can support parents and therefore children through this. We can provide experiences for parents where they can begin to understand the way that maths is taught to their children and how they can support their child in simple ways. Events such as subject workshops, Curriculum Meetings and Parents Evenings are vital moments where change can happen in the children’s home. With the support from home, children can then begin to feel supported in all areas of their life and feel less anxiety about maths.

2. Ethos of the Classroom

As a teacher, I still have a lot to learn. I am only in my third year of teaching and I recognise I still need to develop in a number of areas. Something which I feel strongly about though is developing the correct ethos in the classroom. Whilst there are times for high-stakes learning, children need to feel secure in making mistakes. If they make mistakes, these are big steps in their learning journey. For any subject, it is vital for children to feel they can take ownership of their learning without worrying about feeling they will be looked down on (by their peers or staff) for making a mistake.

I think about my ability in Art. If I were to go to an Art workshop today then I would certainly feel anxiety. A scene involving stick men is beyond me. However, I know that if i were placed in a scenario that I would not be belittled or looked down on for my ‘weakness’ then I would be more likely to have a go with the task that I was given.

3. A strict diet of problem solving

This may seem like an odd strategy for tackling anxiety – placing children in situations early on where there may be an increased likelihood of anxiety. However, if children are trained to take on problem solving challenges more, rather than comfortable pages of rote calculations, then they will develop their problem solving toolbox more for later on.

The average score in the 2016 KS2 SATs Arithmetic paper was in the mid 30’s out of 40 (around 80% score) and the average scores on the Reasoning Papers (Paper 2 and 3) were 7 and 10 out of 35 (around 20-30% score). This is telling. Children are not being exposed to enough problem solving challenges. As such, it’s hardly a surprise that children experience anxiety when faced with mathematical challenges.

 

It is no secret that a controlled level of anxiety in the classroom can push children out of their comfort zone and encourage greater learning steps. However, there will be a fine balance for teachers to strike which will mean children feel secure enough in their learning to take risks but also push their learning further.

The Stressing Abominable Tests or The Shameful Aggrandisation of Tests? by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s January. That means the start of crazy season for Year 6. Incredible targets never before seen in the children’s lives are set, staff give up their mornings for booster sessions (not because they’ve been asked to but just because they want the children/school/performance management to get the results required) and children are suddenly hit with a larger amount of testing. All those who have worked around Year 6 know this feeling. However, as this circumstance impacts a large sphere of influence (other teachers, parents, governors, governments and so on) it creates a wide array of opinions.

I think there is one clear consensus – the current climate of testing in the Education System in England is not healthy. Children, teachers and schools are under strain to perform. It is not necessarily the expectation that is too high, but the emphasis placed on these results that causes extreme pressure. As I was looking at this issue I came across two excellent blog posts which identified contrasting views but both gave points which I fully agreed with. I would encourage you to have a look at them:

https://debrakiddmum.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/whose-child-is-it-anyway/

This post written by well-known Debra Kidd (who I had the pleasure of being taught by at University) and it hit home with me. She was always inspirational in her sessions and it was at the time I was being taught by her that she decided to leave the University and go back into teaching.

I have a 4 year old son. He loves dinosaurs, cars, Paw Patrol and playing with his parents and his little sister. He loves being read to and is starting to read letters and sounds as well as simple high frequency words (he doesn’t enjoy that quite as much though). Basically he is a typical 4 year old boy. However, in a year and a few months he will be sitting his first ‘test’. He will be tested on his ability to decode and read phonic letters and sounds. Now whilst I know this is not like the SATs and less emphasis may be placed on it, it represents the beginning of a school career of testing.

She states: “The new tests are so demanding and the results from last year so unreliable that schools are in a blind panic about not meeting the floor target. They are concerned that poor data will lead to a poor Ofsted inspection. They are right to be worried. This is the government that declared they wanted all pupils to be above average, demonstrating a poorer understanding of mathematics than they expect of their 11 year olds.”

I agree that schools are in a panic and that they are trying to shift their results in assessments that are of a higher standard so they reach high expectations. Due to schools being deemed as ‘requiring improvement’ if their pupils only achieve expected progress (wow, I would hate for my child to be in those schools that provide the progress that the government expects, because that are requiring improvement!) they are in a frenzy to push results up. Ofsted are changing their ways to put less of an impact of their judgements on hour long lesson obervations, but because of this they are relying more on data. We have heard the stories of inspections where the watchdog have walked in already with a judgement in their mind after having received a RaiseOnline analysis, and the school has to prove them wrong. I heard of a school where the inspector came in, did their findings, then said that the school was requires improvement. When asked for the points to improve on, they did not have any!! All from the results of these high-stakes tests.

Debra calls for parents to stand up and make their voice heard. A sticking point with some teachers on Twitter was the assumption that Debra suggests that parents should take their children out of the SATs pressure. Firstly, she does not suggest this – in fact she clearly states that she is not saying this: “That’s not to say we should all boycott – that’s a matter of personal choice, made between each parent and each child.”  I agree that changes need to be made. Hopefully parents can work together to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, I work with some parents that probably aren’t even aware their children are sitting tests this year (despite discussing it at Parents Evening with them). And this is where the issue arises – across the nation there will be parents who recognise the need for change but there will be a greater number who will be unaware of this issue. Can the current minority make their voice heard enough? Hopefully…

Then I came across this post by The Quirky Teacher:

https://thequirkyteacher.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-trouble-with-sats/

Again, several points were made in this well-written article, which was a direct response to Debra Kidd’s post. Out of the points that were made, two stood out to me.

The first was that the SATs were not the problem. Again, another point I can agree with. Schools must be accountable to the part they play in educating our children. If that performance was not measured then progress will slow. I hate having my performance monitored as much as anyone else but it is necessary in order to make sure children are making the progress required. As a result, some schools feel that they need to motivate children by saying these results will have an impact on their secondary school experience. This is plain lying. The children will be tested when they enter secondary school as the results they come up with are not always an accurate measure anyway. For example, I taught a child in 2014-15 who was not achieving more than 10/50 in the Old Curriculum Reading Test in March (in other words, just lower than a 3c). He left our school with a Level 4. I to this day do not know how that child pulled it off but I know that when he walked into that secondary school with that level attributed to him they would have wondered what happened in the Summer of 2015 between schools.

Speaking of that child walking into the secondary school with that level, it was stated with the introduction of the SATs that the system was simply there to measure the schools ability to educate and progress children’s learning. That actually should still be the case. But schools under pressure, parents wanting children to succeed and children being trained into this exam culture influence change the landscape of the purpose of the SATs. This was probably a naïve statement from the government at the time, but it is not a problem with the SATs themselves, it is a problem of those involved in the SATs.

The second point made was that parents must bear the brunt of the problems that have arisen. The point made is that parents are allowing their children to slack in their educational progress due to today’s culture of YouTube, quick meals and previous progressive education. Whilst to a point I agree with this notion, there is a comment I disagree with.

“…there was a time in the not-so-distant past when children mostly achieved these standards without too much fuss.”

Yes the standards are not astronomical. They are attainable and challenging and I agree with this. However, these standards have indeed been raised. If a child taught under the Old Curriculum for the past 7 years sat the New Curriculum assessments then they would struggle a lot more. This can clearly be seen in the number of children meeting the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Maths in 2014-15 compared to 2015-16 nationally. Why is this? The standards have changed.

However, I am not saying that the standards that have been raised to where they shouldn’t have been. And yes, as a general rule, children today do not have the same opportunities for learning at home then they did previously. This certainly is not the case for all but for most. Being a parent myself I know as much as any how difficult it can be to keep children focused on their learning and make sure they make as much progress as they can.

Simply put, I agree with both of these great educators in their points of view to a point. However, I think there is something we can all agree with – the current KS2 Assessments are not completely fit for purpose due to the impact their results can have for schools, not the fact we have tests or with the tests themselves.

Lessons from #SchoolSwap by @Mroberts90Matt

So I have just watched BBC’s School Swap: Korea Style and of course there was a lot to pick out from it. I think the report was decent – pretty obvious conclusions were made: South Korea could do with giving their students a break (children helplessly dropping off to sleep, suicide rates in 10-30 year olds and so on) and Wales (but let’s be honest, the UK) could do with toughening up their learners to build more stamina in their education. The wrapping up of the report I felt was the most disappointing – yes ok, we need to learn from South Korea, so what are those things? Well, here are some things that I picked up:

1: Respect of the authority of the teacher
This is an issue in the schools across the UK. Admittedly there is more of an issue generally in secondary education, however it is becoming a more widespread in primary education also. In fact:

A survey for the ATL teachers’ union of 1,250 teachers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland reports that:

  • 40% of teachers have experienced at least one incidence of violence from pupils in the past year.
  • Of those, 77% said they had been pushed, and around half were kicked or had an object thrown at them.
  • 90% had dealt with challenging behaviour, such as swearing or shouting, in the past year.
  • 45% feel that pupil behaviour has worsened over the past two years

These are concerning figures. Change has to occur. In the programme it was clear the children in Korea had the upmost respect for their teachers. This was evident in the way they engaged with the lessons (which, incidentally, if there had been bad behaviour present would have been branded as ‘boring and led to the poor behaviour’) and the celebrity status of the shown teacher (although I thought that was bizarre).Whilst I am sure that in the whole country of South Korea there are some schools with behaviour issues, it seems the general consensus is one of the utmost respect for the authority of the teacher. This has a major impact on learning as behaviour will generally improve as respect for the teacher heightens. Of course, not all behaviour issues will be eliminated but it will go a long way. 

2: Crack down on behaviour

If three teenagers go to another country and say that they think rules should be enforced better back home in their education system, we all need to sit up and listen. However, something isn’t right…our country knows this. The DfE published a document in January 2016 concerning behaviour. In this document it says:

“When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented consistently and fairly in line with the behaviour policy.”

Behaviour is identified in our government’s policies and is set as a clear expectation within all schools. So why the issue? I won’t pretend to understand why – maybe it links to the previous point on respect, maybe it is the attitude of the general population of parents, maybe it’s a lack in consistency in the managing of behaviour. For whatever reason, behaviour is an issue in UK schools. Despite the number of schools receiving Good or Outstanding in their ‘Behaviour’ category in Ofsted reports, it is something that must improve if the UK is to progress in it’s learning generally.

3: After-school learning

In Primary education we can look to most schools and see a lot of after-school activity. What is the majority of them? Speaking from my personal experience Sports and the Arts. It is rare you see a Maths Club (although it does happen). In South Korea they have ‘hagwons’ where children go after school and engage in more focused learning. This would be positive. What are the problems? Money. Who will provide, where will the funding come from in an already stretched budget. Prevalent culture. How many are really going to accept that without a problem?

These are a few things picked out – however somethings really stood out that highlighted some areas that we are doing…better in.

Broad and Balanced Curriculum

Now – I know that in our education system it is sometimes difficult (particularly being a Year 6 teacher) to offer a broad and balanced curriculum – although we do just about manage it! There is a reason why Team GB have been progressively getting better and better at the Olympics for example. We are showing some ability to raise sporting and creative talent. Not that I am saying we are the best in the world – but we are excelling further than South Korea are.

Wellbeing (to some degree)

Again, this is not a statement saying that in the UK we produce able learners who have good wellbeing. There are still things to work on, particularly in physical fitness across the general population. However, the segment in the program about young suicide rates in South Korea was an eye-opener. We still have some way to go, however I am pleased to know that my children will have the opportunity to enjoy some childhood (…maybe until they sit the GPS Test in Year 2)…

References:

Able Training (2016): http://www.able-training.co.uk/2016/01/challenging-behaviour-and-aggression-in-schools/

Year 6 Miracles…or Madness? by @Mroberts90Matt

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. Tis the season for family, festivities and formal assessments! We had our assessment week two weeks before we broke up for the holidays and as such, when we returned it was time to analyse the results. This is the experience of a Year 6 teacher preparing children for the SATs.

As my fellow Year 6 teacher, our TAs and myself sat with the Head and Deputy Head, we knew we had to go in with a plan. There was no where near the proportion of children we wanted at the expected standard for a Year 6 child at this stage in the year. Therefore, because Headteacher’s worry (and I don’t blame them – after all, they are the first point of contact for poor outcomes) we wanted to assure him and our Deputy Head that there is a plan, it is one that worked effectively last year and there is hope in a bleak situation. Isn’t the situation always bleak?

However, there is more to the data that was compiled. Yes indeed, there are a clear number of children who are behind where they should be. Despite this in the Autumn term there was accelerated progress made by the cohort. So the children did really well, but they still need much more progress.

However, targets were set, plans were made and there it was – these targets would project the cohort to achieve more than last year’s cohort. How is this so? Because we are going to see children make the progress they are expected to make in one whole year or more happen in over a term and a bit…logical right?

Now, do not presume I am insinuating that other Years and Phases are able to slack whilst Year 6 catch up on the progress that should have happened. I have a profound respect for practitioners in every Key Stage, particularly staff from EYFS. I spent 6 weeks of my teacher training in Reception and I went in wondering what I would learn considering I had pretty much had my heart set on teaching in Key Stage 2. I left amazed. The skill and knowledge it takes to build understanding in children who just want to play is exhausting and challenging work. I can’t believe the things that EYFS practitioners manage and this respect extends to all colleagues. However, what I am saying is that there is pressure that comes naturally to the staff working with children at the end of their national assessment cycle – in this case Year 6 staff.

Pressure is on everyone: the government, local authorities, Headteachers, Senior Leadership Teams, teachers and the children themselves. Due to this undeniable pressure there is pushing for what can only be described as miracles – terms and terms of progress hoping to be made in just over a term. So what happens? Teachers and children practise. They practise exam techniques, they practise test-style questions. The result. More children reaching the expected standard at the end of KS2.

How does this translate over into KS3? Do children have the deeper knowledge that is hoped for at the end of KS2? Of course not. But they have the label of expected. So that’s what’s important…right?

Year 6 teacher rant over.

Taking on the Mantle by @Mroberts90Matt

When I go into school on Monday, I will be entering a secret NASA base and be recorded there, receive a briefing from a high-ranking NASA officer, enter a state-of-the-at rocket, land in a distant galaxy, meet alien species who are concerned about the brutality of the human race and try to convince them through a series of tasks that Planet Earth can get along and contribute effectively to the wider universe society…then be home in time for dinner! 

Of course, this is no extraterrestrial experience: the NASA secret base is our school office, the high-ranking NASA officer looks a lot like our Head in front of a green screen, the state-of-the-art rocket a lot of chairs in our two halls, the distant galaxy looks a lot like our school decorated very well, the alien species…well, guess who. 😉

Yes, it is Mantle of the Expert. Our Head introduced this to our school last year with great success – we visited Cretaceous Park and did tasks based on dinosaurs (all linking to Maths). In this week the staff are expected to be in role and deliver sessions based on curriculum content but themed around the experience for the week. The children take on the role of experts and complete the tasks.

In preparing for this event, there are clear benefits, but there are clear downsides to learning. Let’s start with the benefits: 

1. Enthuse children about learning 

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about a number of things. One of these is the supposed ‘wow’ factor of learning. A divisive concept, it is claimed that if children are ‘wowed’ or highly motivated in a lesson, they are more likely to learn. Is this true? I am not well researched enough to know, however there is no doubt that the children enjoy Mantle of the Expert. It is something which gets them excited to come into school and take part in learning activities. Do children need to be excited to learn? No. But it may well have an impact. 

2. Teamwork and Mentoring Development 

As part of this experience, children across the school are split into smaller groups of 20. These groups are formed from their Houses and are a mix of Year 1-6 children. As such, there is great opportunity not only for children who don’t usually interact with each other to work together, but also for older children to support younger and younger children to learn from the older ones. This was evident in our previous Mantle week where, in any session you entered, you could see children interacting with their peers from other year groups and for weeks afterwards they would look out for each other.

3. Provide an opportunity for wider learning

This is a pretty weak benefit in my view – however, Mantle of the Expert provides a great vehicle to cover a lot of objectives in the Foundation Subjects which teachers might have struggled to find time for in their crammed timetable. As the topic is constant across the school, it is much easier to move from one activity to the other and cover a lot of content in a relatively short amount of time.

Now, let’s think about the drawbacks to this kind of event:

1. Impact on learning

Being a teacher on Twitter, is it very easy to see a clear divisive  debate raging. It was going on a year ago when I stopped going on Twitter for a time. It still goes on today. Progressive teaching versus Traditional teaching. Honestly, I still don’t have a complete opinion on this. I think both styles are required to make an effective teacher. It is clear that Initial Teacher Training institutions are very much focused on the progressive side (remember a lot of lectures on child-centred learning, focusing learning on children’s ideas, they even showed the picture of ‘that tree’ in a lecture, look familiar)…

…and on the other hand I personally think that it is bizarre to not recognise the teacher as the key figure of authority and knowledge in the classroom. A doctor does not expect a patient to come up with a discussion around their diagnosis, the professional doctor makes the authoritative decision.
I am probably wrong as I am still to gain a greater knowledge on this debate…but Mantle of the Expert seems quite a progressively-based concept rather than a traditional style of teaching. Some would then argue for or against for this – but this much I know. My Year 6 children will progress slower this week in their curriculum learning objectives than they would do in a ‘normal week’…

Honestly, I am struggling to think of another downside – however, considering that the point of the school is to develop learning the one downside is significant. Overall, I’m looking forward to this week! Mantle of the Expert proved exciting to be a part of last time and I’m sure it will be again. The question is are the benefits of the week worth potentially slowing the progress of key curriculum objectives for that short period of time?