What teaching and learning ideas would you like to say goodbye to in 2016?
This is a collection of ideas I would like to see banished forever throughout 2016. You will most likely disagree with some of the suggestions I have made, and no doubt my suggestions will not be a solution for everyone.
If you disagree, what would appear in your bin?
A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to improve children’s learning.
1. Progress Over Time:
… although the phrase ‘progress over time’ is a welcomed-replacement from OfSTED, the perception of one-off judgements to a more balanced and fair overview is still in the midst of a transition.
After yet another School Inspection Handbook redraft, ‘progress over time’ soon replaced the term ‘rapid progress’; it is still a phrase coined by OfSTED that is (most likely) used in many conversations you and I have had with colleagues in lesson observations and/or when looking at student data.
What and when could replace this phraseology?
Well, hopefully less redrafts of the handbook will help – a promise made by OfSTED – but I’m not quite sure. I’d like to see any kind of OfSTED terminology used less in schools in general, and perhaps we can assume that what is replaced, is just what it is: that most students make ‘progress.’
Let’s not call it anything else and define it by data. A big ask, but one day I hope we will not need to measure a child by numbers alone.
… another buzzword promoted by the DfE throughout 2015.
… if our schools don’t nurture and develop these key traits, we run the risk of creating a generation who excel at passing exams, writing essays, absorbing information, but children without the skills they need to tackle the challenges that lie ahead and participate in society as active citizens, to make the right decisions and build their own moral framework. (DfE speech)
Nicky Morgan even set aside £4.8M funding to help promote character in schools; notably in this speech she announced;
“… schools must explain how character education projects in their school develop 18 ‘character’ traits in their pupils, including qualities such as perseverance and tolerance.”
I have no doubt that ‘teaching character‘ has stemmed from lessons learnt in the USA; referencing work and research from growth mindset, grit and resilience which is now making the rounds up and down the UK!
All students have character; if you are a teacher you will know this because you have a relationship with each and every one of your students that you teach.
Having a determined personality, or the ability to overcome adversity should not be defined as a ‘having character’ – or something that can be taught explicitly – but something that is already embedded and developed overtime with secure relationships at home and at school; through school PSHE programmes, enrichment and extra-curricular activities.
Schools already have systems in place to help develop the whole child, even relatively new ideas pre-election. We only need to look at the recent announcement by the DfE to read that the Summer School funding of £9.7M (no. 4 here) has been cut for students during transition from year 6 to 7. Designed to help curb a drop in attainment during the ‘summer holiday slump’; an inadvertent mechanism to ensure all students leave primary school with the expected level in English and maths.
The funding has now been cut. What now for the summer slump? What now for character and preparation for secondary school for students who do not meet the mark?
Oh, I know. Students “who fail primary school leaving exams in English and maths will be given two further chances to pass the tests in their first year of secondary school to bring them in line with their peers …”
3. Lesson Gradings:
… gone are one-off lesson gradings used by OfSTED, but apparently this is not yet evident in all schools. It is reported that 50%~ of schools are still grading lessons across England and Wales.
For the first 15 or so years of my career, I have had my own lessons graded by observers. As an observer, I have also graded lessons myself. Despite this methodology having flaws, I had learnt a prescribed and apparently reliable method for making judgements.
This is not acceptable, but who could blame me? I am not alone. I can think of the numerous times my professionalism was questioned. How many times must I have done this to others as a middle and senior leader? How many careers may have been damaged?
This was the system many of us were educated into and one many us of used; we knew no different! What a crime …
Thankfully, as a result of OfSTED blogs, I now know different and so do you reading this. Hopefully you are one of the 50% working in schools where lesson grading is no-longer used.
From blogging about OfSTED, I received an invitation to attend OfSTED headquarters which then resulted in a group of bloggers having a round-table discussion with the, then national director for schools, Mike Cladingbowl. This then sparked the downfall of inspectors grading one-off lessons and a modification in the evaluation forms inspectors use when completing an evidence trails during an inspection.
My recent one-to-one interview with Sean Harford in April 2015, I again questioned the purpose of using lesson observations at all, especially if whole-school judgements were reliant on published (unvalidated) data. I also showed Harford two schools with the same data, receiving two very different outcomes.
“There will always be a margin of error … “
It does not take a genius to work out the flaws still evident in the OfSTED system; and to know that 1,000s of teachers are still performing and hoop-jump according to tick-box templates in 10,000 schools or more!
For work achieved in 2014/15, god bless Mike Cladingbowl! …
I hope to give Sean Harford a ‘blessing’ of some kind in 2016!
4. Verbal Feedback Stamps:
… I’ve blogged about this here, and it was a well-read post that resonated with thousands and thousands of teachers! There are many other ideas that one could be banished forever in 2016, but I’d like to make the case that this is one of them that can 100% go!
Stamping in a student’s book to indicate that verbal feedback has taken place, adds no value to learning. It has little or no impact! Is the stamp merely to serve as an indication to an observer when looking through students books? To see that some sort of feedback has taken place? We know verbal feedback serves an important purpose, particularly in practical subjects, but in written subjects where extended writing takes place?
We only need to look at the recent School Inspection Handbook which has the following regarding marking in students books;
There it is in black and white, highlighted above in the image.
Verbal Feedback Stamps, I believe this is yet another fad interpreted by schools and teachers from rogue inspectors and/or myths shared across the profession.
Just look at the above image again. Why on earth can this myth still evolve?!
5. The Rebirth of Textbooks:
… Nick Gibb has an obsession about textbooks being used more widely by teachers in classrooms.
Before Gibb, before the not-missed-at-all Elizabeth Truss was given her marching orders, she made a number of speeches in 2014 in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the textbook. What Truss failed to recognise was that;
… the knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything in to the limited number of periods a week they have with each class! (Source)
How can one subject be crammed into a single text book?
“The role of high-quality textbooks has been seriously neglected. Well-focused, forensic study of these nations highlights the extent to which good teaching and high academic standards are strongly associated with adequate provision and widespread use of high-quality textbooks. In Finland, 95% of maths teachers use a textbook as a basis for instruction, and in Singapore it’s 70%. Compare that to England, where only 10% of maths teachers use a textbook for their core teaching. And in science the story is even worse – only 4%.” (Source)
Just look at these poor text books destined for the recycling bin!
… you only need to take a closer look at the publishers and their relationships with those that promote them to find this ideology is all a little incestuous.
… criticism from Mr Gibb who said last year that textbooks in England do not match up to the best in the world, “resulting in poorly designed resources, damaging and undermining good teaching. (Source)
Place this relationship aside for a moment, and actually think about the classroom teacher and the head of department with a budget. The teacher who actually has to consider their curriculum provision, despite the endless changes at national level, and then be able to predict what text book they will need in order to teach to the exam (sorry did I say that?) I mean, teach the curriculum to encourage students to learn.
“Publisher Penguin has since suggested 100 books it could offer for low prices and Scholastic has offered to give schools 26 books for as little as £1.50 each, the Department for Education has said.” (Schools Week)
There is also no indication as to which text books will be relevant for new curriculums soon to be taught. I wonder what Pearsons’ involvement in all of this is too? I’d need to write another blog …
6. Chinese Teaching:
… I know, I know. The television series ‘Are Our Kids Tough Enough?‘ was entertainment and was never going to provide us with a true perspective.
Add to this, frequent invitations and events, marketed by teaching alliances, MATs and corporate organisers to attend various schools hosting Chinese teachers, teaching in schools.
The promise of ‘maths teachers and Shanghai teaching methods showcased to UK teachers in [a school near you].’ I kid you not, they all appeared in my work ‘inbox’ on several occasions throughout the autumn term. I attended an event. I also sent my maths teachers to 2 or 3 events and so far, we have done nothing about it. We have bigger fish to fry …
‘We [are] blindly following the Chinese approach to teaching maths’ says The Guardian. Oh, and each of these supported by exemplar text books, already hand-crafted for subject teachers waiting to consume another promised silver bullet.
7. Data Crunching:
… how long do teachers spend crunching data, then uploading this data onto their school’s MIS (Management Information System)? Sadly with the ever-present emphasis on students making progress from the first day they start school, any requirement for teachers to look at and understand and interpret data is not going to go away.
Do we really want teachers to understand assessment, then number-crunch the data, then spend hours uploading the information onto a software platform? Probably not the latter, but there is no harm expecting all teachers to thoroughly understand assessment in their subjects and be able to assess accurately. Uploading student assessment is an administrative task and is another pinch-point expected on already stretched teachers’ timetable.
Therefore, my request is simple and marries up with the guidance already published by the DfE in their Workload Challenge Report (January 2015).
How many of the following is your school doing for teachers?
- Encouraging students to complete more peer and self-assessment.
- Sparing use of more detailed marking and written feedback, appropriate to children’s age and stage.
- Effective use of whole school data management system / registers (including training for staff).
- Use of software for marking, homework and tracking pupil progress.
- Use of tablets for planning, assessment and recording lesson notes.
8. Progressive versus Traditional:
… this debate is fast-becoming the most boring debate of 2014 and (also) 2015! Can we face yet another year? Are we still in a position where we need to argue that one is better than the other?
In reality, teachers at the chalkface actually don’t care what it’s called, they just get on with teaching, using whatever methods suit them and their students. And because of their workload, most have little time to be concerned.
It appears to me that various camps who blog and tweet; those who publish various articles in defence/support of an ideology they believe in, believe one methodology works best. It is my belief, that one cannot exist without the other, and one is no more important than the other.
Both methods exist in my school and in individual classrooms, they are both allowed to thrive where teachers and students can teach and learn in unison.
Some many also be baffled that there is such a divide amongst the profession! But, difference is good. Not one method can meet the needs of millions of students, nor can one million educators in the UK agree on any single policy.
This debate has been expressed, better than anything I have ever read or could write myself in this blog by Steven Watson, Lecturer in Mathematics Education at the University of Cambridge;
The sometimes furious debates on twitter over which is best, progressive or traditional is a false dichotomy. It hides the real issue. It has become an expression of confusion and anger relating to the complex wider picture. And this is why I am reluctant to engage in it, because there is a much bigger fight to be had. That’s with the people who perpetuate the myth, policy makers pursuing ideological privatisation of our education system and with those who have vested interests and something to gain out of the current policy direction. It is time to see through the myth. (Source)
Of all the things written in this post, this would probably be the number one item I’d like to see the back of.
What would be yours and which do you disagree with?