Showing posts from 2013

How to Improve Reporting to Parents

The practice of issuing an annual "chequebook" style set of reports to the parents of high school students seems well past its sell-by date to me.  Surely modern communications offer opportunities for more flexible, timely feedback to parents and students.

Having said that, I think we could improve reports overnight by adopting a few simple rules:
no more "Joe is a clever boy / Joe is very able/ Joe is a hardworking pupil / Joe is conscientious" comments.  These represent ego-centred feedback, and undermine resilience;no more "If Joe works hard he will make good progress" comments.  This is obviously true of all students to some extent, and so provides no information to parents and learners. " What rules would you add to this list?

The "Good Enough" Teacher

This is one of those "thinking out loud" posts.  I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say, nor that my argument holds water, and I suspect that I am simply paraphrasing Dylan William. But I'll put it out there and see what you all think!
At the risk of being accused of setting up a straw man,  I get the impression when I speak to some teachers about school improvement that they have the following model in their minds:
There is level of teaching competence which is "good enough";Action needs to be taken if teachers fall below this level or fail to reach it;It is the job of PTs and SMT to discover those teachers who are not "good enough" and do something about them - this is what we mean by "quality assurance". 
I'll call this the "good enough" model. This model is dead and gone from Scottish education, if it ever really existed. It is replaced, I hope, by something like this:
Every teacher needs to improve (as does ev…

Learning from the Curriculum for Excellence

I've just jumped onto the train, having spent the day at Holyrood's "Learning from the Curriculum for Excellence" conference. Here are a few of the bits of information that stuck in my head.
Bill Maxwell, Education Scotland We need people who are good at learningThe 4 capacities are just as relevant in the senior phaseThe centre is not looking to impose one curriculum model for the senior phase (but authorities may be I guess!)BTC skills document is the least read (but I heard someone later describing it as gobbledygook! ).Pathways are good for high attainers, not so good for lowest attaining 20%We need to challenge  unspoken assumptions. CFE is designed to be a flexible model for development that will work for decadesSenior Phase needs to be planned across an an authority, working with FE colleges, local employers and other partnersWe need to do a better job of communicating CfE rationale to parents and pupils
Janet Brown, SQA
SQA are conscious that new qualifications …

Improving Teachers

The title is ambiguous isn't it?  Either "teachers who are improving" or "making teachers improve".

I really don't know yet where this post is going.  It is a response to a number of tweets and blog posts I have read recently, and to a speech last night by a retiring colleague.  All, in different ways, suggest that good teachers are good teachers and should be left alone to get on with their jobs.

Here's an example of a blog post: "Evidence Based Teaching or Curing Stupidity". The gist of this one seems to be that the author once took part some research which turned out to be rather pointless, and that the author thinks learning and teaching are too complex to be amenable to the distilling of transferable strategies through research.

My colleague last night (a man for whom I have a huge amount of respect, and whom I count as a good friend) mocked the learning trios that have been operating in our school this year: colleagues engaging in peer c…

But you're English aren't you...

I am not quick to take offence, but this is something I find quite hurtful: when native born Scots presume to label me as English because I was born and grew up in England.I came to Scotland in 1983, and have lived here ever since. I lived through the poll tax (and am proud to say I didn't pay a penny until the legislation was repealed), protesting on the streets of Edinburgh with my fellow citizens. I have witnessed the growth of devolution, the birth pangs of the Scottish Parliament and the resurgence of the SNP. I have climbed, walked, paddled and snowboarded all across our beautiful, tranquil,  mournful landscape.  I have married, settled down and raised a wonderful son here. I have taught mathematics to thousands of Scottish children. I feel a profound connection to this land, its people, its historyand its bright future.So please don't tell me I'm English.

More important things than teaching classes?

At tonight's parents' night, a parent congratulated me on my promotion, said it was a shame that I wouldn't be teaching their child any more,  and added "you're busy now with more important things than teaching classes".This comment took me by surprise, and I just chuckled, but on reflection I wish I had said something. There is nothing more important in school than teaching classes! I only applied for the post of Depute because I hoped and believed that I could contribute to improving the quality of learning and teaching in every classroom in the school. That is going to be quite a challenge, given the very high standard of learning and teaching at North Berwick High School, but I like a challenge.

Pupil Learning Team

Today I sat in on a pupil learning team meeting. l was blown away by the quality of the discussions, and by the fantastic job Lara Neri (Depute Head) did as chair of the group. They began by sharing great lessons they had experienced this week. They spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about their learning, and identified key factors such as choice, relevance, active participation and revisiting of prior learning. So much more than just "it was fun". They then discussed starter questions in maths. They confirmed that all maths teachers use starter questions, and identified two benefits: getting actively engaged in doing maths at the start of the lesson and having the opportunity to revisit prior learning, to consolidate their learning. I was delighted that they had picked up so clearly the purpose of starters. They also felt that starter activities sometimes went on too long; they reckoned about 10 minutes was long enough.  That exactly matches the advice in maths department …

More Constructivism

There's another aspect to my growing sense that Constructivism is a powerful lens through which to view learning:  it has changed the way that I interpret misunderstandings.  Whereas I was sometimes guilty in the past of just thinking "they haven't got it yet" when a pupil gave a wrong answer, I now try very hard to figure out where the wrong answer came from, in the sense that I am thinking "what model of this concept have they constructed that would lead them to give this answer?"

To give an example, I was working yesterday with a group of S1 pupils who were trying to master the ordering of decimals to two decimal places.  To be honest, they were really just trying to grasp the concept of decimal fractions, and ordering was the aspect we happened to be looking at. I was using the decimal darts described here, and we were trying to compare 0.32 and 0.5

I asked them to write the bigger number on their show me boards.  Joe [not his real name!] wrote 0.32