Monday, September 28, 2015

My verbal feedback stamp

I sometimes use a verbal feedback stamp. According to @TeacherToolkit it's madness and it makes me a laughing stock. I'm sure I've been called worse, but it does bother me that an influential blogger - and senior leader - is stating his opinion in a way that could put a dent in some teachers' morale. And assumptions are being made about how and why it is used. Consider this, some teachers may use the verbal feedback for themselves. Not OfSTED, not the SLT (but possibly for parents). Regarding the latter, my son struggled with writing and when he was in year 6 the one really good (imo) piece of work was unmarked. If there had been a verbal feedback stamp then I wouldn't have questioned the lack of written comments. 

I'm well aware of OfSTED's marking guidance and wouldn't dream of spending time writing down what was said during the feedback, but in a couple of seconds the stamp shows that feedback has been given. It's something I strive to do - guide the children whilst they are working, to support their progress. I am fully aware that a stamp itself adds no value to learning, but the feedback does! 

For myself, I use the stamp sporadically, but it is for my benefit and certainly not proof that I am stamping for evidence trails (another assumption). I ask my children to leave their books open for marking, in a pile. If I've put the verbal feedback stamp on any, it acts as a reminder that I don't need to mark it again. That saves me time, which can only be a good thing right?! 

Today I used it in the middle of a maths lesson. When I looked at the subsequent work I could see that my verbal feedback had a positive impact.   How's that for self assessment of my teaching? So forgive me, but I'll keep my stamp, thank you - and make a mental note that when I have strong opinions about something I will avoid using words/phrases intended to ridicule fellow professionals.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How can digital leaders have an impact on the computing curriculum?

A post for #DLChat on 17th September at 9pm

I confess that my work with digital leaders has been sketchy over the past couple of years. I left the role of ICT coordinator two years ago, but that doesn't mean I have lost my passion for what I believe to be an asset to any school. We do have digital leaders at East Harling and I am fortunate to work with some of them in our code club, but I am not directly involved with what they do for the school. I have tried to get KS1 digital leaders going (mini DLs as I like to call them), but this has proved difficult despite their excitement about the role. Time is a problem. I aim to try again this year! The reason I am telling you this is that the following is based on experiences that are over two years old. They are still very valid and I actually feel very proud of what we achieved as a school before the computing curriculum became statutory. 

My digital leaders met at least once a week and had different areas of expertise, depending on their interests and what they wanted to learn. A couple were responsible for blogging and they updated their digital leader blog independently. They had lots of ideas, many of which came into fruition.

They hosted an open event where teachers and technicians (spot @kevin_sait!) came along to learn about the impact they have in school. I know that this had an impact as the ICT coordinator from my current school attended - and subsequently advertised for digital leaders. He has been supporting them in school for over two years now. 

So what about computing? Well I like to think that between the digital leaders and I we left a legacy of good practice. I was always quite hot on teaching the computing elements of the ICT curriculum as I knew that it was the part that teachers shied away from. Being an AST meant I had to know. I also wanted to find resources and ideas that would inspire children to engage and teachers to develop the passion to deliver confidently. So my digital leaders learned how to use - and become experts in - a range of resources such as:

  • Kodu
  • Mozilla thimble
  • Hackasaurus
  • Scratch
  • BYOB
  • Probots
  • Popcorn
  • Sherston resources
  • A range of ipad apps
I'm sure there were more, but these were the ones I remember most. I did not teach them, they learned by exploring, breaking things and through trial and error. Pretty much the same way that I have learned. It seems to stick better that way. 

They taught their peers during class ICT sessions, provided staff workshops and 1:1 support (depending on the teacher's year group), provided computing workshops for teachers in our cluster, presented e-safety sessions in assemblies, hosted kidsmeets, attended kidsmeets to learn new things and participated in cluster livewriting sessions to share expertise with other children. I have no doubt about the positive impact that they have had. I am very proud of one of my digital leaders who, after two years of campaigning to get her high school to employ digital leaders, has taken on the role herself. At the end of last year she had 20 year 7 digital leaders turn up! Wow! 

Of course the impact they have had is only measurable by the anecdotal evidence from other staff members, but I know that many felt more confident to try things out after they had received training from a digital leader - or they had them supporting in class. The laptops were being booked out more, staff were becoming more adventurous with what they were teaching and the children were leaving school with a greater level of skills.

I know that schools rely on passionate staff (or young people!) to keep any digital leader movement going. As a deputy, SENDco and year 2 teacher my time is very limited. My experience with year 6 digital leaders though was that they almost managed themselves. Some of them came more than twice a week and I was quite frank that they had to work things out themselves - and they did! At times all I provided was my room, meagre tips (and only when I could sense frustration) and the fact that I was available (often marking). So if you really want to get started but are concerned about protecting your time, promote an ethos of self-learned expertise. 

In #DLchat I would love you to share your successes and struggles. Maybe we can persuade others to employ them this year and find out for themselves what impact they can have.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Learning without limits

Today I have been fortunate enough to attend the conference 'Assessment without Levels' led by the inspirational Alison Peacock and Mary Myatt. The opportunity to hear their messages (and network with esteemed colleagues) made it well worth being out of my classroom. I had envisaged live blogging, but quickly realised that I would not be able to do it properly, whilst listening to what was being said. It was too gripping! What follows in an overview (I have written pages of notes) and I have refrained from putting in quotes so that I don't unintentionally mis-quote, but have tried to capture the essence of what I learned. This is my interpretation of the day, so some of what I have written is not precisely what was said.

Alison kicked off the day by reminding us that we need to keep our principles intact and our children at the forefront. This sounds obvious, but maybe it isn't for those schools who have been judged as RI or inadequate. It is a message that was reiterated by Mary in the afternoon, who told us that what we do is for the children's learning and progress, not for OfSTED. 

Alison was emphatic about not labelling children, but keeping the door open - enabling learning without limits. We are sometimes in danger of limiting the children with the labels that we give them, even if our intentions are good. Giving children a level may limit, or put a ceiling on, what you expect from the child, or they expect from themselves. 

What Alison said about mastery really struck a chord and was particularly relevant in the context of my practice at the moment. I am a fairly experienced teacher, but in no way complacent about what I do in the classroom. I am always seeking ways in which to be better. I am familiar with Dweck's mindset work having read the book a few years ago and from returning to it this summer. The radio 4 programme Mind Changers (in which Alison and her school appear)was part of our inset training on our return to school, with a follow up discussion about it in our staff meeting last night. I am really trying to think about growth mindset in terms of mathematics and to be frank it is making my head hurt. I have gone from thinking that I am a 'we can do it' kinda teacher with uber high expectations, to someone who may inadvertently been capping learning. 

Alison said that real mastery is not knowing, but questioning everything. You think you know, but actually you don't. Yes! That's exactly it! My thinking is being challenged and I have become confused with my maths planning. Luckily, Alison unknowingly gave me the solution to my confusion! Although I like to think I challenge children appropriately, in maths children were often grouped by ability - at least 3 times each week. This to me was the way to manage the tasks they needed to do, pitched at the right level, to help them make progress. Yes there were many days when they chose the level of activity and I provided lots of opportunities for more open ended maths where everyone had the same starting point, but essentially children belonged to groups. I could talk about the children who developed resilience, the ones who could do but couldn't talk/share their learning and the ones who had a positive view of their maths, but were inaccurate, but that could be a whole new post. The idea that Alison shared about differentiation through having challenges that children select (challenge 1,2,3 or 4) is something I am aware of, but have not adopted as consistent approach. It makes perfect sense! I've always considered it to be successful when I've done it, but have never considered doing it every day. Simples?! It's something that I can implement immediately and observe impact. Our children already have brilliant learning behaviours, so I'm sure will learn to select the right challenge for them, and we have a culture of trust, which is another thing that Alison was very clear about. Children must feel confident enough to voice their ideas, views and opinions without fear of threat or ridicule. They need to know that it's ok whether they choose challenge 1 or 4, that there are no judgements made.

Mary reinforced this in the afternoon by saying we are responsible for creating an atmosphere of high challenge, low threat, in which it's ok to make mistakes. These mistakes are vital for learning. Mary also said that if we work on a rich curriculum, we won't always know what will happe and with uncertainty comes challenge. This is why I love the mantle of the expert approach so much - the children lead, you can't always guarantee the direction you will go and the challenge is exciting! Everything these two ladies said made me think of this approach, from student voice to building resilience and positive attitudes - and giving all children equal starting points. If you haven't tried this approach before I can tell you that you I am constantly surprised by children's responses, which are very often contrary to what you would expect from their 'labels' (e.g. NC level). It levels the playing field. What this approach also does is provide ample opportunities for children to share ideas, make decisions and have an impact - all essential in the new OfSTED inspection framework. Mary asked, what do the children have to say? Student voice is one of the powerful indicators of where you are as a school. Pause and think about this.

Indeed under the new framework OfSTED will look for

  • Children who are confident and self assured
  • Good attitudes to learning
  • Children can discuss and debate in a considered way

Children need to learn to agree to disagree and that it's ok to have a different opinion or change your mind (drama techniques like decision alley springs to mind). OfSTED will ask what children are doing and why, so time needs to be invested on the latter. We must also make sure we identify and rectify misconceptions, check systematically for understanding, build resilience, give children time to practice and, most importantly, teach fewer things in greater depth. In the Q&A session at the end, we were reminded that it was ok to take your learning objective over more than one lesson. We need to stop rushing through the curriculum. I can't be the only year 2 teacher who is aware of a child who still hasn't grasped a concept, but has no more time to spend on it. Being given permission in the new curriculum  to slow down feels wonderful.

As for assessment, Alison believes that focusing on a rich curriculum, expertly taught, with low threshold, high ceiling tasks and a culture of challenge is much more profitable than focusing on levelling children. They are rigorous about the quality of teaching, rather than the levels the children are at. Yes they have to report ks1 and ks2, but they didn't spend time worrying about sub levels. We need to ask what difference we have made, what value we have added and what it is like to be a child in our school. Formative assessment (assessment for learning) is embedded and although summative assessment can inform, it should not hamper high quality teaching (big agree here!) Like us, they now use the NAHT KPIs, but in a slightly different way. These are aggregated at the end of each year and passed on to the next teacher (how it should be!) Assessments can be triangulated with work in books and will provide a scaled score for parents. Children are at the heart of parent meetings, which makes total sense as they are the ones being discussed. They produce short films where they self assess and these are shown in their learning review conferences. I love this idea and will definitely do this with some of our children on the SEN register as I think it is a great way of adding to case studies. 

If you want to read more about the Wroxham School's assessment policy, it is set out very clearly on their website

I could write more and more about the messages from today - and lots more advice was given by Mary about the new framework - but I feel this is enough food for thought for now. You can find out lots of brilliant advice on her informative website and I would highly recommend subscribing to her updates. They save an awful lot of time trawling through educational/social networking sites and are always helpful. 

I apologise for any typos (tired eyes) and will polish this post when I turn on my PC by adding some links, bullet points, bold parts etc (ipad prevents proper posting!!) 

I hope I have done justice to Alison and Mary's key messages. This really is a nutshell and I'm sure another blog post will ensue. 

Update: Amy has blogged! A brilliant read that picks up on lots of things that I had written down - and some things that I had only half written because too many inspirational things were being said! (Amy is clearly much better at multi-tasking.)

Please comment! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Deputy Head Network

A colleague in my current cluster asked recently if I was interested in getting together with other deputies from the cluster on a regular basis, in the same way that head teachers meet. I thought this was a good idea. A couple of days later the deputy from my old school said more or less the same thing. I see three other deputies socially, regularly and we often talk shop. For me, one of the most useful things about getting together is the sharing of valuable information. For that reason I started a new FaceBook group - The Deputy Head Network

It presently has 35 members, of which three of us have shared ideas / links. Like other facebook groups, it is not exclusive to deputies. I am a member of the EYFS group and I appreciate the posts, love the ideas and have used one from it already. The Deputy Head Network could easily have been named SLT group or Sharing Good Edu Practice and is a place where any practitioners who have the mindset that sharing benefits children's learning and pupil progress, at a whole school level, are welcomed. It is also a place to share ideas and resources for staff meetings. In the spirit of the group, if you join it please share something great! I'll look forward to seeing you there.

Maths Minion!

Like lots of infant teachers, I have always had a class bear or two. The first way that I used them was to teach children about the world. The Bears went travelling, we plotted their travels using Google maps and the children shared photos and wrote journals (see the blog sidebar and one of the pages of their travels). Lily went to Australia, Old Trafford, Las Vegas and the Yosemite National Park, to name a few, all in one year! 

When I started at East Harling the class bears were used to promote free writing. By the middle of the second year I changed the expectation to reading the bears a story, because the quality of writing in the books differed greatly and I didn't want judgments being made. My children were asked to read a story to the bears and record what they (the bears) thought of it. 

This year I have one bear that will be a travelling bear and a very new Maths Minion to try. As a school maths is a focus area so I thought that one way to support this would be to put together a rucksack with Stuart, who needs to learn some maths as he finds it tricky. The back pack came with a handy pencil case, folder and notebook. I will add a laminated sheet with some activity ideas, which will include lots of games, mental maths skills and ideas to use and apply mathematical in daily life. I have also linked the Maths Wizards blog I made  couple of years ago (for a child with SEN) to our Class Blog as I know that many children enjoy using technology to play games. Hopefully this puts less pressure on busy parents.

I'm relying on the novelty factor of Minions to entice the children to take Stuart home with them.  The important thing is that it will be their choice what they do. We shall see how it works! 

Minion Me! My lovely class Minions!