Sunday, 17 November 2013

I think it is what I call the DaisyWillingHirsch® effect........

Twitter has become increasingly divisive recently, I am sure we can all recognise this.

I read the comment from the title of the blog this morning and it has stuck in my head. I won't say who tweeted it, but it was probably someone who should have known better (it always is in my opinion).

The main cause of the arguing of the past week and a half has been the conflagration over 'Mantle of the Expert'.

Yesterday I actually bothered to see what this was all about and I will admit I was shocked to see that schools actually use this as a whole school approach to learning. To me it is simply laughable. True, role-play is an important part of many subjects at primary, but having looked at some of the planning it still looks ridiculous to me.

My tweets of derision for this approach were picked up by a Tory peer and a number of others. I went away and did more research. I still hold my position above - and I will explain why.

Teaching has to be grounded in reality and rigorous research, not simply: "I tried it in my class and it was great, it will work for you." Too often bad ideas spread this way and us teachers have been guilty of this in the past. It is precisely the "DaisyWillingHirsch® effect" which has challenged these frankly stupid ideas and asked for evidence of their efficacy. Where this has been lacking, ideas have been rightly ridiculed. At ResearchED during Tom Bennett's talk someone had the balls to put their hand up and say they believed 'brain gym' worked and fair play to them, but it was maybe with their group of kids at that point in their education. There is absolutely no 'proper' evidence Mantle of the Expert is as effective as any other teaching strategy. For schools to adopt it as a whole school approach despite this is really, really bad.

Those may sneer at the DaisyWillingHirsch® effect, but I find it is generally those who simply do not like the fact that everything they once knew and relied on might be bollocks. People do not like to hear this, especially those with big egos. I would urge these people to recognise this and to deal with it themselves, rather than sneering at those who are prepared to do so. After all, teaching is a reflective practice isn't it?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Beware false prophets bearing iPads ...............

iPads. If you haven't got them, you need them, or so you are told, even if you don't think you need them, you probably do, after all everyone has them doesn't they? If i don't have them I cant engage the children, or take pictures, or scratch my arse or blah blah blah blah.

One thing I really hate, and when I say this, bear in mind I really hate a lot of things, are IT consultants telling me how to deploy technology in my classroom when they have no teaching qualifications or any idea of the job I do. 

I had the misfortune to attend the apple store at the Trafford centre this morning for a talk entitled: iOS in Education at 8am this morning. Despite the ungodly hour  I was interested to see how iOS would help in stretching and progressing the children under my care. I assumed there would be some tricks, some possible downloads or apple mac apps that I hadn't seen, especially given the recent iOS 7 update. What I was treated to was an hour of absolute bollocks, delivered by someone who had clearly never been in a classroom in a teaching capacity and who said bedder instead of better and spoke in a half-Australian, half-London accent (he was definitely English by the way, just saying that so you know the sort of idiot I mean).

Apparently these are the best ideas on how to use iPads in schools:
1. iPad band. Pupils at Chiswick secondary school said that playing together in a 'band' using their iPads was the best day they had ever had at school. Firstly, that is pretty sad if that was the case and evidently Chiswick secondary school need to step their game up considerably. The main issue for me is that there is no need to use an iPad to play musical instruments. For many centuries a violin has been an instrument many have chosen to play and it has no real faults. Why replace it with an iPad? Ditto the drums, guitar or keyboard (most stupid). What really gets me is that we are selling a false impression to these children, basically we are saying: 'don't bother trying to learn an instrument, just get an iPad then you don't have to bother.' In today's instant culture that is a very dangerous thing to do. Learning a musical instrument teaches you a number of life skills it is impossible to teach in school.

2. Sending an email. Apparently the best thing the kids did at Castle Cary primary school was send an email to the Head - Mr Hansen. But wait I hear you cry, I send email every day! Most kids can knock up an email using txtspk quicker than we can! There was a twist, of course, that made the activity immensely engaging and desirable. This was: that the kids sat on the floor to do it. *sound of balloon being let down slowly* As the consultant said: "look at that picture, everyone sat at the desks (who were doing the kind of work you need to do to succeed in this world - note by me) wants to be sat on the floor." Woopie do! *massive sarcasm in this comment if you hand't noticed*

3. Making an annotated map of their school. This is another Castle Cary special - expect massive engagement and inspiring content. The children explored the school grounds taking pictures, then made a map with the main landmarks on it. Apparently the children included Mr Hansen in the 'landmarks' category too *polite but embarrassed laughter in the room*. Now I'm not being funny, but the kids in year 3 and above in my school could go to google earth on the pc and annotate a screen grab of our site and put some landmarks on in about 45 minutes. Clearly though it takes a team of consultants and a massive investment in iPads to do this kind of engaging lesson.

4. Using QR codes for revision. We are back in Chiswick here. Apparently the science teacher Mrs Engagement *name made up* said that she had "never seen her children so interested to take notes to revise from" as when she used QR codes and an iPad to scan them. The children then wrote the nugget of information in their books (CROSS NB: WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT WHEN THEY ARE CARRYING AN IPAD AND COULD COPY THE TEXT INTO AN EMAIL AND SEND TO THEMSELVES). Now I am sorry kids (not that any kids would bother getting this far into this blog, they would probably be comatose by paragraph 2, unless they were using an iPad of course) but revision is HARD. Making notes is boring. It is difficult to memorise the periodic table, or the different parts of the plant, hell, even I couldn't do that, as my C,C, at GCSE science attests to. However, in life you may experience some hardship. You may be in a boring job which you have to do in order to support your wife and children. This is life. Life is hard and very few jobs are engaging. GET USED TO IT!

One question that vexes me: What does engaging children actually mean? Does it mean them producing a great piece of work and being motivated to do so? In which case I do not need an iPad to do that. I was trained as a teacher. As part of my training (which was pre-iPads but post-IWB's) I learned how to design lessons to hook the children in and engage them in the activity I had planned. I really find it tragic that some leaders/teachers/parents feel you have use iPads to get this effect. I urge everyone to have faith in their abilities as a teacher.

One final word on 1:1 iPad to children ratio. It is assumed that 1:1 devices should be the goal of any iPad roll out. I often hear: "I've only got 16 iPads," or "I've got 45 but I want to buy another 45." I always ask WHY? Where is the evidence that this actually improves the education of the child? I will tell you the answer for free: THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE THAT 1:1 DEVICES SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE STANDARDS. I also confidently predict that, unless the research is funded by the tablet providers (which it will be), that no research will conclusively prove 1:1 devices or even using iPads for that matter, will significantly improve standards. I will tell you why: there is no evidence that using technology has ever significantly raised standards in education. An iPad is simply the latest in a long line of panaceas which will turn out to not be a panacea for anything. We had PC's, then we had IWB's, then we had ICT suites where we could control every computer remotely, then we had better IWB's, then we had netbooks, then we abolished our ICT suites and bought laptops, only to be replaced with iPads. You watch, in 3 years time I bet that unless you have google glasses in schools, you will be considered passé and bollocked by OFSTED/parents/managers etc etc

A couple of ending notes:
Someone at the talk today used iPads to work with blind and partially sighted pupils? eh? Please tweet me on @teachric if you can answer this one. I get the partially sighted bit by the way.

I do understand that the way certain people see iPads as great for engaging children and they are superb versatile devices, I just cannot have that they are any different from anything we have had before. Use the right tool for the job, whatever that may be.

Sorry to those people and adios.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Update on overheard at #researched

Quote number one:
"Up until the point you are sacked it is worth questioning what you are told."
Speaker: Tom Bennett
This quote stood out to me because in my first year teaching I ended up working at a school with an incompetent head teacher and a totally out of their depth SLT. My constant questioning of aims/methods essentially led to my contract not being renewed. Well, that and the bullying and harassment case we as staff brought against the head (by the way we tacitly won our case when she retired in disgrace). This was during my NQT year too. This questioning of management is a subject close to my heart, unless we question and bring SLT's to account, we will all end up on the learning bike, cycling to the brain gym, while keeping a growth mindset about the upcoming journey.

Quote number two:
"A lot of people say: if Gove says it, it is shit. Which is total rubbish."
Speaker: Ben Goldacre
This I overheard in the queue for bohemian coffee on the morning of the conference. I also think as a quote it IS bollocks. I don't think teachers hate Gove because of what he says, think they hate him because he is a Tory and has spent the entire time he has been in the job belittling the teaching profession. Whether this is an organised campaign or not I don't really care, I will listen if he is talking sense. I suspect though, that his attack on teachers is more in keeping with a Daily Mail caricature of us as lazy, militant left-wing scum than anything else. I also expect that he sees his attack on teaching unions as a kind of badge of honour he will wear during the inevitable election to find Cameron's successor after the next election.

"Key decisions are made in corridors."
Speaker: Brian Lightmann
Chimes with me. In my school most good decisions are made in corridors because it is the time when we use our gut instincts to make quick choices. It is also the place in most school where the management is generally absent from. Their movement out of the classroom and into their offices gives us as teachers the authority to move into that vacuum and assert our authority. After all, we spend all day with the kids, not them. We make the better decisions as a result in my opinion.

"Reading ability is dependent on knowledge."
Speaker: Daisy Christodoulou
By reading ability read: comprehension. Totally agree with this. Giving our kids the best experiences in all subjects ultimately aids their comprehension. How can you answer a question booklet about the plague if you have no idea what the plague was? Answer: with difficulty.

"If you think about something a lot, you will probably remember it." (heard twice)
Speaker: Katie Ashford (and Daisy C)
Not hugely scientific this one. Do you or not?

I really enjoyed the conference, look forward to the next one.

****If I have misquoted anyone I apologise, my brain obviously didn't think about the quotes enough****

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Overheard at researchED


Clue: every one was a speaker, but the comment may have been made at other times (like in the coffee queue....)

"Up until the point you are sacked it is worth questioning what you are told."

"A lot of people say: if Gove says it, it is shit. Which is total rubbish."

"Key decisions are made in corridors."

"Reading is dependent on knowledge."

"If you think about something a lot, you will probably remember it." (heard twice)

Good Luck!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Groups V Pairs V Individual Work (pre-term)

Some musings on Hattie's observations on group, pairs and individual work:

It is a well repeated mantra (well certainly during the time I have been teaching) that collaborative group work is the preferred method of educating in a primary setting. Within this has been the question of how you group children with some grouping in ability and some who mix children up. The notion of teaching in groups has become embedded in primary education. I have found this problematic for a number of reasons:

1. There is no evidence that group work has a significant impact on attainment.
2. As a result of grouping and differentiating planning to those groups, teachers assess children as part of a group, rather than individually. This leads to huge problems with over-highlighted APP grids and over-inflated marks (as well as underestimated marks).
3. In my experience those who shouted loudest led, when often these were the children worse placed to do so.
4. Invariably there were those class members who refused (or who could not) work as part of a group. These were not just the low ability either, high ability children wanted to work on their own too.
5. If you organise your classroom into groups the children do not get a direct sight of the whiteboard.
6. The more children working together = more noise.

Then I listened to a lecture by John Hattie ( and it all fell into place with one hugely important statistic he mentioned. 81% of children working in a group are working on their own.


Out of a class of 30 that is 24 kids ignoring those around them.

In which case - WHAT IS THE POINT OF GROUP WORK?????

Hattie proposes an alternative:

Hattie stated: "when kids work alone or in groups of more than two, the effect size is hugely less than pairs."

This makes more sense to me. In a pair both children can talk and listen to the other, in a group of 4 or 6 there is bound to be a couple of children talking at once or not listening. Pair work gives children the opportunity to make mistakes and not be ridiculed for them. In a group some will not talk for fear of getting the mickey taken out of them for being wrong. Also in a group you get a pack mentality, with the stronger picking on the weaker. Regardless of how you manage your classroom, this will happen.

In my opinion there is another couple of points that need discussing here in terms of the impact of this research on classroom practice. The first is organisation of the classroom, the second is planning.

If we take this to its logical conclusion children should sit in pairs at all times. In my experience children should face the front of the classroom. Remind you of anything?

This is hugely more problematic than organising the classroom. At present our approved planning grids have space for LA, MA and HA, with a box for SEN. We also have a section entitled 'guided group work'. The first thing to do is drop the guided group work box. As Hattie says, teachers need to learn when to "shut up" and often guiding a group can stop children working out things they really should be doing themselves. However, now planning becomes massively difficult. If we drop the LA, MA and HA we are left with a problem. The "differentiation" ("" used advisedly) expected on our planning disappears and we have the need to plan individually. This is surely massively time consuming. There is an antidote to this. If we are no longer devoting 30-45 minutes with our 'guided group' we are free to impact on all children during one lesson. This also gives us the opportunity to give effective feedback (which Hattie states has the biggest impact on raising attainment) to most of the class rather than only the guided group. It also gives us an opportunity to raise standards in the class. Rather than cap each group's achievement by the "differentiated" task decided upon in our planning, we can use our time to make sure most children get our input in every lesson. Interestingly on the feedback point, Hattie says when groups get teacher feedback on their work the children invariably do not listen because it is not individual. Makes sense doesn't it?

A bit on individual work:
I am a massive fan of children working silently on their own. I believe that this has to happen for children to achieve in our education system, given the huge reliance we have on individual silent exams as the major form of assessment. Usefully for teachers like me, it is shown by Hattie that practice tests have a major impact on attainment, far higher than many other teaching strategies. This is probably the place to plan individual silent work, perhaps on a weekly basis.

The impact on my teaching this year:
I have set up my classroom in rows of two, all facing the front. The children will work in pairs in most lessons. I will have regular tests in my class with the children doing them in silence. I will not work with groups, rather concentrating on individual kids/pairs. I will try to make sure all children get quality feedback at least once in every lesson. I will plan for ALL children to achieve and avoid the LA, MA and HA grouping. I will attempt to drive attainment in lessons through targeted intervention and showing kids what the 'next step' is.

I will review this blog in November..........

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

I am a teacher. I teach children.........

I am a teacher.

I teach children, I am not a social worker.

I teach children, I am not a doctor/nurse/mental health professional.

I teach children, I do not phone parents up to make them obey the law by bringing their kids to school.

I teach children, I am not an educational psycologist.

I teach children, I am not a surrogate parent.

I teach children, I am not a statistics analyst.

I teach children, I do not check blood sugar levels of children with diabetes.

I teach children, I do not drag children kicking and screaming into a room to 'calm down'.

I teach children, I am not an educational researcher nor an expert in learning theories.

I teach children, I am not there to put up with 10 year old children behaving like toddlers.

I teach children, I do not go to work to have meetings where I talk nonsense for hours on end.

I teach children, I am not a BBQ chef.

I teach children, I do not arrange for food deliveries to families who are hungry.

I teach children, I do not worry about the well being of my pupils when I am not at work.

Except the above is rubbish and I have done all the above this past year.

Your list will be similar to mine.

Big up yourselves, no other job demands as much and we do a bloody good job.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

High Expectations? Hmmm

My first proper blog this. Hurray! I hear you all cry.............

Item 1 for discussion:

"have high expectations of children and young people"

This used to be the first teaching standard back in the day when there was a proper statutory framework for assessing (NQT/Trainee) teachers. It is a standard that we all should agree with and support, after all, if we didn't we would be failing the young ones in our care, wouldn't we? We all have high expectations don't we? To not have high expectations would be a dereliction of our duty I hear you cry!

In my experience we have low expectations of our children and young people and here (in my opinion) some of the main reasons why:

1. Poor Differentiation
In its best form differentiation can help children access content they would otherwise find difficult. It is, however, a difficult skill to execute well. Often differentiation is simply dumbing down a task i.e. "oh the bottom group of dummies will never learn column addition, get the multi-link out" etc etc. Worse still are lessons split into minute blocks which attempt to 'progress' these kids, while practically teaching them nothing (the card sort and word/meaning matching exercises). All too common is these minute tasks, linked to subsequent highlighting minute bits of APP grids, translates into make believe levels and therefore make believe achievement. If something is hard, well it might simply be hard and require work. If it takes 5 days for a child to master column addition then so what? That is a skill that they can use for their WHOLE life, not just for 20 minutes of a lesson. Put in the effort rather than assume the kids cannot do it.

2. Constant praise and rewards
You've all done it: "thank you for sitting quietly, have a team point!" (even though they are all rioting). "Well done for ignoring that conversation, have a house point" (even though they started the conversation). "Congratulations for completing a task everyone else finished yesterday, have a raffle ticket!" (even though it is still not complete properly). "You managed to listen to 10 minutes of the lesson today before having a massive tantrum and wrecking the classroom, well done, have a sticker." etc etc etc.
It is my contention that constant praise has wrecked the education of a majority of children in their country. This, allied to the instant 'googling' culture, has create a generation of children who will not do anything for nothing. It isn't: "I really want to do this task to help my education/please my parents/for my own satisfaction" (delete as appropriate) it is: "if I do it, what do I get?" And therein lies the rub. I would argue that children need rewarding, but for achievement, not for simply doing day to day tasks. All too often a class goes downhill because the naughty one is receiving praise for doing a simple job and someone who does the correct thing all the time gets none because they are not noticed. In order for them to get attention who do they do? Well you've guessed it, and that is why the class goes downhill.

3. Opportunities not earned but given
It is a fact of life that unless your surname is Cameron or Osbourne, or your kids went to the same schools they did, that you have to work bloody hard for opportunities in life. We do not require this from our kids. This week I took my class to the Halle orchestra, along with almost every other primary school in Stockport. Not only did they get to see the Halle for free* (*£2.50 bus fare) but they got to play with them during three songs, all of which they had supposedly learned during brass lessons this year. However, listening to these three songs illustrated the fact that not one school had actually learned the song and that you simply had to blow into your trumpet or whatever and make some noise, regardless of what it was. Half of my kids didn't even bother playing because they had simply not been listening during the lessons and didn't know what to do (n.b. I am on PPA during brass lessons). It mattered little. The children who had produced the cacophony of rubbish, were congratulated for their performance! They all got told that it could be them playing for the Halle in 20 years time because they were sooooo good. They also got a certificate saying "I played with the Halle." Now some of you are reading this and thinking: "what a grumpy git" and you would be right. Nonetheless, for absolutely no work and no achievement and no effort, they got rewarded, and rewarded handsomely. What an example to give them for the future.

I say have high expectations of children. Do not be afraid to let them fail a few times during lessons. Do not set up tasks you know everyone will achieve easily. Challenge them. No, really challenge them. So what if the lesson is on numbers with one decimal place? - ask them to order numbers with 2/3/4/5 decimal places if you think they can do it, even if it is not on the curriculum. It will take time and they will be sometimes frustrated, but failing at something does not automatically produce someone who fails at everything. Remember the feeling of working something out that you really had to try at? Let your class get the same feeling.

This could be the start of a blog, or the end of a blog, or the only post I ever bother doing. Time will tell. Comments welcome @teachric

Take care of yourselves and each other.