Reflections! Ideas that have changed my practice this year…

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Today has been a day of productivity and reflection. Building and tweaking new schemes of work in light of the most recent GCSE and A level exams that have taken place and trying to embed the key knowledge and skills that enable students to be successful, and it really made me think that actually we are at interesting point, but also the most challenging of times for science education. As a fundamental cornerstone of ‘Bucket 2’ and a compulsory subject, the pressure is high for students of all attainment levels to achieve. As predicted many schools have relinquished their courses such BTEC science, OCR nationals and other vocational courses towards GCSE,  coupled with the removal of the ISA’s- the specification change really ramped up not only the quantity of knowledge to be covered but also the complexity of the concepts covered.

After working with Karen Collins (PiXL Science lead) on how to best support students in science we had many a discussion surrounding how accessible the new GCSE is for lower achieving students. We then discussed how the Department for Education states that in order to achieve Grades 2 and 2-2 in science at GCSE candidates will need to be able to:

  • Demonstrate some relevant scientific knowledge and understanding using limited scientific terminology.
  • Perform basic calculations.
  • Draw simple conclusions from qualitative or quantitative data.
  • Make basic comments relating to experimental methods.

It was clear on embarking on this new GCSE quest that we would really scrutinise the content, number and length of examinations, literacy levels of the questions and lack of resilience and stamina in all learners. This became a real debate within our department, but also I felt the same vibes from other forms of social media. Science leaders and teachers were asking the same questions.

  • How can we effectively manage the transition from a largely controlled assessment based curriculum to one which is 100% examination?
  • How can we help our lowest achieving students access the language and skills of GCSE?
  • How can we increase literacy and data handling levels to enable students to address these questions effectively across all students?
  • How can we ensure the acquisition of key knowledge and the elimination of common misconceptions?
  • How can we build resilience in preparation for the examination series in Year 11?

Like every hard question there are no easy answers and at the time I can honestly say that the new specification felt incredibly daunting especially for those students who would find science hard to grasp. However revisiting these questions and my one woman quest for personal professional development, I believe upon reflection we are really starting to address this in our learning, teaching and planning across all key stages. Here are some of the most valuable things that I have learned so far that are improving the teaching and learning of science across all key stages based on some of the excellent practitioners research, findings and hard work that our department has and will continue to embed in our daily practice.

Language and literacy: Amanda Fleck

I have seen Amanda present many times, and have worked with her closely for a number of years. I know her passion around language and the language of learning is key, so to listen to her presentation at ‘Meeting of minds’ at Brunel University was fantastic. She discussed and advised many strategies to help make scientific literacy more accessible to all stating how the language and the concept need to go hand in hand. The ability to conceptually link words will enable students to become more familiar with the word and the meaning behind it. Amanda also advised that we need to increase the amount of reading and teach students to decode words, use dual coding and help develop fluency. This was a clearly something that can be implemented quite easily and have immediate impact. I found myself then linking this to the 3 levels of comprehension:

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What struck me about comprehension and reading was how they linked to the assessment objectives given by the exam board- so development of these skills would be crucial. To tackle this we developed more opportunities for reading in class with targeted questions to assess students knowledge and understanding of particular concepts. Exam questions with longer text were also embedded in KS3, 4 and 5 lessons so students feel more confident when answering these in a test or assessment. Modelling and working through these were also really important- it allowed for careful scaffolding so students could access, but also through effective questioning, really push students to maximise marks.

How does learning emerge in science classrooms? Mark Hardman

After attending Mark’s presentation I found his talk really refreshing and practical. I enjoyed how he discussed the idea that assessment should be linked to the activity which should have an overall link to concept acquisition. Mark quoted Willingham (2009) stating “memory is the residue of thought” so we must have more of a focus on cognition in the classroom. The research explained was really interesting and centered around expert micro-teaching, verbal protocols and retrospective debriefing all to support the learning taking place. We watched a clip of a lesson in which the teacher was driving meaningful cognition by many different teaching techniques such as feedback, effective questioning, actions, gestures and playing dumb. He emphasised that students learn from specific models that are delivered by the teacher and our job is to give thoughts to develop the narrative and meaning to help build semantic memory, continually develop narrative as to address misconceptions, feedback and correcting and problem solving and ensuring meaning through context, relationships etc. This is something that has been easy to implement just by reflecting on what has actually happened through my own lessons this year and actually addressing whether or not I am creating opportunities for meaningful cognition. This is definitely something that I will continue to develop over the next academic year.

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Why science teaching is hard- but wonderful!- Jasper Green

During Jasper’s presentation I found that I was thoroughly engaged from the start. Jasper commenced by discussing the purpose of challenge and how we can make concepts come to life whilst considering the relationships between them. Jasper introduced me to the idea of a schema, and how we can develop synoptic links that can support meaning through relatable knowledge. As an A level biology teacher this is a skill that is pertinent to an A level biologist- so introducing this from a much earlier age will hopefully support more secure learning in the future as students can create links between concepts not only across biology, but science too. However, the crucial piece of the puzzle is that we aid the students development, but the schema is constructed through the eyes of a student so in order to make these schemas fruitful we need to diagnose what students know and what they don’t and provide feedback to them

“If you are not challenged, you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes feedback is useless” Hattie

The most applicable aspect of the presentation was linked to surfacing mistakes and misconceptions. This could be addressed in lessons in many different ways, dependent on what you are trying to do:

 

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Ultimately Jasper’s presentation concluded with the notion that challenge is important because students will make mistakes, this provides us as professionals with a ‘symptom’ in which we can diagnose a ‘treatment’ through effective feedback to develop a fruitful schema.

Top 5 new resources I have used to support learning in lessons this academic year:
  1. Revision clocks- These have been a great tool for me to use to see what the students do know under timed conditions. (Jo Morgan- @mathsjem)
  2. Foldables- These have worked really well to aid students in sequencing particular concepts such as mitosis, meiosis, the menstrual and cardiac cycle. Great for revision too as students can cover and recall what they know, then check their answers.
  3. S.L.O.P booklets- courtesy of Adam Boxer and the cognitive science team, I have really looked into these and the idea of drilling questions to ensure that students know what they need to know.
  4. Knowledge organisers for KS5- these have been so useful and have been used as an extensive tool over the last academic year by year 13.
  5. Structure strips- These have really helped me develop extended answers from nearly all students. Through the careful scaffolding students have been able to describe, explain and evaluate in much more detail.

 

So a massive thank you to the people that have inspired me to be a better teacher this year and I believe the quote below sums it up.

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Mrs S

 

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Collaboration, Personalisation and Deliver – Implementing a CPD policy to your department.

In 2016-17 I completed my MA in Education: Leading innovation and change through St Mary’s University. The purpose of the MA was to really unpick what leadership and change from a theoretical perspective, but also looking at how this translates in the context of your school and how change can actually be achieved or not in some cases. Through the 5 modules we completed the aim was to create a policy proposal for something that you would like to change. This was possibly the hardest thing for me as my brain never seems to switch off- so hundreds of ideas were whizzing through my brain and a million miles an hour. I had to really think about the change that would make the most impact and have the longer term gains if embedded properly. This lead me to look into the the CPD of science teacher and the bespoke training they could receive to improve their own classroom practice.

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The policy I proposed to the senior leadership team resulted from the data collected from my MA research with the purpose of answering whether subject specific CPD can improve the quality of teaching and learning within Science. This was further supported by Calman (2014) who claims that we should move towards post-modern approaches to analysing social phenomena. The proposals discussed with the senior leadership team are outlined below:

  • At the start of a new year, each subject leader needs to critically reflect and evaluate both the strengths and areas that need developing within their department. Subject leaders need to identify potential CPD that their department require to best address the areas of development highlighted. The best time for this to occur in in conjunction with the departmental self-evaluation review (SER). This is supported by Gewirtz and Cribb (2006) who support the idea of reflective practice.
  • Subject leaders need to identify strengths that specific staff can offer within their department. This supports the thinking of Fullan (2003) that we need the right people in the right positions. Once the CPD is allocated to the staff, subject leaders need to have professional conversations to highlight the key criteria that needs to be addressed within the session linked to the SER. This is a vital step and could determine the success of the CPD being delivered because staff will feel that they are involved in the creative process and more likely to produce their best work (Nishimura 2014). The CPD needs to be reviewed at the end of each session. The subject leader needs to create an open and honest environment so staff can evaluate the CPD effectively.
  • In order for subjects to triangulate the data they have received from the questionnaires, they need to conduct learning walks and observations to see if strategies are being implemented within daily practice and to analyse data to see if there are any improvements in student attainment (Lichtman 2006). This may sound like a lot of work but in practice this goes hand in hand with the QA and monitoring that a subject leader will normally do.

 

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The benefits of these proposals are comprehensive. If subject specific CPD addresses areas that need to be improved within a school and in this case at the department level, then the critical advantages will be with the students and will contribute to whole school improvement especially if every department can a adopt a model  similar that will work for their department whislt addressing the development needs of their teachers. Staff within my science department feel galvanised to engage in CPD that is significant and important to their developmental needs. By delivering this policy, the emergence of leaders is inevitable as teachers feel empowered to take ownership, which is required to propel the policy forward (Cherry 2014). This policy also supports the notion that subject leaders should adopt a distributed leadership style (Crawford 2012) and successfully disseminate the delivery of CPD to people who are best suited for that task.  Finally, this policy has materialised from my own moral purpose (Fullan 2003) as teaching and learning should be the heartbeat of every school, and this policy can lead to an improvement in teaching and learning, which in due course will lead to an improvement in student attainment and progress and will improve their chances as a competitive global citizen. (Education Scotland 2016)

A significant benefit of this type of policy proposal is that it is a ‘bottom up’ proposal rather than a ‘top down’. The policy has derived from data originated from teacher’s experiences in the delivery and participation of CPD within the context of my school which is relatable and applicable to them. This approach is advocated by Hargreaves (2009) who states that ‘top down standardisation’ can lead to significant declines within motivation and participation which would be detrimental to the policy. Some argue that the ‘bottom up’ approach has its own flaws which include not producing generalizable or universal results, but one could argue that within my policy this is not necessary as the policy has been constructed based upon the context of my school and the development needs of its teachers.

The implications for resources for the implementation of the policy across the school would depend on the specific departmental needs as the CPD and resources that would be delivered would be personalised to them. Dependent on the specific needs outlined by the subject leaders, some departments may require funding for resources, training or for external bodies to deliver CPD if the expertise is not present within the department or school. The most essential resource that staff require for the policy to be successful is time. This is crucial for reflection, assigning CPD to delivering staff, to have professional dialogue to agree the success criteria for the CPD, to effectively plan and deliver the session and importantly conduct learning walks and observations to see if the practice is being utilised in teaching. It is down to the subject leader to promote the model of CPD and ensure the departments they are leading can see the importance and impact it could have on their daily practice, but more importantly the students they teach. If this is done correctly and in a transparent manner this will increase staff motivation and enthusiasm, which in turn will increase their willingness to participate which is critical to the sustainability of the policy. The evolution of this policy has already led to middle leaders sharing CPD across the school. This is supported by Hargreaves (1999) as a school taking ownership of its own knowledge creation.

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This model of bespoke departmental CPD enables middle leaders to have more autonomy over the training and development of their teachers they are leading. Ownership of one’s department can be an intrinsic driving force for improvement and advocated by Putnam (2000).  This also supports the subject leader in adopting a distributed leadership style as they are enabling other teachers to lead effective CPD for their department. The challenge presents itself when deciding who is the ‘expert’, playing to strengths of the department whilst not overloading the same teachers (Fullan 2003) and removing personal bias. This model promotes staff to work collaboratively and to intermittently reflect on their own practice, which will contribute to both personal and whole school improvement (Wallace and Kirkman 2014). Maguire (2012) argues that the emphasis within education is moving away from learning and ‘moral seriousness’ and is mostly concerned with measurable targets and outcomes. The proposals outlined within the policy should align with the moral purpose of any teacher which is their ‘love of learning’ on their own lifelong continuum of learning as explained by Senge (2006) as participants will be adding to their own ontological beliefs and working towards outcomes that are important to their daily practice which have a shared meaning across their department and school (Bush and Middlewood 2013).

If you would like to implement and monitor a policy  you really have to consider how you are going to do this as I believe it could make or break what you set out to achieve. This could occurred through two potential avenues. The first is to allow it to be implemented and monitored by middle leaders. This encourages middles leaders to reflect, evaluate, track and monitor how the CPD they feel is important is being implemented across their department either in a formal or informal way (Lieberman and Miller 2008). It also shows more trust in the subject leader from the senior leadership team, which can be a powerful tool. The second option is to use senior leaders to introduce the ideas through exam analysis and SER meetings. This could then be linked to appraisal targets which could then disseminate through to teachers. When discussing these options with the senior leadership team I opted for the middle leader route as this may help this project become more effectively embedded and sustainable. This enables them to have more autonomy for the developmental needs of the department. My concern with the second option is that if this is imposed by senior leaders rather than agreed by middle leaders, the policy could be met with some resistance. Another concern is that the policy may be used as a tool to enable personal agendas to be met, this again could lead to middle leaders becoming uncomfortable in delivering what may be imposed upon them, thus leading to resistance towards the policy. This encourages further discussion about the nature of change in an educational setting.

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Mrs S

Diagnosis, therapy and testing…what it looks like in my science classroom

pexels-photo-433267.jpegAfter teaching for 14 years, you often see new ideas or ‘trends’ come into play, some a fleeting glance and some have the opportunity to ‘go the distance’ and become successfully embedded within your daily practice. Now I am not suggesting the diagnosis, therapy and testing is a new method (we all know that a good teacher does this already) but the structure and process has really changed the way I look at what I do on a daily basis. DTT has allowed me to streamline by practice and focus on what is important and that is the learning that takes place when I am there. I was recently approached by a colleague I used to work with who asked me to share with her school how I have embedded this in our department which has allowed me to reflect on what we did.

Schools have been given the freedom to design their own systems for formative and summative student assessment since the introduction of a new national curriculum in September 2014. These changes to the national curriculum and its assessment criteria signaled a fundamental shift in ideas about learning and assessment.  It’s important to remember that this new approach to assessment goes well beyond changes to teaching content and materials – it triggers changes in the day-to-day nature of assessment, tracking and reporting.

“Assessment should focus on whether children have understood key concepts rather than achieved a particular level.” Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research & Development, Cambridge Assessment

DTT is a PiXL strategy and one that I feel has a significant impact in the classroom when done well. This technique resonated with me due to its cyclical approach and the ability to address misconceptions and difficulties in learning from an early point rather than leaving it until intervention, revision or when a child completes a test. It refocuses the teacher on quality first teaching which as we know has the greatest impact on student progress.  Another advantage of the DTT method is that it can be used in many different ways and across any subject. This is how we have successfully embedded DTT across our science department…

Stage 1: Personal learning checklists

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For all our KS3 topics we designed our PLC’s based on our schemes of work. This provided us with a clear overview and direction for learning. This could be reviewed as lesson content was taught by either the student or the teacher or in fact both. Students were encouraged to be honest and self reflective when completing the PLC’s- but this was only the starting point.

Stage 2: Teaching using the PLC’s

For each topic we ensured that the relevant PLC was stuck in at the beginning (we all know the joys of gluing in work sheets correctly!). The tasks on the PLC’s were then embedded into the scheme of work and made explicitly clear to both teacher and student when a particular point was being taught. More importantly where a PLC statement was in action this was always followed with an assessment point or as we call them  ‘learning pit stop’. This provided the best opportunity to see if learning was happening and would usually determine the direction of the lesson.

Stage 3: Diagnosis

This was the easy part- assessing the learning. The PLC provided a great platform for this, but the variety of assessment opportunities are what has enabled this to really flourish. In some topics such as space or inheritance students were produced the most amazing and outstanding projects which were then assessed based on the PLC criteria. Some learning assessed through multiple choice questions, exam style questions, ‘badger’ style tasks, TV adverts, role play and group presentations. Students where possible are always encouraged to be self reflective- essentially diagnosing themselves as I believe this will build the independent skills needed for a GCSE and A level learning of today.

The worst scenario is one in which some pupils
who get low marks this time 
also got low marks last time 
and come to expect to get low marks next time.

This cycle of repeated failure 
becomes part of a shared belief 
between such students and their teacher.

Black and Wiliam, 1998

Stage 4: Therapy

pexels-photo-533425.jpegMarking plays a central role in teachers’ work and is frequently the focus of lively debate. It can provide important feedback to pupils and help teachers identify
pupil misunderstanding. The PLC’s provide an easy way to do this, but more importantly it is what you expect the student to do once they have received the feedback and how they can act upon it. All of the feedback that we now give within the science department at my school is centered around D.I.R.T (Dedicated improvement reflection time). Teachers are clear in what the students need to do (task based) and more importantly time is built in to lessons to enable this to happen successfully. The methods that we have found most successful for us include:

  • A question or bank of questions for students to answer based on what they don’t know alongside carefully scaffolded reading material.
  • Guided learning – This was actually something I saw work really successfully in primary schools. The students would be grouped according to the content they need to develop. They are then given an activity based on that topic that will provide them with a lessons worth of independent work. Whilst this is happening the teacher (me) will then take each mini group and teach the content that the students were struggling with usually followed by an exam style question. I have found this works really well with smaller groups and also at KS5. This can be done at any time too so promotes flexibility.
  • PLC spreadsheet and the Smith proforma. These provide a clear visual aid to show students how they are progressing.
  • Carefully scaffolded tasks or worksheets.
  • Students to create revision cards based on topics they need to develop
  • Walking talking mocks or walking talking marks.

 

Stage 5: But do they get it?

This is possibly the most important stage of the cycle- seeing if the hard work has paid off! It is vital that once we have completed the ‘therapy’ part of the cycle that we ‘re-test’ the learning of our students. We need to know whether it has made an impact…Now this could be completed in many ways:

  • Sitting the same assessment paper
  • Sitting a different assessment paper
  • Effective questioning
  • An exam question
  • Online testing system such as educake, show my homework or tassomai
  • A practical
  • Multiple choice questions

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Stage 6: Non- negotiables

Once this cycle was trialed as a department we came together and looked at the pro’s and con’s of embedding this. We tweaked schemes of learning, amended PLC’s, devised assessments both within the lesson and after the topic that would test the content we had been teaching- we had done the hard bit! It was at this point, after the ‘hard slog’ that we decided as a team what our non negotiable’s were:

  • Embedding of assessment opportunities throughout the schemes of learning that address the PLC statements
  • Ensuring that the assessment links to the criteria you have set out on your PLC
  • Students self assess- reflection is important!
  • Teachers need to assess student progress and build in DIRT time and tasks bespoke to the learning needs of the student or group
  • DIRT tasks need to be clear, structured and well scaffolded to allow students to access them
  • Students need to complete them (yellow box from teacher toolkit has revolutionised our marking!)
  • Testing needs to address the learning that has taken place through the therapy sessions

We have now been applying these strategies for the past 3 years with our KS3 students and it is working effectively. We have scrutinised our schemes and this rejuvenation has enabled us to really raise the engagement level (how can we not- science is just awesome!), develop practical skills in line with what is required at GCSE and really tackle assessing as accurately as possible. As a team (and wonderful they are!) we are now in the throws of replicating this structure at GCSE and hope this provides a smooth transition into the brave new world of science GCSE’s.

When a teacher teaches, no matter how well he or she might design a lesson, what a child learns is unpredictable. Children do not always learn what we teach. That is why the most important assessment does not happen at the end of learning – it happens during the learning, when there is still time to do something with the information.

Dylan Wiliam, 2011

Mrs S

Supporting SEND and lower attaining students in Science

When students start secondary school they come with a buzz and innate enthusiasm for science. They are so keen to participate and emerge themselves within the learning of the subject but by the time they embark on key stage 4 this ‘love’ for science seems to dwindle. This has stimulated many a conversation within our science workroom and what we can do to tackle it. This has inspired me to really think about how my department and I can support SEND students who find science really hard.  So here are our ideas…

Barriers that we are currently facing

  • Content- not only has the volume of content increase the level of demand is risen significantly with many concepts from A level transitioning through to GCSE. The amount of content is a completely different matter. We are fortunate that we teach a 3 year KS4 and if I am completely honest I wouldn’t know how you would fit everything in if you didn’t!
  • Linear aspect- This is a difficult one, especially for students who don’t engage with science or find it truly hard as they may not have the motivation to keep on top of their learning and really develop the memory skills pertinent to a linear exam. Retention is also something that we need to incorporate into our planning as students will need to be able to remember a significant amount of knowledge in order to apply it.
  • Lack of resources- experienced teachers usually have an extensive bank of resources ‘up their sleeve’ whenever a new specification change occurs, but the lack of examples especially surrounding assessment and grading is proving that this journey is not going to be an easy one.
  • Grade boundaries- the lack of grade boundaries is stressful and infuriating, and with little guidance from any of the exam boards, teachers and HoD’s are really struggling to determine these. The conversion to numbers has not been as smooth a transition as I think the government had hoped, but the lack of guidance to what a grade 9 or 8 even look like is scary territory as I assume like I am most HoD’s are reluctant to award a 9 as it’s never been seen before. (However there is a fantastic subject leader who had devised an excel spreadsheet to show the normal distribution of your test scores to help construct your grade boundaries- find him on Twitter @Science_HOD known as Bearded HOD)
  • Pre-existing ideas- When students move into GCSE they have preconceived ideas about how difficult science is. This can sometimes be supported by teachers reiterating the fact that yes it is difficult. In some students this can cause a real reluctance into even trying to learn due to a fear a failure.

So what can we do about these main areas to really support our students? It all comes down to what happens in your classroom. So lets start with that.

Classroom environment

My classroom is my sanctuary, it is a place that I love to be and I hope students feel the same. Ensuring that the classroom is tidy and as chaotic free as possible can be a powerful tool.  Displays are a great way to inspire and stimulate students thinking, but I always strive to make sure that the displays that are within my classroom are used within and throughout a lesson.  Celebrating students work is a great thing it develops a sense of pride within the student but also  shows that you recognise the high quality work they are producing. However in some cases this can be distracting for some autistic children who prefer a feature/stimulation free environment so it is key that you know your students are their learning abilities before you go all out in the most stimulating room.

Students really need to be made aware on a regular basis of the GCSE content and criteria so why not place the GCSE criteria on display? This doesn’t need to be an all singing and dancing display, but somewhere useful that you can refer to regularly can be a very powerful tool. I think this is the same for the scientific key words. Literacy and language is a significant barrier when it comes to science and students can find it difficult to apply the key terms in the correct context. The more the students familiarise themselves with the key terms and using them in context the more confident they will become. One superb teacher within my department changes the key terms for every GCSE topic she teaches throughout the year.

I think another point when supporting low attaining students, SEND students etc is to really encourage familiarity with environment and location of equipment. This encourages a safe learning environment and will help develop independent learning skills in it’s infant stages. This can then lead on to developing more complicated independent learning outside of the classroom.

Finally within the classroom seating plans can make or break a lesson.  Many SEND children like stability and dislike change and I find this true of lower attaining students also.  Sitting in same place is also a powerful tool to use with EBD children also. Strategic placement of students also comes down to the knowledge of the class or establishing really early on the combinations of students who can be detrimental to each others learning. Teacher discussion and collaboration can be really useful here…as many SEND students may spend a lot of time in the same classes across the other subjects- so get out there, observe them in other lessons, discuss with other teachers who have successful lessons and look at who they are sat with.

Resources

Over the last 3 to 4 years I have really developed an understanding for resources for SEND and lower attaining students. The blank page is a scary thing and they can often put too much pressure on themselves to fill that page with science. Some of the strategies that are working for us at the moment for resources include something as simple as the font. Now I have read numerous journals and books that recommend certain fonts such as comic sans and century gothic as students are able to process these fonts easier, however, we have decided to use the same font that the exam board uses. This is to better prepare the students as to what they will face in the exam. Another font aspect that we consider is using size 14/16 font for our work sheets just to help with the processing of the literacy. Students find this helpful as it makes the words easier to read.

Lengthy documents or texts are not ideal for SEND or lower attaining students. I agree that we need to develop the reading capabilities of our students and where possible we need to encourage and develop this, but when it comes to learning a new scientific concept we need to consider what is the vital information we need to get students to learn and how can we keep the sentences short to maximise uptake. Students need to be able to recall scientific terminology within the right context, so this needs to be within your resources, but keep the surrounding language as simple as you can. Start from the foundations and work up. Word roots are particularly powerful, as it writing the word on the board and saying it out loud to the students rather than it just appearing on a powerpoint. You can also use symbols and pictures to explain concepts as his does really support the learning of most students. Finally I think where possible ensure that the resource you are creating or using is reading age appropriate. Knowing the reading ages of your students is so important as this could be the major barrier that is stopping students from accessing the learning.

Strategies that we apply in the classroom

When discussing strategies with my amazing department these are the ideas that they believe are the most successful with SEND and low attaining students. I believe any of these ideas can be translated into any other subject…

  • Multi sensory activities.  Use sound, text, video, movie clips, pictures, computer simulations, the library, outside etc. Cater for the different learning needs of your students- it doesn’t all have to be about evidence within books.
  • Use of ICT – IWBs, word processing, spreadsheets to analyse/graph results. Modern day students are so ‘tech savvy’ (I know a lot of them could probably out do me in this area), so why not play to their strengths? Students really enjoy making presentations, videos and playing quiz games like Kahoot.
  • Work with words – key words, word walls, definitions, pelmanism cards. All I have found really useful with SEND and lower attaining students. This is a fundamental skill that derrives from their learning in primary school, so why not utilise it?
  • Break instructions down into simple steps. We always try to keep instructions clear and concise. This will make any activity easier to follow and more likely end with a successful outcome for the student.
  • Sequencing activities – writing up experiments, cycles, cut and stick, card sorts. These are always a good way to check whether a student has the correct sequencing. We have found that this works really well with practical activities and for topics such as the menstrual cycle.
  • Writing frames (Scaffolds) – giving a set of headings which students can flesh out with their own writing, or begin each paragraph so the pupil can finish them. Students can get very easily intimidated by a blank page and can be quite reluctant to even start. Sentence starters, connectives, key vocabulary and punctuation are great to have as maybe learning mats, laminated on the desk or even as a display. Including sentence starters within the resource may also alleviate some of the fear of writing down their ideas.
  • Cloze activities and DARTS – fill in the gaps/missing words. This can be so good to develop comprehension skills especially when the task is dedicated to a specific text. Cloze activities provide a real basis of what the students can recall.
  • Paired work – facilitate paired work with a more able pupils. This is where your seating plan can really play to your strengths. Encourage students to discuss and share their ideas with each other. Maybe even starting by sharing a answer to a question with each other, reading their work aloud to their partner. Peer assessment can also be a useful too for both students.

The use of teaching assistants and other adults

Having the luxury of another adult in the room with you is quite rare within our school, but when we do we don’t necessarily have the time in advance to plan and sometimes even discuss with the TA what we will be covering that lesson. But when I have had the opportunity to either sit down with my TA, or even have a 5 minute conversation with them at the beginning of the lesson I make sure that I am clear about what I want them to do. We must remember that TA’s are there to support the learning of others- not do the work for students. Some students have mastered the art of puss in boots eyes and miraculously their work is completed without lifting a finger. Now this is of no criticism of the TA but the teacher must where possible direct the TA to support rather than do. Now please do not confuse this with scribing for students if they need it and actually a TA can do more good if they are noting down a description or explanation a student is giving. This brings me on to possibly one of the most successful strategies I have seen and used which is encouraging students to discuss their ideas before writing them down. This enables students to see any errors or if there is anything they would like to add. It also allows the TA or teacher to address any misconceptions within the learning. I think what I am trying to emphasise is what ever the scientific activity it is important that communication between TA and student is effective. Sentences whether written or spoken, should be straightforward using precise language that avoids vague terms, are active rather than passive and positive rather than negative. The instructions should be well within the pupils’ reading capacity and new scientific language should be introduced in a staged way. We should also encourage students who are struggling to use diagrams initially as this may be a better initial route than words.

Spaced and interleaved learning

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This is a great book that has made me think should we be designing a curriculum and teaching sequence around what we know about memory – so that what they are taught, sticks. We have all probably been in this situation where as the teacher we have asked a question, the students write an answer (that they heard 3 minutes ago), we then pat ourselves on the back, congratulate the class on ‘learning it’ and move on.  The bigger question here is – would the students be able to recall the answer in a week or two or three?  Probably not.  So can we confidently say that they have learned it?  Almost certainly not.  So is it safe to move on from that topic and not return to it for a year or so?  Definitely not! This shows that students can perform well in a lesson- but learning that is the long game.

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This graph is known as ‘the forgetting curve’ which shows when learning is reviewed, retention increases. What’s interesting is that with regular review, the ‘forgetting time’ gets longer – so going back over the key information will make it easier to remember and develop memory.

Make it Stick: Spaced retrieval practice

  • Study information more than once.
  • Regular low-stakes quizzing (retrieval practice), leaving greater gaps as you go. The scores for these tests are not important.  What’s important is the act or retrieval – that’s what seems to have an impact on retention.
  • “Anything you want to remember must be periodically recalled from memory.”
  • Continue to return to important content.
  • Avoid a ‘practice, practice, practice’ regime
  • Retrieval is best when it’s effortful, when some forgetting has set in.
  • Be wary of intuition – it may seem that we are getting better yet we fail to see how quickly these gains fade. (Illusions of fluency)

Every lesson can start with a quick quiz on what students did last lesson, last week and last month.  Similarly, homeworks weren’t just based on what they did that lesson, but again on what they did last week, last month or last term.

This is a fantastic blog that shows the difference between spaced and interleaved practice  Spaced and interleaved class teaching.

Interleaving supports the idea of switching between topics and not spending long amounts of time on said topic. It encourages students to go over ideas again in different orders to strengthen their understanding whilst making links between the topics covered. However while it is good to switch between topics, my advice would be not to switch too often. We need to make sure that they spend enough time to develop the understanding before moving on. Interleaving may actually feel more taxing for the student than studying the same thing for a long time, but I believe it will have a greater impact on the students learning. However, this is a big shift and we must take into account that both learners and teachers often do not feel like it is working. Even after taking part in studies, many say that they prefer massed practice.  (Rohrer, D. (2012). Interleaving helps students distinguish among similar concepts. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 355-367)

So what can you do to support your SEND and lower attaining students in Science?

Entry level certificate- these have some lovely resources and ideas for lessons. When I have used these students have really made progress.

Build confidence and resilience first then increase the difficulty.

Get students to discuss their ideas using the key words before writing them down.

If you can, give as much feedback as possible whether this is written or verbal.

Lots of practice surrounding the key words- don’t over complicate the sentences and home in on the key scientific term. Practice using this in context of a question if students seem to be understanding it.

Use practical work or demonstrations to really show what you mean.

Quizzes and flashcards- This helps with retrieval practice, but provide intervals between the quizzes. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and use interleaving- especially when it comes to revision. Don’t be afraid to test the students on things that learned 3 weeks ago to really support the development of memory. Remember the more you review the longer the retention!

Use PLC’s to identify areas that you as a teacher need to work on with the students. Then apply the strategies above to address this.

Diagnosis, therapy and testing is such an essential model but make it efficient and effective!

Mrs S

Ch ch ch ch changes!

 

“Turn and face the change” a quote from one of my favourite songs of all time and by the legend himself Mr David Bowie.  Change is a factor we face daily as educators, but ask yourself this question when change is looming do you embrace it? Or do you resist it? Does it send shudders down your spine when you hear your colleagues say things like “well they tried that before and it didn’t work” or “what’s the point in changing because they will just change it back!”. Change has to occur- just look at the work of Charles Darwin, adapt or… well you know the rest. Change can bring about many different emotions in a person so as leaders within a school we must explore what is meant by change and change theory as to best prepare our wonderful and stretched so thin colleagues so they feel that change is pertinent!

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West-Burnham, Farrar and Otero (2007) explain that change is the ‘norm’ and it is impossible not to be changing. This quote reflects the unstable nature of educational reform since I embarked upon teaching 13 years ago. Our government strives for greater standardisation which in turn ensures restructure in assessments, exams and curriculum. With greater standardisation comes greater accountability (this does sound like a spider-man quote!), which has led to a culture driven by measurable outcomes. It is this culture in which has led to teachers having increased scepticism and disengagement (Starr 2011) when new ideas are attempted. Starr (2011) further explains that more experienced teacher can resist the implementation of change because ‘they have seen it all before and it didn’t work’ (652). Fixed, standardised external change has a decreased probability of being accepted and implemented than a change that is relevant to the context and to change itself. This is supported by Trowler etal (2002) states ‘change changes change’ (17). Starr (2011) suggests that the macro as well as the socio-political contexts that exist have a real implication for teachers ‘at the chalk face’. These ideas can be reflected in the structuring of the British educational system with a shift towards the structuring of its international counterparts such as China and Finland as to improve their global status and ranking (Morgan 2016), but how successfully and to what extent is still to be seen.  The successes of the changes that have been devised in the macro but will be determined by the teachers within the micro setting so why are current teachers being left out of the equation when shaping the education of children?

West-Burnham (2007) claims that the concept of managing change is an oxymoron because change ‘is’. Gladwell (2000) believes that understanding the local context in which the research is set will enable the research to have the greatest impact. So should we be engaging teachers to work with the Department of Education to drive the change that happens within schools because they are ultimately ‘in the thick of it’.

If we want to bring about change within our own school or even across a number of school  we must be willing to accept multiple ontologies of our colleagues and stakeholders (Greenbank 2003) which is essential for successful and sustained change. We should embrace our influences, both moral and social as this could factor against the change we want as we work with people who have their own ideas and opinions about what we are looking to change and these ideas can often be imposed upon them (Hartas 2010). Earley and Porritt (2009) believe in order to effectively stimulate successful change within an organisation it is fundamental to engage staff. Encouraging staff reflexivity enables staff to feel part of the process, which makes them more likely to embrace the change and drive the evolution of what it is you want to change. Adopting these practices allows you, the leader to develop strategies for change which are logical, relevant and transparent, but as West-Burnham (2007) states this will challenge the complexities of your context and learning community.

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Ainscow, Dyson, Goldrich and West (2012) employ that school improvement has become cultivated within political discourse which supresses discussion and associates achievements to measurable outcomes. This clearly lies within the positivist paradigm where success of an educational organisation is determined by results (Waring 2012) I mean come on we have all spent many a sleepless night worrying about every point on a specification, imagining what the exam paper will look like, the endless hours of revision and marking of relentless mock papers. But with every moment dedicated to working towards the measurable outcomes, one could argue that both the whole school discussion and professional dialogue is the first to be sacrificed but actually can be the most successful factor of change.

Enabling senior, middle leaders, teachers and support staff  to discuss what is relevant to their needs will reinforce the confidence and motivation back into the rightful place, with the staff (Morrison McGill 2015) and thus be less resistant to change. This is echoed by Harris (2011) who states that staff often feel dissatisfied due to frenetically trying to meet demands and targets set by others. Resistance is a common theme in the literature surrounding change theory. Starr (2011) explains that resistance often holds a negative connotation. Harris (2011) claims that resistance is a natural response within a person especially if they have not been part of the creative process. This is common with education and may explain why resistance is so apparent. I have experienced this within my department where numerous changes have been enforced without or with minimal consultation between senior leaders and teachers involved in the change. Resistance to policies within my context seem to occur when staff see it as superficial gain or ‘box ticking’ rather than legitimate educational endeavour.

Harris (2001) states that resistance is not the only contributing factor to the failure of change. Trowler etal (2002) provides a clear outline of the different change models that can be implemented within educational research. Literature surrounding effective change promotes ideas that sit within the Kai Zen model, which resonates with me as it advocates small, incremental changes at the worker level. This is imperative that teachers apply the small changes into their daily practice. Kai Zen also promotes continual reflection and review which will enable the ‘tinkering’ approach as encouraged by West-Burnham (2007) which can initiate a change which could then lead to complete transformation.

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Mawhinney (1999) explains that problems can arise when trying to inspire change when the macro agendas meet the micro actualities. Micro politics is described at the way things really work, rather than how leaders visualise them. Marshall and Scribner (1991) identify how “power relationships and conflict are central to the political dynamics within a school” (pg 349), whereas Hoyle (1982) states that micro politics exist due to the formation of coalitions, influence and knowledge. Teachers and senior leaders often find it difficult to share the same vision or work collaboratively due to the unarticulated hierarchy.  Therefore it is recommended that leaders adopt a distributed leadership style as Spillane and Diamond (2007) explain that this is the most likely leadership style to evade political agendas.

Fine (1986) states that humans are predetermined to resist change, even if it symbolises development. Implementing any change will affect many individuals with multiple ontologies within your school. So ultimately they will have the capability to dismiss or block the change you want to bring about. Individual anxiety can present itself due to fear of the unknown about how the change could affect their role and their relationships with co-workers (Garrett 2005). It was essential to prepare your colleagues for change that they were given time to adjust their thinking and ask questions about the policy (Baker 1989). Both Fullan (2003) and Bush and Glover (2012) support the idea of collaboration and building strength within a team so allow them time and allow them a platform to discuss their concerns.

The final factor of change we can consider is the challenging and time consuming aspect called cultural change. For the transformation to occur, cultural change is imperative. This is crucial if organisations have participants that use culture to obstruct new initiatives. Throughout my teaching career to date, the ever changing reforms and implementation of new policies has taught me that sustainable change is dependent on cultural change. If culture does not change it is unlikely that effective change will occur. When advancing towards cultural change one must deliberate in established factors, values and relationships that need to remain the same as stability can promote trust, effective leadership and informed decision making by the participants (Deal and Kennedy 1984).  As a leader I have been willing to make personal changes in time, decision making and cooperative relationships, if I was not willing to compromise, the participants have perceived this as negative and have been more resistant to change. In order to manage cultural change, I have adopted ideas from Christiensen, Marx and Stevenson (2006) by choosing appropriate leadership tools rather than power and management tools this was evident when obtaining staff perceptions regarding whether there was a need for change and their ideas about what we need to change that would be most beneficial to them. Meaningful change begins with a cultural shift which is reinforced by distributed leadership (Leithwood, Mascall and Strauss 2009).

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A significant factor in embedding successful change is how well it is monitored and evaluated. Saunders (2002 as cited in Trowler etal 2002) supports the RUFDATA model which provides seven fundamental questions that leads to an evaluation that is linked to what is most important- student outcomes (for them not us!). The longevity of change is underpinned by the key attributes of change being addressed which will enable staff to take ownership of the change and implement it in a way that is best suited for their them and their students (Dempster 2009).

Mrs S

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Continual educational reform- so lets value our leaders at all levels!

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Educational reform seems to be a continuous process whether we agree with the reforms or not. At this time of educational unrest a good leader is invaluable!  Many of the articles I have read over the last couple of years suggest education is prone to regular change; Garrett (2005) supports this claim by stating change is now so frequent as to almost be continuous.  Much of the literature discusses both leadership and management but in many cases the author fails to distinguish the difference between them.  Linguard (2003) describes leadership “exercising influence over others, and thus unlike management can take place outside as well as inside of formal organisations. Within organisations, leadership can be exercised at most levels and in most activities”, he then describes management as a contrast to leadership which relates more to “structures and processes”.  It is clear that managers are appointed and are accountable, whereas leaders emerge and this is a culture that I would really like to develop more widely within my department and hopefully across my school.  Within my experience of different schools and working with different professionals with varying responsibilities I have noticed that some are excellent managers with enormous responsibility and accountability linked to their role, but I have also had the pleasure of seeing the emergence of some of the best leaders I have worked with and for. This shows that leadership is not necessarily and not always tied to the position.  Leadership is a skill that can be developed, nurtured and refined within any teacher at any stage of their career.  However I believe that it is crucial within education that the context of the school is correct to promote leaders to emerge and to develop those essential leadership skills that will enable the school to cope with continual educational reform (Fullan 2003).  The encouragement to be a leader is evident within my school where teachers are encouraged to take on new responsibilities and develop their own leadership skills, examples of this include delivering INSET to staff, teaching and learning projects, leadership pathways, leading on coaching, PiXL Edge, NPQH, NPQSL, NPQML and the Master’s course that is part funded by the school and open to every member of staff.

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Standardisation and performativity seem to be ever prominent in present day education. Some of the literature I engaged with compared the workings of the educational system to that of a business and education becoming dehumanised (Bottery 2004).  Throughout my career I have experienced the teachers who ‘perform’ in order to jump through the latest set of government hoops to meet the ever changing criteria, and this causes me great concern. As teachers we should not be concerned with profit, floor targets or quotas, we are dealing with children who rely on teachers to educate them in both academia and social contexts (and if the government had its way mental health, British values, SEAL, SMSC among many more!). This all adds to a serious amount of pressure on the shoulders of teachers at any level within a school, and maybe it is this is a contributing factor as to why so many people are leaving the profession? Excessive hoop jumping surely has a limited shelf life- and each of us have a different level of tolerance for it…and the best teachers always put the children at the heart of it and thats why they carry on. Bottery (2004) does imply a need for standardisation, as does Senge (2006), I would agree that there is a need for monitoring otherwise the education a child receives could start to decline. However, excessive standardisation and scrutiny should not cause fragmentation and distrust between staff at all levels (Bottery 2004).  An idea Bush and Glover (2012) argued that a lack of trust in staff is a detrimental factor, but a school that empowers its staff, allowing some autonomy and more reflective practice can significantly enhance student learning and outcomes, increase staff morale and build capacity for the school. This made me question my own style of leadership and the amount of trust I give the people I try to lead. I then began to question if this excessive standardisation is to continue are we actually raising the aspirations of the pupils we teach or are we just teaching them to pass exams? Come on after all why did we get into teaching? Is it not for a love of our subject? Working with young and inquiring minds? Inspiring young people to go on a be the best person they can possibly be? This then lead me to ponder whether this aspect of teaching has been lost- but then on my learning walks or lesson observations I see that it isn’t.  I see some of the most inspirational and dynamic teachers with carefully planned and scaffolded lessons that are interesting and fun showing the maximum progress with every mini plenary or question that is asked. I see children completely engrossed in the learning that they are fighting to ask and answer questions, that they are debating and arguing about the work, I see some of the most amazing projects being completed because the teachers have allowed the students some autonomy over the work they are producing and this is why I love my job! But unfortunately a harsh reality is that as a school we are measured on the results we achieve and the success of the school depends on this hence why managers exert the sustained pressure. This again made me question what if a more distributed leadership style was embedded and ingrained with a school,  could teachers increase their own capacity as well as raising the attainment for their students.

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Mrs S

The impact of standardisation and control…

2 weeks ago I was 10% braver (thank you Hannah Wilson and WomensEd) and applied for a new position as part of our multi-academy trust. Being the person that I am I was doing some research and came across an article from my Masters in Education about “The Impact of standardisation and control” by Bottery. This article focuses on the ideas surrounding standardisation in business and how that system is mirrored in the education system. These ideas can be now considered out of date and have probably already been tried and tested by a number of schools. The themes in this article are based around standardisation, fragmentation and globalisation. Bottery (2004) evaluates works of other practitioners from business and education. Ritzer (2004 as cited in Bottery) is used through the article and supports the idea that a formal model that can be replicated anywhere in the world. This implies that the education of children can be tackled in an efficient and standardised way which can be predictable, calculated and controlled. This is a bold statement and one could then pose the question- can this business like model be adopted in education when the key component in education is people?  Atkinson (Great education debate as cited in Maguire 2014) states “I am more concerned of what happens inside the schools for children, than whose name is above the door”.  Maguire (2014) in a key notes lecture at St Marys University critiques this idea by stating “are we now customers rather than pupils or teachers? Is there no difference between coffee, groceries and education?

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Another theme apparent through the article is appointment should be based on the needs of the company rather than who the person is.  This is supported by Bush and Glover (2012) who implies a zero based approach- not necessarily a like for like replacement, but appointment of the right candidate with the desirable attributes and skill set for the job. Fullan (2003) implies the right people should be in the right positions of responsibility. Crawford (2012) also supports this point, but from the perspective of distributive leadership. She implies that the heroic leaders are a thing of the past, and we should build a team based on its needs and appoint people with expertise. This really resonates with me as working as part of a really dynamic team I value the expertise of my colleagues to help and guide me as a middle and aspirant senior leader. I think the skill is recognising what skills can be brought to the school, but also we need to consider how we can also develop staff in their weaker areas too. This is when the investment becomes about the teacher! As Richard Branson says “Employees come first, if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

 

Bottery (2004) builds on the work of Weber who states the ultimate aim is to make profit therefore there is a need for more efficient structures. Wright (2012 ) supports this idea through his comments regarding the deepening control of education through auditing and accountability. One could contest that teachers feel empowered by this system of centralisation and autonomy- but are these just phantasies of empowerment? Is education becoming too business like?  Bottery (2004) compares the work of Weber and Marx whether globalisation is the way forward or emphasising the rational and cultural aspect being a more important influence- this centers on the context of the schools being an important factor (Dempster 2008).  He summarises that both coexist and both increase the feelings of fragmentation. Bottery (2004) also calls on the work of Hoggett (1996) and Pollitt (1993) which discusses appraisal and performance management systems. He continues to emphasise that these systems that are put in place to develop a standardised system of monitoring and have intensified each year. This is supported by the work of Gleeson and Gunter (2000) and their work in the UK education sector linked to the cold management style that seems to have been adopted around 2000. This is out dated, Crawford (2012) and Leithwood (2017) suggest that in most recent times there has been a shift from this management style towards distributive leadership. The theme of fragmentation is mentioned numerous times and Bottery (2004) discusses different areas fragmentation can develop from business, between staff and managers and even those who come from disrupted homes, one could question is this now reflected within education?

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Bottery’s (2004) message is clear; healthy knowledge economy depends on a learning society. Individuals and groups need to develop new and innovative ways and this is not aided by excessive standardisation which one could then deem counterproductive. Some of the claims that Bottery (2004) makes could be accepted by schools even to date. He implies that standardisation does have a place in the educational system however not at the expense of destructive fragmentation of the teams working within the school.  Other claims that he makes could be challenged, specifically the links to business in particular the dehumanised approach- could this work in the educational system where the “customer” is human? The research he has undertaken suggests that standardisation does have a place but autonomy, trust and individuality are also significant factors to consider. Throughout the article there is a lack of research and evidence to support his ideas. The language within the article is seductive and draws you in by using such terms as McDonaldization and performativity; however educationalists could find this ‘business like’ language difficult to engage with.

This article is a little outdated but I think it holds some interesting points especially for debating with your teams! Looking at different ways of quality assurance that works in an educational setting is powerful and remembering we are dealing with people is also of the highest importance at every level within education from the student to the head teacher.

 

Mrs S.