SMART Targets in Education don’t work

It’s been a while since my last post, as if my blogging self has been asleep.

But over the last week or so, like the dimly heard sound of someone knocking on the door early in the morning, I have slowly become aware of something that has, I think, bothered me for a long time: SMART Targets. Or I should say S.M.A.R.T. Targets.

I have a few things to say about them, but today I’ll limit it to this: SMART Targets don’t work because they are targets for the teacher, not the child. Too much of what we do in UK schools is focused on teacher performance and not enough on the performance of students. I have an idea of what SMART Targets for teachers could look like, which I’ll post on a future date. The actual SMART Targets that get set are in fact limiting and distracting.

Limiting because there is so much more to be achieved in education than the words off a spelling list, or some times tables facts, or a grade in a test.

Distracting because they take the teacher’s eye off the big picture they are trying to achieve and get them frantically focusing on the minutiae. This just makes things more frantic in schools (I have a series of posts tagged #franticeducation if you’re interested, but broadly speaking, my contention is that frantic teachers and frantic schools are bad, whereas calm teachers and calm schools are good).

28 posts in 28 days. Not bad.

An end to writing a post every day in February.

OK – I have to be honest I didn’t write a post everyday in February, but I did write 28 posts – so I made it. Kind of.

To finish off I made a word cloud that sums up all this year’s #28daysofwriting posts (pictured). To do this, I first put any tweets with hashtag #28daysofwriting into this spreadsheet. I then cut and pasted all the words from all the posts into this document. Finally I put all those words into Wordart.com (I think it used to be called ‘Tagul’) to make the picture.

Job done.

And as @beckib77 wrote in her final #28daysofwriting post, quoting the fictional Jed Bartlett: “What’s Next?”

#28daysofwriting Day 28

The Need for Feedback

Recently I was asked to do something by one of my senior colleagues. It was an unusual task. One that involved me speaking to a range of contacts outside of school and then communicating with my colleague about what had happened.

However, I found myself deeply frustrated afterwards, because I knew neither the purpose, nor the outcome of the task.

It’s possible that I will find out in time, but it is also possible that I will never know.

Reflecting on this, I wonder how many times I put my students in this position. I may give them an activity, made up of a sequence of instructions. They then do the activity. I thank them for doing the activity. I may even praise them or give them stickers. Is this good teaching?

It makes me realise I need to ensure my learners are always engaged with the purpose of an activity and have time to reflect on the significance of the outcome.

#28daysofwriting Day 27

A place for the fun stuff

I love teaching children new stuff.

Today I taught my Year 1 boys how to do stop motion animation. Admittedly it was pretty primitive. We used iPads on book stands to take the photos (an app called iMotion). The subjects were toy dinosaurs. The outcomes were pretty basic too – 3 seconds (at most) of jerky stop motion video.

But the boys all made a video. They all learned that if you move the camera it spoils the video. They all saw that if you had the patience to move the subject just a little bit each time it makes the best video. All that in 45 minutes.

I sometimes wonder about this kind of fun stuff. In Year 1 reading is the big thing. Closely followed by mathematics, with spoken language and written work tying for third. These things are the key to academic success. Should we really bother with niceties like stop motion animation?

In many schools, the fun stuff is increasingly squeezed to spend more and more time on English and maths. But I like the fun stuff. It keeps the interest of both the children and teachers flowing so I think it’s important to keep on with it.

#28daysofwriting Day 26

And then there was Doom

Doom: the godfather of 1st person shooters

Doom was awesome. It built on the 3Dness of Wolfenstein, but now you could move up and down – no longer was everything on the same level.

I was so into Doom, I even created some of my own Doom maps for other people to play.

But Doom killed first person shooters for me. I spent hours and hours playing this game – but it was all too much. By the time I’d got to the end of Doom 2, I had had enough of this genre.

It didn’t help that the final level of was impossible without cheating. And even with cheating it was incredibly hard.

Oh well. After that gaming would take a new turn for me. But my half term is over and I’m done reflecting on gaming. I will turn back to posting about other things. Posts on gaming will have to wait.

#28daysofwriting Day 25

Wolfenstein

In 1992 I was working for an engineering company. It was my scheduled summer work for the company that were sponsoring me through university. One day a colleague called me over and showed me this amazing thing on his computer.

It was Wolfenstein. It was 3D. And he’d got it for free. And he used company time to play it. All of those things were completely new ideas to me.

OK. It’s not funny to waste company time playing games, but 3D… and free… in 1992. Just wow!

That feeling of being to romp around Castle Wolfenstein with your minigun looking for Adolf Hitler, who, when you met him, had 2 miniguns was just awesome. And this idea of ‘shareware’ I had never come across before – basically you pay what you want. Of course, as a poor student, I payed nothing.

#28daysofwriting Day 24

Prince of Persia

Oh. What a classic!

Before the motion picture. Before the 1st person adventure game, there was Prince of Persia the platform game. And it felt great. Unlike previous platformers the character moved so fluidly. It was gorgeous to play.

This was in the era before PC games had made it to 3D – to get those you still had to go to the arcade. And platform games were just not very realistic. But then Prince of Persia came out and suddenly there was a character who could run in such an engaging, lifelike way. Just look at him move:

Look at that Prince move!

The game also has a special place in my heart because I finished it. And I can’t say that about many games. In fact I think there’s only a list of 3: Prince of Persia, Sabre Wolf and Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2.

My son recently challenged my nostalgia. He told me if I went back to it I probably wouldn’t find it so fluid and great to play because of how things have moved on… He’s probably right.

#28daysofwriting Day 23

The Joy of Maps

A map for a game, based on my secondary school

In reflecting on my gaming habits, I have found lots of materials that I created, mainly throughout my teenage years. Most of them are maps.

You can tell a fantasy fiction book in the book shop, not just because of the section it is in, but because of the map in the front. They all have them: The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Sword of Truth Series, The Belgariad. All of them full of maps.

As the Dungeon Master for many games of Dungeons and Dragons, it was my job to create maps and then fill them with monsters, traps and challenges for the players to encounter. As a consequence, my books are full of maps.

Looking back at my maps, I’m struck by how many times I used my school as a map for games. I have it drawn (see picture) in a book for a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. I have it drawn out to scale for 15mm figures for a tabletop game called ‘Bounty Hunter’ (a game that I invented – I’m coming to that in some future post). I also used some software to create my school in Doom, one of the original first person shooter games. You could walk around my school and experience all sorts of nasty creatures and enemies… Hmm.

#28daysofwriting Day 22

Play by Mail

Before MMOs and MMORPGs and the rest, there was Play by Mail. I didn’t do much Play by Mail, but what I did, I loved.

Mainly it was Serim Ral.

Serim Ral was a fantasy Play by Mail game for 100 players. Not exactly MMO, but on its way to it…! You started out with 5 leaders, a castle and a small army and your mission was to expand and conquer. It was created by Incubus Designs and run by both them and another PBM company, Mindless Games. Neither operate anymore – in fact if you google ‘Incubus Designs’ you’ll only find a tattoo parlour.

Each turn, you could post orders that your leaders would carry out. You would write these on the order sheet and send it by actual mail (yes – remember that? – the thing that uses stamps and post boxes). The people who ran the game would then type the orders into their computer, run the turn and post you back a turn sheet with details of what had happened to your leaders.

A couple of memories stand out.

Firstly the anticipation was incredible. Unbearable sometimes. You were playing a game with a ten day turn around and depending on both the post and the efficiency with which the company who ran the game executed their turns. When a turn was expected but came a day or so late, it was terribly frustrating, but when it arrived – oh! what sweet satisfaction – especially if everything you had planned had worked out.

Secondly, the more you paid, the more power you gained. The pricing structure of the game was £3.50 per turn plus 4p per order beyond, I think, 70 orders. Every order earned your leaders more experience, so of course, if you paid for extra orders, your leaders would gain more experience and swiftly gain more power than their rivals. This again became frustrating – thinking that you were being beaten by rivals who had put more money into the game than you. It’s funny looking back at this, because the same thing happens today – some gamers still pay extra for ‘gems’ or ‘loot boxes’, or whatever internal currency their particular game uses, and gain more power as a consequence.

You can’t see much evidence of these games around anymore. The internet killed them. Although, I see that VGA planets, another game that I played a little of and enjoyed is still going. You can play this by email or a web interface though, so it’s a little less limited by snail mail.

#28daysofwriting Day 21

Make my own adventure

A page from my attempt at a gamebook

Another chapter* in my gaming obsession was ‘Choose your adventure books’. These swiftly led on to the idea that I could create my own versions of them.

The limitation of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons that I so enthusiastically played, was that you needed a whole lot of other people to play with to make the game work. Organising such people was often hard, so here’s where ‘choose your own adventure books‘ came in – a story with choices, so you could interact, have an adventure, without any other people. Marvellous.

I soon moved on to the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone ones – Warlock of Firetop Mountain and the like – but my very favourites were the Lone Wolf Gamebooks. I loved these because the story continued from book to book and, even more importantly, there was an element of character generation. You could choose certain traits and abilities and these would grow in power as you went through the books. This character development was something I loved in Dungeons and Dragons and the same idea of gaining experience, or leveling up, are often used today in the most successful computer games.

The corollary of this obsession with gamebooks was that I would attempt to make my own version. I found an old exercise book in the attic recently with just such an attempt recently.

A character sheet from my abortive game

I must have borrowed the book from school. In it, I have attempted to define two character classes – fighter and monk – including creating a load of special abilities and spells. It looks like I worked very hard on that part. But nowhere can I find any actual story. It’s like I ran out of steam before getting on to the main event. Maybe homework got the better of me. Or maybe I realised that other people were doing a better job

#28daysofwriting Day 20

*I use this phrase with heavy irony, given the lack of chapters I actually wrote.