Back into Google Apps

#28Daysofwriting Day 7

It’s been since I posted anything Google-y. I’ve been a bit disconnected from the network over the past couple of years. There are a range of reasons for this, none of which are relevant to this post.

This week, having mainly done work on Paint recently, I got my Year 1s making their own website. The subject was: dinosaurs.

Having already made a fact book, it seemed only logical to produce the same information in html.

The first task was showing the boys how a website is organised. I did this and I set up 6 subpages of the main page, each named after one of the dinosaurs we had chosen: velociraptor, ankylosaurus, diplodocus, stegosaurus, pterodactyl and triceratops.

Then each boy created their own subpage of these subpages (3 layers) and wrote a sentence about each one. We did it all in Google Sites, using the slowly developing Google Apps domain I acquired for the school.

That was on Monday. Today I showed the boys how to insert a photo. I haven’t done the copyright thing yet. It was enough to find a relevant phot and show them how to insert it using a link. The rights and wrongs of fair usage can wait a few weeks.

What was great is that my new digital leaders from Year 6 helped with the process. They hadn’t seen it before, but soon picked it up and helped the little boys with their task.

I’m not sure as yet what the Year 1 boys are learning from the process as typing is a major barrier, so effectively the whole exercise is typing practise.

They always say you need to start your Google Apps implementation with one thing. Last time it was Gmail. Maybe this time it will be Sites.

Lessons in Feedback 5: The Foundation of this Book Scrutiny is Love

#28Daysofwriting Day 6

Albert Rosenfield: [to Sheriff Truman] (courtesy of imdb.com)

Now you listen to me. While I will admit to a certain cynicism, the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose to live my life in the company of Gandhi and King. My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method… is love. I love you Sheriff Truman.

is one of my favourite quotes of all time. And I was reminded of it today during a book scrutiny.

Given that feedback is the thing in education and, as I explained previously, many schools have taken that to mean written feedback is the thing, it follows that looking at what teachers have written in books (a book scrutiny) is a very important process. Perhaps the most important process in school improvement known to mankind.

It was so important at my last school that it became the process for identifying the ‘weak’ teachers and culling them. (Please excuse me. I’m currently doing the topic of ‘dinosaurs’ with my Year 1 class and I am perhaps slightly overcome with the brutal world of the Cretaceous just at the moment. It may be affecting my language.)

As a ‘culled’ teacher, it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I approach a book scrutiny at my new school.

But I am learning that not all book scrutinies are the same. At my current school the foundation of the method is love. The boys (for it is a boys’ school) are all well known, their individual foibles and treats discussed with some affection. They are individuals. And whatever tensions exist between the staff, there is a deep abiding respect and a sense of we’re-in-this-together. It’s almost like love.

What it means is that you can talk about the strengths and weaknesses of your own books with a certain confidence that any criticism will be there to make you a better teacher, not to boot you out of the school, or even mauled by a Postosuchus (that’s another dinosaur reference, this time from the late Triassic).

And I’m sure it means that the feedback gets better as a result. We all look at each other’s books. We can see some good things. It makes us think of things we can do better. We go and do them.

It’s quite nice really. A bit like Albert Rosenfield in Twin Peaks, even though he’s an arrogant bastard when you first meet him.

Lessons in Feedback 4b: Pleasing the Parents

#28Daysofwriting Day 4

As a little aside to my previous post, another great advantage of a system like Class Dojo is that it stops the ‘playground shock’.

That is the moment when you realise that something really bad has happened to your child and everyone is there to see the reactions etched into your face. Your child is there. The other children are there. Their parents are there. The teachers are there. If that’s not a recipe for ‘flight or fight’, I don’t know what is.

But with Class Dojo, a teacher can calmly message the parents about the situation, assuring them that everything has been dealt with professionally and their child is completely fine; therefore, preparing them for the surprise of seeing their child in whatever state they are in and avoiding the newly coined ‘playground shock’.

A recent example goes like this. I was making Paper Mache Volcanos in a corner of my classroom. Colleagues who know me will know that I can’t go a couple of years without a major paper mache project in my classroom. Towards the end of the day, a boy, reaching for a pencil, slipped and fell into the paper mache volcano. The volcano was slightly traumatised by the incident. The boy was fine. His trousers were not. I used the afore-mentioned messaging service to forewarn the parents of the incident and they were completely fine about it when their child was picked up.

Playground shock averted: thank you Class Dojo.

Lessons in Feedback 4a: Pleasing the Parents

#28daysofwriting Day 3

In my previous post on this subject, I suggested that there’s only one thing teachers need to do in the independent sector and that’s please the parents.

So the big question is how. What do parents who pay actual money for the children to go to school want? I think they want opportunities for the children. Opportunities to excel at sport and music. Opportunities to broaden their life experience. Opportunities to excel academically.

I’ve discovered in my short time in the independent sector that parents love getting feedback about their children. A quick chat turns into a mini-parents’ consultation. An email turns into an essay about their child. I was warned when I started that you have to be prepared to say no, otherwise the demands become ever-increasing and unmanageable.

I wanted to do something proactive. Something that would enable to efficiently keep the parents in touch with what is going on in the classroom. I’d heard of Class Dojo, but never used it at my previous schools. It sounded like the right sort of thing. A web-based platform that also works on Android and iOs devices that can connect with parents. It sounded like I should set it up.

On my first day in class, at 7:30am I still hadn’t done anything about Class Dojo. I logged onto my computer, set up an account and by the time the pupils were coming in an hour later I had setup all their names and my behaviour system. It was fantastic.

By the second week I had all the parents connected. They were watching videos (I use Magisto for this, as I posted previously), seeing photos of their children’s work and communicating with me about lost items and organisational details. I swiftly found that by being proactive about feedback to the parents, I kept the impromptu parents consultation to a minimum and dealt with small matters before they big issues.

Were the parents happy? Yes. And what’s more, because they were in touch with what was going on in the classroom, they could be part of the feedback loop with their own children, an extra voice helping the children refocus on their learning and make better progress. Awesome.

Lessons in Feedback 4: Pleasing the Parents

One of the things I have loved about moving to the private sector in Education is how straightforward it is. It works like this: if the parents are happy, they pay the fees and the school stays open.

I’ve drawn a picture to show this:

How private education works

Of course, the challenge is to know what to do to keep the parents happy, i.e. the ‘???’ in my diagram. I think the bulk of the answer is ‘feedback’ and I’ll come to that, but it’s worth considering just how complex the equivalent picture is for state schools.

In state schools you have to keep the parents happy. And you also have to keep Ofsted happy. And your local authority, or Academy chain if that’s relevant. And you have do well enough with your SATs scores to keep a decent position in the league tables. The pictures looks more like this:

State school have more things to think about

My diagram is by no means accurate, but I hope it shows that people running state schools have a lot more ‘stakeholders’ to please. This obviously filters down to the teaching, because pleasing parents, pleasing Ofsted and attaining brilliant SATs results are three different things (related, but different); therefore, they require more complexity. Often we hear the phrase ‘putting the children first’, and that’s a lovely sentiment, but the reality is that there are many different factors affecting what goes on in the classroom.

Anyway, I need to get back to the point about providing feedback to please the parents and so I will. But it will be in the next post.

 

Lessons in Feedback #3: instant images

This week I could see that some pupils weren’t getting it and others clearly were. When this happens I like to the use the good work of some as exemplars to those who haven’t ‘got it’ yet.

But how to do this?

Of course, I could wait, mark the good work and the bad work and then start the next lesson by showing some how they have failed. But this seems a little harsh to me.

Or I could hold up the good work and talk about what makes it so good. But then some can’t see it.

The best thing for me is to instantly show an image of the good work so that all can see what their successful peers have done and work towards getting it.

Now I’ve had very efficient ways of doing this in the past at previous schools:

  • visualisers are great, but I don’t have one in my classroom.
  • I’ve found an iPad connected to an Apple TV to work great.
  • I’ve tried to use an Android tablet with a Chromecast, but the wifi settings of a Chromecast are often not geared for the networks found in schools and so don’t work.
  • a tablet with Reflector App on your PC works well, so I’m told, but I haven’t got that working in my classroom yet.

And so, without the required technology, I was forced to take a photo on my tablet, share the photo with my computer (via the cloud) and then display the photo on the screen. Rather an inefficient process.

Although this took a few extra seconds, it was still a more efficient way of feeding back than holding up the work and expecting everyone to see from all over the classroom.

And now I’ve added the ‘more efficient image feedback’ heading to my New Year’s resolution mindmap – so I have to find a more efficient solution by the end of the year.

Lessons in Feedback 2: Video

Recently I moved from teaching Key Stage 2 pupils (aged 7-11) to Key Stage 1 (aged 5-7). Suddenly my written feedback had no meaning as, being five, most of my pupils couldn’t read anything I wrote. They also didn’t have the self awareness for feedback to actually make an impact beyond that lesson. I needed something that would enable them to reconnect with their learning, both later on (like after a weekend), and at home.

The answer was video.

I started using a service called Magisto. This collects your videos and photos, then edits them into a splendid-looking short movie with sound and effects. It is free if you want to do 20 videos or less, but if you need to add more you have to pay a yearly subscription. Here’s an example of some stop-motion videos I collected into one Magisto movie.

Each week I would take a few photos and videos of work and activities in the classroom, then put them into Magisto and share the resultant video with the pupils and parents. It often took less than ten minutes.

What I found was that it was a great way of getting 5-year olds to remember what they had done in the previous week and therefore connect them with their learning. Also it provided a way to engage the parents with their child’s progress, so that they too could talk to their child about their learning.

The children and the parents loved having this and it became a far more effective way of feeding back than marking. One father told me that his son, who had made tremendous academic progress during year 1, had only done so because of the video feedback.

It made me realise that for this age of children engaging the parents is the most important thing you can do.

Lessons in Feedback 1: Marking

For a few years now, educators have been working with the influential Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit in their back of their minds. This states that the best value, most effective thing you can do is provide effective feedback.

Many schools have taken ‘feedback’ to mean ‘marking’ and this has arisen to a whole load of both sad and funny stories about pen colours. The best of these, in my opinion, is this one. While for some schools, the marking policy has resulted in a greatly increased teacher workload, others have seemed to have a more enlightened approach. I was surprised to find my son who is in Year 10 at a local grammar school asking me for a particular colour of pen similar to one I use. It seems that at his school, the teachers ask the students to do their own marking. Brilliant – not every teacher is being beaten by the marking policy – some get their students to do it.

My own experience of ‘being beaten by the marking policy’ involved my handwriting, which to be honest, did tend to get a bit spidery, especially towards the end of the a set of thirty books. I also had a conversation with a school leader in which I was criticised for crossing out a word. Apparently a teacher should set the best example and use Tippex when they make a mistake in their marking.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve drifted from the idea of providing effective feedback so that a student can gain greater understanding and have become more concerned with how books look so that external visitors will get the best idea of the school.

The Frantic Curriculum

I attended a curriculum meeting at my children’s primary school recently. It was presented be a couple of school leaders and it soon became clear that the new (2014) National Curriculum had made them frantic.

The frantic was subtle at first. Just undertones of frantic like an out-of-tune bassoon at the back of an orchestra. Little dissatisfied notes like ‘I don’t know why they put that statement in there…’ and the like.

By the end of the meeting, the whole wind section was off with comments like ‘Gove didn’t know what he was doing’ and ‘ this bit is just too hard.’

Personlly, I quite like the 2014 curriculum. I included it in 4 posts I wrote some time ago about the broad and balanced curriculum I think school should follow. At the time I categorised these into 4 strands:

But I was clear then, and I’m still clear now that the National Curriculum is not the only determiner of what should be taught in schools. Education is broader than that.

And I think that part of the growing sense of frantic in UK education is because teachers can’t see past the National Curriculum. This is certainly true of what I heard at the meeting at my children’s school.

Aside from the fact that most people don’t like change, so change in itself can be a frantic event, there is the issue that some parts of the curriculum are genuinely harder.

This means if you’ve been teaching in one year group for a while and it happens to be a year group with some significant changes, the likelihood is that you’ll need to look at your subject knowledge. This is fine, if schools recognise the need and calmly set about training teachers in the right areas. But I can see that where schools don’t put time and energy into developing the subject knowledge of their staff, then the curriculum will be just one more thing tipping teachers over the edge.

Don’t panic; sweep.

While researching my previous post, I came across another Michael Ende quote that encapsulates much of how I feel leadership has gone wrong in UK Education to make it all go so frantic.

I haven’t even read the book it’s from yet, though I now feel I need to.

Here it is:

“…it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop–and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.

You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.

That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.

Michael Ende, Momo, 1973

School leaders have the responsibility to ensure their teachers are great, because great teachers make an amazing difference to children’s lives.

But many of our school leaders no longer inspire greatness. Instead, they measure how much sweeping* has been done, encouraging teachers to focus on how much sweeping* they have failed to do, rather than enjoying the act of sweeping*.

Since changing jobs in September, I’ve been able to enjoy teaching again. Of course, this may be because I’ve moved to the independent sector, I’m not sure, but this I do know:

  • there are less formal lesson observations.
  • there is more reporting to parents
  • pupil progress meetings do not exist.
  • there are more parents evenings and generally I have 100% attendance at each one.
  • There is one yearly, formal assessment.
  • There are no SATs or Year 1 phonics screening tests.

In short I am being measured less and the bottom line is that if parents are happy, the school gets paid and can continue functioning. The outcome of this is that I enjoy my job. Every day.

*of course, in this instance sweeping is a metaphor for teaching.