When good feedback looks like direct teaching (Lessons in Feedback 7)

#28daysofwriting Day 12

The problem with formative marking is that you can waste valuable minutes at the start of a lesson with children leafing through their exercise books to find the coloured comments of their teachers and make their own written response. This time could be spent teaching.

I’ve found that some of my best lessons have been when I’ve done some cursory marking of a set of work to assess the understanding of the children. I’ve then put the books into piles – rough groups to start the next lesson. I’ve then directed my teaching to each of these groups so that they are all working on their next steps during the lesson.

I’m not sure which of these approaches is more effective, I’m just aware that formative marking can take an awful lot of time and then be an excuse to do less direct teaching.

Maybe I need to do some action research to delve into this further.

When the marking is not for the child (Lessons in Feedback 6b)

#28daysofwriting Day 11

I currently teach Year 1. Virtually none of my marking is for the child.

This is because (a) they can’t read it, and (b) they’re not yet independent or self aware enough for the marking to affect what they do.

Here’s how I use marking to make a difference: I photograph the marked work and send it to their parents. In Year 1, I’ve found that the most effective way of feeding back to the child is via their parents.

But I could do the same thing by not actually marking the work, but just messaging the parents about what their child needs to do next.

So what is my marking for?

Often it’s guilt. It’s the feeling that I should be writing something so that when an observer (senior manager, colleague, inspector) looks at the work they know the teacher has been busy.

This is why a school’s marking policy is so important. It defines how guilty a teacher feels after marking a set of books. Should you tick and flick? Should you mark in various colours, training your children to know what each colour means*? Either can be valid so long as the feedback is good enough to make a difference to the child in the next lesson.

*pink for think, green for good is one example

Testing the Digital Leaders

Many aspire to the badge, but not all can attain it…

#28daysofwriting Day 10

I made a mistake last year in my digital leaders programme. I interviewed each boy (remember – my school is a boys school, so I am not being sexist: there are literally no girls to choose from) based on their technical prowess. I chose them from that, and also a little bit of they’re-not-involved-in-anything-else-so-I-feel-sorry-for-them.

I didn’t look for their ability to work in a team. You’ve probably heard that phrase: ‘you can’t have too much self esteem, you can just wear it badly‘. Exactly. I had a few boys who wore their self esteem badly. Let’s face it they were just plain arrogant. They ended up abusing some of the privileges they had been given and being banned from the computer room.

So this year, I have been choosing the digital leaders more carefully.

Out goes the one-size fits all interview. In comes a presentation session in which they all have to present to each other about why they should be a digital leader.

This was most enlightening.

I actually had one boy declare to the other boys that he was a ‘child genius’ and that’s why he should be a digital leader.

What was even more enlightening was how they listened to each other. Some hung on every word of the other presentations and clapped enthusiastically at the end of each one. Some couldn’t be bothered until it was their turn.

Next I have given them the task of supporting the Year 1 boys in making a ‘Dinosaur Fact website.’ This was interesting as neither the Year 1 boys, nor the Year 6 boys had seen Google Sites before, and yet the Year 6 boys picked up the logging in quickly (the biggest barrier is logging in) and were all pretty good at supporting the younger boys.

My final challenge will be to work on their own ‘Digital Leaders website’, in which each one will have their own section. This will be interesting to see how they collaborate, because it is quite easy to sabotage someone else’s work when building the same website together, and I can imagine it being tempting to do that so that your own pages look the best. But of course I will be looking for good teamwork as my driving criteria.

And soon I will have some Year 6 boys who are no longer ‘Provisional Digital Leaders’, but actual ones.

Who is the feedback for? (Lessons in Feedback 6a)

#28daysofwriting Day 9

One of the questions that came up in our recent book scrutiny was this: who is the marking for?

In some recent posts, I’ve been hinting at a broken logic that exists behind many schools marking policies. This logic looks like this.

  1. We must do brilliant feedback because the Sutton Trust says it’s the most effective way of making a difference to the education of our students.
  2. Marking is the same as feedback so we must do brilliant marking.
  3. We must write a brilliant marking policy so that all teachers do the same brilliant marking.
  4. We must beat our teachers with metaphorical sticks when they fail to comply with the marking policy.

I heard the privilege of listening to one of Her Majesty Inspectors for schools recently. These are like the ninjas of Ofsted inspectors. She explained that when Ofsted visit a school, they are charged with investigating how well the teachers comply with the marking policy of the school. They do not judge the quality of the marking policy. Maybe they should.

It’s a bit like if someone has a cold trying to make them better by observing how they wipe their nose – more broken logic – it’s so many steps away from the thing that actually matters: the quality of the feedback.

The Worst Week

#28daysofwriting Day8

This week is the worst week. As a teacher that is.

You’ve worked super hard all the way through the Autumn term, pulling out all the stops for your students to learn stuff. Sixteen weeks of sheer educational slog.

Then you get to the Christmas Holidays, and do you rest? No. From the Staff Do on the last Friday of term, to the Training Day on the first day back in January, you are completely flat out. It’s a different flat-out, admittedly. A flat-out full of family, friends and food. Possibly alcohol. It’s certainly not a rest.

Then you’re back and it’s January: a month of few redeeming features. The days are short. The evenings are dark. And you’re still tearing up trees for your students to learn stuff. But now you’re tired. You’ve probably already failed in your New Year’s resolutions and so you’re feeling bad about yourself too.

When February starts, Winter illnesses have taken their toll. You’ve had to pick up some work from absent colleagues, adding to your exhaustion. Towards the end of a block of teaching, staff always start getting cranky with each other. So now you’re cranky too. And tired. And angry. And frustrated.

And then this week starts. And when it finishes there is still another week to go before you can rest at Half Term.

But don’t worry, you are past Teary Tuesday. It is now Thursday – the week is almost over. And then it’s just one more week to go before the February half term.

Ah. The bliss. An actual rest!

I can’t wait.

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.

Not just Writing

#28DaysofWriting Day 5

The problem with blogging all the time is that you can very easily end up in a space in which you only hear your own voice.

Not healthy.

Therefore, I have decided to read and comment on at least one other blog this month.

I was excited when my little-used Twitter Stream told me that @DaveStacey was also going to try to do #28DaysofWriting during February. So I’m reading what he writes. You can find it here: http://blog.mrstacey.org.uk/

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.