Towards A new Curriculum and Assessment Agency in Scotland Part Two⤴

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image of exam hall in school gym

© Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I did promise a follow up to my first post upon hearing the news that SQA and Education Scotland were to be re-engineered. Having taken part in some of the initial consultations.  It was good to hear that the reform will be phased and planned. But I am no clearer on what the destination will be. 

I can see that there will be the same impasse around both what content is in any national qualifications and how it should be assessed. I'll leave that to the end. 

I am going to jump to other side of challenge. There are some parts of the Scottish system that need fixed and would support any future system. If we stay fixed on the contentious parts of the challenge, there remains as I covered in my last post the real and present danger that by making the reforms all about schools then lots of other useful parts of the system could be lost. 

  • Data : I think that as a system, the Scottish system small as it is , is very poor at capturing and sharing data on what is actually happening across the learning system. To future proof the system we need to acknowledge that everything is now data and we need to set up a new awarding system that is more effective at providing learners , teachers , centres, employers  and the broader community access to reliable information.
    • It should start by making everything digital by default. Start by designing a system that is future proof.
    • This could be as simple as making proper use of the Scottish Candidate Number (SCN)  it has been used  for decades but is not used consistently by Higher Education Institutions. If you really wish to track attainment gaps being closed and impact of FE, HE and work based learning this needs to be addressed. It is there already don't invent something new just ensure no one gets any public money unless they use it to report on learners' progress.   
    • More ambitiously and much more productively would be to publish any outcomes or eventual curriculum in a machine readable way. Yes , other countries do this already ! . Then if a PDF document is the  output you need you can have it but by creating data in this way the assets can be easily reused across the system. No more collective keying of unit descriptors , outcomes etc into lots of spreadsheets and databases.
  • Certification :There is a quick easy win to make all certification digital and online. SQA were almost there, but lacked political support to push this across the line.  A new agency should start by making sure no learner ever needs to worry about a lost certificate again. The system should be set up to allow learner to share a secure view of their certification on any job application etc. Smoothing recruitment processes for all. It would also be cost effective way to deliver richer information to learners. 
  • Subject Communities Who owns and decides what is in the assessable certifiable bits of learning in the Scottish system ?.  It should be transparent and clear to all learners , parents , teachers and for teachers and learners there should be clear ways for them to suggest and shape the content of awards. There have always been subject panels - you do still need experts - but make the process more open. Qualifications could be maintained by an iterative yearly online process to keep them current. This with clear stakeholder engagement. Solves relevancy issues with computing and some sciences subjects. It needs to be clear to that what arrives in a qualification is actually informed by national occupational standards when this is relevant. 
  • Learner Communities for learners sitting national assessments the national system should have figured out a way by now to give learners some safe secure spaces to allow learners to access peer support. If the system is not brave enough to tackle this, it should be brave enough with caveats to highlight services like The Students Room. 
  • Courses and Assessment  Direct to Learners If most learners now have laptops. The new agency  should work towards having a clearer offer direct to learners. In partnership with relevant agencies Education Scotland, SDS and College Development Network. It can be piloted, it does not have to be a big bang. Any learner should have access to any national subject anywhere in Scotland and the opportunity to be assessed and certificated in that subject. This is something that any new agency should be able to coordinate - Colleges ,local authorities and other partners can deliver. 
  • Open Learning Materials  If you follow my blog you will see a lot about this. If the learning content is created by lecturer , teacher and or funded by public money whether through an institution , agency or local authority . The learning material should be made open and available under an appropriate open licence Non Commercial Share Alike to allow teachers and learners to remix and use.  Simply aligned to UNESCO global standards in this area. This does not replace a teacher or trainer but gives learners and teachers access to better learning resources.
  • Staff Development  The new agency should be seen to be lowering the administrative burden on teachers and College staff while not diminishing their responsibility to understand any national standards – There should be pilots around roll on and off secure assessment ( Solar mkt 2) The system  can collectively maintain standards while lessening the assessment burden on teachers and learners
    • Validation process In Colleges and work based learning the centres actually have to have teaching staff and resources in place to deliver new courses . This includes ensuring that staff have adequate training to deliver new courses.  This may be bridge too far but in many subject areas staff do need annual development. 
    • Verification processes:  it still has not really been picked up but some staff do feel insecure on their decision making. Make sure that there is robust internal, regional and national mechanisms to support teacher decision making. Make sure everyone knows that standards they are working to. 

  • Digital Portfolio We should aim to give every learner a digital profile a portfolio of their learning.  They build it and they can decide who and or which components of this they wish to share. This more than an online CV and could include link to their digital certification from a range of sources. 
The list above I hope is non contentious and looks beyond the battle around what should or should not be included in school programmes ( this is actually not about assessment at all) 

If the reform is because the current system is no longer fit for purpose. Then I really would expect to see the end of paper based examinations. 

I would go further and re-look at the subject silos - perhaps looking again at the experiences and outcomes and stretching these to end of formal schooling. But that is probably a bridge too far.  The suggestions above will support a new landscape whether we are assessing latin , maths, english, astrophysics, languages , welding , music , digital literacy,  meta-skills  or tap-dancing. 


Novice and expert learners⤴

from

Building on a post I wrote a while ago here, and having read a bit more on the subject since, I felt that there might be worth in exploring this a little further within a subject specialism.

This week I’ve been reading @ttdelusion Bruce Robertson’s second book – The Teaching Delusion – Teaching Strikes Back. If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend. I’m a huge fan of Bruce’s work – his knowledge of excellent learning and teaching, and passion for using this is a key driver for improvement is hugely inspiring. I find myself furiously nodding along to what he writes or regularly reading out quotes to my poor husband. So I found the first chapter on Curriculum Delusions particularly struck a chord with me.

Exploring my ‘why?’ as a teacher, I feel strongly that my purpose in the classroom is to allow ALL learners to flourish. Not just those who find it easy to draw, or those who have natural ability in drawing. Not just the ones who go to weekend art classes, or come along to lunchtime art club. Everyone. Every. Single. Pupil. I’ve always been passionate about ensuring everyone can succeed. For me, it is hugely fulfilling to see learners find success in Art and Design, building their confidence and in turn their motivation – even more so when they may not have experienced opportunities to shine in other areas of the curriculum. My track record for this is strong, with many young people achieving much better in art and design than in their other subjects. Now believe me, that’s not because art is a skoosh. Far from it. But I do believe that the way I teach has a lot to contribute to this. Strong relationships and direct instruction, have allowed me to impart my expert knowledge to novice learners to improve their ability before encouraging them to apply this in creative contexts. I believe it is my job to help young people become better at seeing, recording, creating and designing. And to do that I play an important part – not just as facilitator of this learning but in the initial stages as the expert in instruction. Especially in the initial stages. I’ve written previously about the advantage of having knowledge such as colour theory committed to long term memory, and the same applies when we consider the progression of the curriculum.

From The Teaching Delusion – Teaching Strikes Back Chapter 1

But I know this will be met with some criticism, especially from art specialists. Where is the personalisation? Doesn’t this stifle creativity in the BGE? Shouldn’t young people be free to create work in their own way? How creative is it if all pupils are learning the same techniques?

Well yes. Possibly. But I believe there can be room for both. Like I wrote in this post on Dichotomy, it’s not either/or. For me the planning, sequencing and coherence of the curriculum is absolutely vital in order to equip young people with the knowledge, confidence and success they need early on, gradually allowing them to develop the tools and confidence to use these to be creative. Creativity flourishes when we have tools to be creative with. By providing young people with the foundational knowledge, in turn their confidence to be creative and explore the knowledge in different ways, opens up. If we know the rules, we can break the rules. But we need to know the rules first.

However, I think it’s important to look at what happens when we don’t teach like this. Because I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve not always thought like this. And as a fresh faced, early career teacher I did my fair share of creative lessons which had a distinct lack of teaching. When I started out teaching I remember feeling completely disheartened and just rubbish because my lesson on portraits hadn’t gone well. I’d let pupils discover the facial proportions by looking at their classmate, allowed free reign over materials, ideas and approaches. I thought I was allowing them to be creative. But in reality, a very small number of pupils excelled and the rest were pretty disastrous. Those who didn’t have knowledge of how to measure, observe, and understand the properties of different materials were left to flounder. They could experiment, they could explore but ultimately it was the luck of the draw whether they discovered a successful approach. Despite, me the expert, being in the room alongside them.

And pupils always know when their work hasn’t been successful. In S1 pupils are pretty hard on themselves, so if their work looks like it could have been done by their sibling in Primary 2, they very quickly lose confidence. In both themselves and their teacher. This in turn leads to disengagement and behaviour issues.

Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for what Bruce Robertson describes as non-specific teaching. Pupils would become bored without the opportunities to apply their knowledge to different contexts. Pupils need to look at the work of other artists and analyse their approaches. But like the way in which a good design brief is written featuring constraints, there needs to be a structure and focus on what we are learning. So it is vital to plan the art and design curriculum in a way which allows for this learning progression and confidence to build – initially through direct instruction, with growing independence and opportunity for non-specific teaching. Otherwise we risk failing the pupils who need it most. If pupils come to secondary with varying levels of knowledge about art materials, the design process, observation and colour theory we do them a disservice if we don’t attempt to give them the strong foundation to go on to be creative. If we focus on creativity alone with unlimited freedom and lack of specificity, very often pupils (and staff!) become frustrated, learning becomes more fragmented and the gap between the most naturally talented and those who struggle most, increases.

And at a time when there is such a focus on ‘closing the attainment gap’ a big part of me, agrees with Bruce Robertson. Those who love and excel in art will continue to do so regardless of the way they are taught, but those who need the most support to build their toolkit will suffer if we don’t allow our teacher expertise to be shared in an explicit way.

For those who worry that designing a curriculum in this way discourages individuality and creativity I would argue the opposite. Some of the most creature design solutions have come from the constraints of a design brief. Pupils grow in confidence when we instruct directly, but that’s not enough, we then need to give them opportunities to apply their knowledge in creative ways. We hold their hand until they are ready to take their first steps. And when they do, they are far more likely to succeed. Instead of narrowing the opportunity for whom art and is a possible career pathway, this curriculum design opens up the possibilities for all learners.

It’s worth noting that despite the need for creative thinking, creative ability and innovation as desirable skills in young people – I agree they are vital – employers, SQA, art schools and colleges will all still ask to see evidence of basic art and design skills within a folio. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We must do all we can to help ALL our learners discover their creative toolkit.

Yet again, like so many things in education, it’s not an either/or.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

Introduction to Text Analysis⤴

from

I booked on to the CDCS Introduction to Text Analysis 2-hour course and installed nltk in preparation. This 2-hour “silent disco” online event is an intermediate Python course on using the NLTK package.

Introduction to Text Analysis

The workshop uses Notable but I ran the notebook in Visual Studio (because it’s a good IDE). The notebook is written in markdown text with code blocks interspersed in “cells” throughout the document.

The workshop begins with some exercises in the IDE to get used to running python code within the cells to do something with text strings, using variables, e.g.

first_name = "ada"
last_name = "lovelace"

full_name = first_name + ' ' + last_name # combine strings with a space inbetween

print (full_name)

File handling

Basic file actions are rehearsed including opening and reading a file, and using text manipulation functions:

file = open("origin-intro.txt")

txt = file.read()
txt = txt.lower()

NLTK

The Python package NLTK provides a set of natural languages algorithms e.g. tokenizing, part-of-speech tagging, stemming, sentiment analysis, topic segmentation, and named entity recognition. We played with some of these using the text extracts we had been given.

Tokenization

Text analysis begins with breaking down a block of text into smaller chunks such as words or sentences. This is called Tokenization.

import nltk
from nltk.tokenize import sent_tokenize # or word_tokenize for words

f = open("origin-intro.txt") # open file

txt = f.read()          # add file contents to variable

tokenized_text=sent_tokenize(txt)

print(tokenized_text)

Cleaning text

The initial part of this process in preparing for analysis is:

  • Open the file and assign it to a variable
  • Convert to lower case
  • Split into tokens
  • remove stopwords

“Stop” words are sometimes called filler words: they are the common words that don’t add much meaning to a sentence.

import re
from nltk.tokenize import word_tokenize

f = open("origin-intro.txt") # open file
contents = f.read()          # add file contents to variable
contents = contents.lower()  # lower case text
contents = re.sub(r'[^\w\s]','',contents)  #remove punctuation (note use of regex)
tokenized_word=word_tokenize(contents)

filtered_word=[]

for w in tokenized_word:
    if w not in stop_words:
        filtered_word.append(w)
print("Filterd Words:",filtered_word)

Further functions and libraries

Working through the notebook, running code and downloading libraries as required, I was able to easily clean blocks of text; tokenize and count words; plot frequency distributions; tag parts of speech; identify common bigrams and n-grams (word pairs and n-word groups).

Fun with Trump

A delightful bit of fun was had analysing President Trump’s Tweets using this code to fetch the text:

import csv
import urllib.request

url = 'https://learn.edina.ac.uk/intro-ta/files/trump-tweet-archive.csv' # download the file
csv = urllib.request.urlopen(url).read() # assign the contents of the file to a variable (csv)
with open('tweets.csv', 'wb') as file: # create a new file and save the contents of 'csv' to this file
    file.write(csv)
    
    print('CSV file created')

What do you think was the top 4-gram in all of this data?

make america great again! 390

Of course it was.

Conclusion

This was a very nice way to run through a tutorial notebook and learn a few tricks in python for text analysis, with support running in the background if I needed it. The format is powerful; it focuses you on the task within the time window allocated and helps you avoid distractions. Although it’s self-study (and as such relies on good quality materials in the first place), it’s OK to play a bit too, because there’s help at hand if you come unstuck. Well done, CDCS.

#WalkCreate: a different view of a research project⤴

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I try to keep both sides of my professional practice separate, but there are inevitable intersection points. This is post is one of those. As you know, dear reader, during lock down last year, walking became a really important part of daily life. Partly because it was the only thing you could do, particularly in the first lock down. Making time to get away from the screen and get outside became increasingly important to well being too.

Walking has always been a part of my daily routine. I’ve always tried to walk to as many places as possible and not use a car or public transport. But it did take on even more significance during lock down, and my daily walks along the Forth and Clyde Canal where I live inspired an unexpected and enriching source of inspiration for my artistic practice. I created a couple of digital stories about it last year – another intersection point

Walking Publics/Walking Arts  is  a  research project  funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council  exploring the potential of the arts to sustain, encourage and more equitably support walking during and recovering from a pandemic at Glasgow University. Part of the research is “to understand how artists from across the UK have used walking as part of their artistic practice, adapting existing work or using walking as a resource for the first time during COVID-19. What can we learn from artists and how can their expertise be shared to support more people, and more diverse people, to enjoy walking?

I participated in a short survey for artists and I’m delighted that the project has created an online gallery showcasing the varied responses the project has received. It’s been refreshing to be involved in the “other side” of research, and there a few more things that the team have been in touch with me about too which is quite exciting too – great to be asked about a different type of citation!

It’s a really fascinating project and well worth checking out the online gallery and the rest of the project website too. Walking is so important for well being that we need to continue to explore its impact, and also not allow ourselves to get out of the habit of walking as we transition from lock down to whatever this “new normal/flexible working” scenario is.

Feedback. Part 2.⤴

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In last week’s blogpost, which you can read here., I considered how we build the foundations for effective feedback in the classroom. Establishing a culture where feedback is a gift. Creating the culture where both giver and receiver value and trust each other. And ensuring high quality learning and teaching precede and therefore minimise the need for feedback. These were some of the approaches I discussed. I also asked these questions:

How do we ensure that within a busy classroom, teachers racing through the curriculum don’t fall into the trap of feedback which is easy and comfortable? Instead, how do we make use of these optimal conditions for feedback which we have created, and that our practices really maximise the impact?

I think as busy teachers, who absolutely want the best for our young people, often we can be guilty of wanting a ‘silver bullet.’ A quick fix which will create high impact with low effort. From the EEF findings it is clear that Feedback most definitely has the potential for high impact, and for relatively low cost. But the findings don’t mention low effort. Unfortunately there are no simple strategies which can be parachuted into a lesson in isolation which instantly improve feedback. Like many things in education, feedback deserves more than a quick sticky plaster approach. It is not just about completing a feedback task which ticks the box. For feedback to make a difference, it needs to be ingrained as part of the continuous loop. A habit which both teachers and students are well practised in and understand. There are no simple ways to ‘do’ feedback.

Dylan William states ‘’Rather than thinking about feedback as an isolated event, this report makes it clear that feedback is likely to be more effective if it is approached systemically, and specifically.’ By becoming aware of and adopting some of the principles below and embedding them in our practice, we can and will positively impact our learners’.

So apologies but this post will not contain templates of feedback strategies to try or classroom activities to improve feedback. Instead it will unlock some of the characteristics of effective feedback. Notably in a way which allows the teacher to use their professional judgment to decipher the best delivery yet built on the strong principles of what effective feedback might look like.

It is an unfortunate a myth that to be effective, feedback needs to be instant. In fact much of the research on timing of feedback is of mixed evidence. From the EEF report, ‘The evidence regarding the timing and frequency of effective feedback is inconclusive.36 On the one hand, immediate feedback may be effective as it could prevent misconceptions from forming early on. However, delayed feedback could also be beneficial as it may force pupils to fully engage with the work before being given an answer.37 In turn, this may lead to them working hard to retrieve information they’ve already learned, which could help pupils to remember more of the learning.38

Some feedback needs to be instant. For example if it relates to health and safety. We do not want pupils to wait until next lesson to hear that the way they’ve been holding the saw in technical is dangerous. Or waiting til next lesson to remind pupils the correct way to carry a knife in Home economics. Sometimes it needs to be instant. And it can absolutely be more effective in the moment, particularly if it relates to specific errors which if repeated in learning could form dangerous misconceptions. Verbal feedback is advantageous here. Consider the visual nature of art and design, where misconceptions will be very obvious to teachers early on. And therefore straightforward to pinpoint and clearly feedback to pupils before others do the same. This may be quite different to extended written pieces in which it may be more difficult for teachers to recognise during a quick walk around the classroom. The report also suggests that sometimes feedback and subsequent reteaching of a concept after a delayed period is actually more beneficial to pupils as it brings into play the forgetting curve, forcing them to retrieve information from long term memory and indeed strengthening the learning. Therefore there is no best time to give feedback. But importantly, that we do give the feedback. And it focuses on the learning not the task, nor the pupil.

Another consideration is how we can best prepare students to accept the feedback positively and with a view to using it to improve rather than taking it personally. Harry Fletcher Wood discusses this in a blog post here. It specifically mentions how teachers can:

Convey high standards and a belief students can meet those standards ‘I’m giving you this feedback because I know you can get an A on this’, has a dramatic effect on student likelihood to redraft and student grades (Yeager et al., 2014).

If we think about it, it’s often difficult to accept feedback, even as adults. Especially if it contains a suggestion that what we’ve been doing previously hasn’t been good. So by preceding feedback with a comment explaining why you are giving this feedback – because I know you can do better, because I believe you are capable of more, because I want you to achieve even greater success – goes some way to ensuring students know this isn’t personal and instead it comes from a place of genuine care and desire to see them improve. The study by Yeager et al found that students were more likely to adopt a growth mindset and use the feedback to propel them forward when it began with an explanation about why the feedback was being given. Something to consider.

And finally for this post, and this was the absolute game-changer for me; Students need the opportunity to use the feedback. How often do we write out feedback, mark jotters or give whole class verbal feedback for it to be glanced at by learners and then never referred to again? Using effective feedback strategies should be built on the need for pupils to actually practically do something with the feedback. Pupils should be given time to go back and improve, redraft, rewrite or indeed attempt the assessment again in order to show the application of the feedback given. Too often I worry that we are intent on flying through what Mary myatt refers to as the ‘curse of content coverage’ that we forget that pupils need opportunities to show personal improvement. Vitally, this builds pupil confidence in the task and trust in the student/teacher relationship. In the past I’ve asked pupils to redo a prelim having provided feedback to help them improve answers. This can be a useful way to allow pupils to demonstrate the impact which feedback has had on learning. It is worth noting however that it is important to be careful that feedback does not solely focus on task specific improvement. Remember our end goal is not a snapshot performance pupil who can answer one specific question well. Instead feedback should be about the deep learning, and transferable to the next piece of work so that learners can apply knowledge and skills in different contexts.

I hope this has been useful. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Future feedback posts will explore practical feedback strategies in the classroom as well as establishing a culture of effective, honest and open staff feedback.

Have a great week everyone – for many our last before a well deserved break!

Engaging with families⤴

from @ lenabellina

Back in the spring I had the huge good fortune to speak with Clare Pirie on her Connectrio podcast about what makes for effective engagement with parents and carers.

You can hear the podcast episode here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/5rGI1vZ29K2WwrhK7dO9y7?si=paOrSXyPQsuPNr7NQdaYJQ&dl_branch=1

Below are also the notes that I spoke form (roughly) which are based on my recent reflections around our relationships with the families we serve.

– Why do you think effective parental engagement is important?

Before I answer that question and if it is ok, I’d actually just like to start with an explanation, because having worked with care experience children for the last two years I always like to give a heads up that when I talk about parents that encompasses birth parents, carers, foster carers, adopters and anybody who has that responsibility to care for a child, so to love them, give them a home and be part of helping them thrive, learn and develop.

I suppose for me this comes back to that African proverb that says that it takes a village to raise a child.**It’s very easy to work in silos and talk as if education is the sole responsibility of schools and teachers but actually what I’ve come to realise through my career and in fact what systems and practice models like GIRFEC, or getting it right for every child acknowledge is that you absolutely need the adults around the child to work together if we are going to make sure that children grow up living the best lives possible.

** I do want to apologise here and say that since recording the podcast, I have come to learn that this reference to an “African proverb” is in fact offensive in the way that it references Africa and that the proverb is also more accurately attributed to international oral tradition.

What that means in practice is really good communication and shared understanding amongst those adults of purpose and of the fact that we are all working together because we really care about each and every child. And the reality is that every parent is entrusting us with the thing that is most most precious to them and therefore we need to engage with them so that they know that they can trust us with that most precious thing.

It is interesting that In Scotland we have just incorporated the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child because in fact absolutely inherent in protecting children’s rights is the idea that adults as duty bearers all work together in the best interests of each child.

I think that when suddenly we went into lockdown just over a year ago and there was that blurring of those clearly defined adult roles in terms of what teachers do and what parents do, it gave us an opportunity to really look at what the purpose of school and education is, what teaching and learning is and who can play a role and how important communication and engagement between adults around learning is.

One of things I’m also really interested in is how we engage with those parents and carers who might have been labelled as non-engaging. I think there are parallels here with how we engage with pupils who might have been labelled the same way. It’s absolutely crucial that we realise that if a parent or carer isn’t engaging with us then it’s far more likely to be a result of something we are doing or a result of an invisible barrier that we might not have acknowledged, than as a result of them being deliberately difficult or resistant.

And if we fail to be curious about that then the child who we are working together to support and who we as education professionals, have a duty to support, will inevitably suffer.

– Please share an example of effective parental engagement that you have experienced as a teacher or parent.

As we came to the end of lockdown last year and I was working with many parents and carers whose children had experienced complex developmental trauma in their lives, it became obvious that several of those children had actually thrived during lockdown and developed much stronger relationships with their parents, carers and family members than had been possible before and in many cases had also learned really well and maybe made more progress in their learning than they would’ve done if they had been at school. Now the reasons behind that are complex but we do know that nationally we saw an increase in applications for home education after lockdown.

Some of the reasons might simply be to do with the fact that some children struggle with places that are busy and very people-y because their difficulties are associated with trust and relationships.

But some of it was also to do with the fact that in some households there was an opportunity for an adult to work with a child on learning in a way that was more focused and intentional and curious and wasn’t dictated by school bells ringing or timetabling.

And at the end of this one of the carers that I was working with said that she felt that she had learnt a huge amount about her child during lockdown in terms of how she learnt best and that the little girl had grown into quite a different child to the one that the school had known previously …she wanted the opportunity to share that back with school so that the school might be able to adapt some of their ways of working to help the little girl with her transition back to school.

And I think that this carer felt slightly reserved in doing this because she had this fear that the school might see it as her trying to tell the experts how to teach whereas in fact I absolutely encouraged her to do this and said that any school would absolutely embrace intelligence and information about a child that would enable the child to succeed.

– In your opinion, what are some of the barriers to effective parental engagement?

We need to be curious.

There is potential for us to jump to judgements and labels but we need to be curious about what is really going on.

So for example if we start to become curious about that parent who never returns phone calls and discover that they have an anxiety disorder which means that they can’t respond to a phone call but they would respond if we sent them a text message or email we begin to engage more effectively. Or could we swing by the house or knock on the door?

And if for example we become curious about that parent or carer who always seems to write negative and critical messages about school on the Facebook page and discover that their own experience of school was extremely negative and unpleasant, they we can maybe begin to engage more effectively and bring them on board by helping them to see that things have moved on.

Schools can come with such baggage and culture and the experience that a parent or carer had at school may be a really strong indicator of how they are going to respond.

It is difficult because sometimes as schools we lack time and space to be curious but we need that to make this work .

We need to decide what schools are about and why we need these relationships to be at the heart of what we do.

– How might we overcome barriers to increase representative parental engagement?

For me, it is very much about us challenging others to truly see and listen to each individual human being that they encounter and to develop what I have referred to as a quality of knowing.

You will have maybe heard me talk about this in relation to the children we work with in schools – it means that we use all the information, data and intelligence we can gather to ensure that we respond to and meet the needs of the actual child in front of us, rather than some generalised concept of “a child at that age and stage”.

But actually, it is also what we absolutely need to do in every single relationship we have with other humans in our lives so that we really knowing each person and all the qualities, experiences and physical and emotional aspects that make them who they are and that includes the parents and families of the children we are caring for.

We need to really know what our children and families are going through.

We need lots of ways of engaging with families….and not just the parent council model, which I sometimes despair of a bit because although many parent councils are truly amazing, they don’t allow for inclusion of the people who would never set foot in the room, for all the reasons we have discussed above.

How do we reach out to the people who would never make it to parent council?

Your ideas, Clare, on using digital platforms, are really exciting.

I love a Google form that is anonymous – I think you can get a real quality of feedback from an anonymous form. Once you have to walk into a room and be visible, how honest can you be about the things you might want to say?

We now have a whole range of ways to engage so that it does not have to be one size fits all.

Engagement is about more than talking – it is about opportunities to build trust and allow communication . We have a chance to strip away power hierarchies so we don’t view teachers as superior – yes, we are the professionals who are paid to do a job but we can learn so much form the other adults in a child’s life and work together with them to do what is in the best interests of every child.

We also need to consider that communication is often non verbal. How do we get the parents and carers with the quiet voices to be heard and express themselves?

How do we get those parents and carers in who may have a fear of walking into school? Maybe by providing less formal, communal, village-like opportunities where we build relationships and trust?

Awareness?⤴

from @ lenabellina

Apparently

October

Is

ADHD

Awareness

Month

Aware

Of

This

I

Wanted

To

Write

A

Poem

Which

I

Have

Been

Trying

To

Start

All

Day

But

Everything

Got

In

The

Way

Twitter

Cleaning

Worrying

Emailing

Shopping

Worrying

Worrying

But now suddenly I feel an urge to say it all

Quickly

As fast as the ideas come into my head

Being a fifty two year old woman with ADHD is like having the Duracell bunny in your head drumming and drumming and making you keep going with all the things that you need to do in the week to ensure that you keep up the image of being a competent professional because actually you are and you love your job with a passion that makes others gasp because you want to get it right for EVERY child and that drives you through to Friday night…

When suddenly Saturday comes

And you wake up and realise that you had forgotten once again that you have ADHD

And either your husband tells you that you need to stop and rest

and you get cross with him

but then realise he is right

Or your body tells you

By refusing

To

Carry

On.

And

Everything

Dis

Com

Bob

Ulates.

Until

Monday.

You hope.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity⤴

from @ fizzics

We started our study of Einstein’s special theory of relativity this week.  Special relativity is tricky get your head round, so I’ve put together a collection of videos that help to explain the ideas we’re going to consider.  Let’s start with a video about the speed of light. The next video follows Einstein’s thought process ... Read more

A matter of feedback…⤴

from

Feedback. We give it all the time. We receive it frequently; whether we ask for it or not. We know it makes a difference in our teaching. But, from experience, it’s definitely not an easy thing to get right. That is, if there even is a right way to do feedback. This blog post is a tentative first step into exploring how good our feedback as teachers really is, and how we can make it even better. I aim to explore different aspects of feedback over the next few posts and delve into specific, practical areas of feedback for use in the classroom.

Many areas of education create debate. But I’m hopeful that feedback might be one aspect that the majority of educators agree is vital as part of effective learning and teaching. Despite this commonality in realising the importance of feedback, the ways in which students receive feedback varies greatly. We need to recognise that various approaches are indeed needed to suit individual subject specialisms, ages, and stages as well as school context. Feedback in music, will look very different to feedback in maths. Yes there may be some common threads and key similarities in what makes both sets of feedback effective, but each will suit the specific subject and the learning taking place. It’s like exercise – we know we need to do it, we know it makes a difference but we all take our own approaches to making it work for us in terms of the where, when and how. Not everyone is a marathon runner. But that does not make the gymnast any less fit. If feedback across a school follows core key priorities in terms of its purpose and impact, there is room to manoeuvre the specifics of the feedback itself.

The first two aspects of Feedback which I will explore in this post, are not technically feedback at all. But I believe they lay the foundations for effective feedback, integrating beautifully with high quality learning and teaching as well as building strong relationships. And so it is, that feedback isn’t something which stands along, instead it forms part of an important loop.

Everyone needs feedback. It helps us get better. When I make a new recipe, I want feedback from my tasters. So that I can make it again even better. When I go for a run, I want to check strava for instant feedback on my pace and how it compares to previous runs. So that I can try and do even better next time. And when I read my son a bedtime story, it’s good to hear his feedback so I can make my voices and silly sounds much improved the following evening. Feedback helps us get better. And as teachers, we all want that for our young people. So why wouldn’t we spend big parts of every lesson giving individual feedback?

Well, Sometimes we will. Sometimes we need to and it helps move learners forward. But we also need time to teach. So it comes back to opportunity cost, which I touched upon here. If we are giving feedback, we are not doing something else. That’s why I think it’s important to minimise the need for feedback in the first place and find efficient ways to give meaningful feedback when time is tight. If lessons are taught well from the outset using clear learning intentions and success criteria; if teachers clearly explain and model the learning, if teachers guide the learning and then give opportunities for deliberate practice, the likelihood that learners get it wrong or need feedback to correct, is less likely. Of course feedback will always be necessary to move learners forward but if we can spend less time correcting common errors which might have been overridden by better instruction, then the time can be used to give really personalised and impactful feedback.

So we’ve established that feedback is a gift because it aids improvement. But it needs to be viewed in that way through the classroom and school culture. An ethos of continual improvement not because we are not good enough, but because we can be even better. In order to create that learning environment, there requires a strong relationship between giver and receiver. For feedback to land in a way which allows it it be used to propel forward, there needs to be a shared understanding of why the feedback is being given. Like so much of our work in the classroom, a positive relationship between teacher and pupil is vital in order for feedback to be listened to and acted upon. Pupils need to trust and respect their teacher, and understand that the feedback given is because the giver genuinely wants the young person to do well. A learning partnership, when both sides are working hard for the best outcome is desirable. When a relationship breaks down, young people are less likely to buy into the need to improve.

I don’t think any of the feedback foundations is ground-breaking, indeed good teachers do these almost without thinking about it. What becomes more tricky is implementing effective feedback, and sustaining it. Like the exercise analogy, we all know we should go to our gym class on a Monday night or get up early for a run before work, but when it’s dark and wet, our intentions can often be sidelined for ease and comfort.

How do we ensure that within a busy classroom, teachers racing through the curriculum don’t fall into the trap of feedback which is easy and comfortable? Instead, how do we make use of these optimal conditions for feedback which we have created, and that our practices really maximise the impact?

Part 2 to follow.