Five Star!

Education secretaries may come and go, but All Change Please! goes on forever. Yes, exactly five years ago today, as All Change Please! hit the Publish button for the very first time, it was someone called Ed who was making a Balls up of education. And today, in our distopian post-Govian nightmare, it’s Teacher’s Friend Nicky Morgove and opposition spokesperson Tristram (no relation) Hunt who are carrying on the long tradition of knowing so much more about how to improve standards in schools than anyone else who has actually ever done any real teaching.

As is usual for this date each year, All Change Please! takes the opportunity to look back and wallow in the success of some of its most popular posts.

Top of the Posts for the last 12 months has to be One Small Step in which it dared to suggest that perhaps traditionalists and progressives should put away their differences and focus on communicating a more coherent and united message to its Daily Mail-reading armchair critics. ‘One Small Step’ was of course a follow-on to All Change Please!’s second most read (or at least most clicked-on) post: Daisy, Daisy.. in which it attempted to counter the myths regularly being de-bunked by traditional teachers by identifying some myths of its own.

Meanwhile on the comedy circuit, What Ho! Gove was a hit, a very palpable hit, along with PISA Takeaways and the Chandler-inspired Curriculum Noir: Who stole the Arts, not to mention There’s No Supporting Truss. And speaking of Ms Truss, did you see her hilarious stand-up routine at the Tory Party Conference? And to think, just a few months ago she was an education minister.

 

Along the way, All Change Please! managed to come up with a few good one-liners too, such as:

“Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies”.

And while discussing the need for urgent debate on the future of On-line Computer Learning Systems:

“…or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s: ‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

Or on the current debate about traditional and progressive teaching methods:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

Then following the proposal that retired politicians, lawyers and bankers should be recruited as teachers:

 “Meanwhile 2020All Change Please! would like to propose a parallel scheme in which recently retired teachers would be retrained as politicians, lawyers and bankers in attempt to sort out the complete mess the country is currently in.”

Or on the need for some magic to return to our classroom:

“As I drove, I found myself recalling the words of that great crime writer Raymond Chandler that somehow seemed to sum it all up:

Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”

Because that’s exactly what our schools have become – factories of mass produced memorisation of out-dated facts. What’s needed right now in education is a little bit of real magic and a lot less political sleight of hand.”

This is what Alas Schools and Journos! had to say about PISA statistics:

“But I thought the reason the Chinese and South Koreans did better than us was because they only put their cleverest children in for the test?

Exactly. That just goes to show how much smarter they are than us, doesn’t it?”

And here’s Bertie Wooster:

“You mean essays in Art are where you’d really draw the line, eh?”

What Ms Truss didn’t say out loud in her Policy exchange speech:

“This is just so much fun isn’t it? All I have to do is to speak these words out loud and it will all just happen as if by magic. Won’t it?

And a quiet moment of self-reflection:

“When it was young, all All Change Please! wanted to do was to change the world. And as it grew into middle age it still wanted to change the world, although it had decided that changing education would probably be enough to be getting on with for now. And now, as it eases into retirement and becomes ever closer to being no more than a long forgotten series of ones and zeros drifting blissfully unaware in The Cloud, it still has vague hopes that someone, somewhere is still reading its rants and raves.”

 

And finally, in response to The Gove Legacy… it seems there has been a reported sighting of Michael Gove. He obviously needs help, urgently…

 

Image credit: Flickr/Itdemaartinet

LearnFirst – TeachLater

4056396845_e1d5b9816e_o

OperateFirst: a new six week course for aspiring brain surgeons?

You may have read or heard somewhere that to really master a skill you need to practise it for 10,000 hours. The source of this story goes back to an article published over 20 years ago and has been the inspiration for a number of books and further studies.

With the current obsession with Myth-busting, it’s perhaps not surprising that this is one of the myths that’s being challenged: The 10,000 Hour Rule Is Wrong and Perpetuates a Cruel Myth

At one level, the message of the original study – that anyone can master any skill given 10,000 hours – is of course inaccurate and misleading. But what is important to grasp that even if you have the interest and ability it will still take an awful lot of practise to become a master of your trade or profession. And we’re not just talking about in music or painting or sport, but in just about every area of life.

It’s worth applying this thought to teaching. Clearly there are many people who are quite unsuited to the classroom and even if they spent a lifetime, let alone 10,000 hours in a school, they would never become proficient at it. Fortunately however there are also many people who can teach. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose a teacher spends 42 weeks a year working for 50 hours a week – that’s 2,100 hours a year, which, if we follow the 1000 hours guidance suggests that for most teachers it’s going to take around five years before they are really on top of their game in the classroom. There will be exceptions of course, at both extremes, but generally that sounds about right.

So the notion that someone can undertake a six-week summer holiday course and then be successfully let loose on a class-full of children is highly suspect. We clearly need to see the process of becoming a professional teacher as a five-year experience, and that’s not including the years spent at university gaining a first-degree in an academic subject.

Knowing stuff is not the same as being able to teach it. Amongst many other things successful teaching requires adept classroom management and the acquired ability to engage and inspire children, plan effective lessons, set achievable targets for all and assess individual progress and achievement – and those are things that can easily take five years to master. A few newcomers might achieve quick results, but in most cases for a whole academic year their pupils are going to be deprived of the quality of teaching and learning they need and that parents rightfully expect.

There are many other professions where a similar ‘fast-track’ approach would be deemed totally unacceptable. And with that in mind, here are some suggestions to that effect from who else but Tony Wheeler:

“I suggest we urgently press for similar rapid entry courses for all Upper Second graduates in the following areas:
OperateFirst for brain surgeons
GlowFirst for nuclear power station managers
CrashFirst for pilots (with a 3 week short course for those flying helicopters military jets and all air traffic controllers)
BetFirst for bankers and financial advisers (with a subsidiary StealFirst short course for senior bankers and hedge find managers)
LieFirst for politicians (with a BullyFirst short course for cabinet ministers and CEOs)”

Meanwhile back in school, during those first five years new teachers need to be monitored and supported far more closely than they are at present. Over that time they also need to be regularly attending further professional development courses, reading widely on approaches to pedagogy and moving around between a number of schools, and perhaps undertaking some practical school-based research. At the end of the five years they should be rigorously assessed by an external agency and, if they have reached the required standard, achieve some form of Master Teacher status coupled with extra pay. Until then they should not be let loose on our children.

None of the above will ever happen of course, but All Change Please! just thought it should mention it, along with the following:

“The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teacher.”  Sarah Blaine

And just to prove her point, if you’d like to swear at Tristram (no relation) Hunt, here’s your chance:

BBC News – Labour’s Hunt urges ‘Hippocratic oath’ for teachers

And if more proof is needed that ministers have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, this will really make you Nash your teeth!

Save money by using standardized lesson plans, says schools minister.

Image credit: Flickr/slimjim

Curriculum Noir II: The Gove Legacy

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 15.10.23In his All Change Please! Guest Post Curriculum Noir last May, Philip Marlowe recounted the story of how he had searched in vain for the Arts in schools, discovered they were now only available in the local PaintEasy, and pleaded for the Blob to somehow find a way to overcome the Mob, led by the notorious Big Mickey Gove. So what’s happened since? Marlowe picks up the story…

I remember the day it happened – who doesn’t? There we all were outside Number 10 expecting maybe one or two of Gove’s henchmen to be taken out, when all of a sudden a big black van marked ‘Toxic Waste – Please Dispose Of Carefully‘ drove up and suddenly Mickey Gove was gone. Most teachers just stood there in silence, not believing the news. But as the day wore on, incredulity gave way to singing and dancing and lots of other things that Gove would not have approved of. No-one knew where he’d gone, and even fewer cared.

Then just a few days ago there was a knock on my office door and a tall, elderly gentleman entered. I recognised him immediately. It was the notorious, well past his retire-by-date, Lieutenant Wilshaw of the Flying Ofsted Squad.

“Marlowe”, he said, “My apologies for this no-notice visit, but I’ll come straight to the point. I’m worried about Mickey Gove. It’s been two months now and no-one’s seen him since the day he was taken. He seems to have just disappeared off the face of the earth.”

I wasn’t really listening to what he was telling me. While I waited for him to engage my interest I tipped back on my chair and texted a message to my secretary whilst gazing out of the window, but my attempt at low-level disruptive behaviour didn’t seem to put him off. Even lighting a cigarette didn’t get a reaction. I got the distinct feeling he wanted me to call him Sir all the time, but I had no intention of doing so.

“I’m concerned he’s been brainwashed in some way and is just walking the streets trying to work out who he is, or rather was. I was wondering if you could maybe find him for me?”

I remained silent, wondering why I should agree to take on such a task.

“I’ll pay you of course” he said, anticipating my thoughts, “or even better I could speak to someone who would make you chairman of a large academy chain. Or perhaps you could open a free school, if that’s what you’d like?”

That sounded a lot more tempting, but I still wasn’t convinced.

“It’s just that ever since the start of the new term the teachers have become very confused.” he continued. “Without Gove dictating what should be taught and when and how, they don’t seem to know what to do next. And now there is nothing to fight for anymore they are just aimlessly walking around the school corridors like zombies.

“OK”, I said, reluctantly. “In that case I’ll see what I an do”.

“Thank you Mr Marlowe. That’s a satisfactory response. Good of you to help. Very good – in fact, outstanding. Use any special measures you need to. You must excuse my limited vocabulary – it comes with the job. Err – you will keep me fully updated, won’t you?”

I thought I’d begin by checking up on Delores Anass and find out how she was settling into the new term, and whether or not she’d turned into a zombie. Arriving at the school I walked passed the dance studio where Edward (AKA Sir Ken) Robinson was in full flow, giving another of his motivational lectures. Then I came to the IT suite where the ICT co-ordinator was desperately trying to learn two coding languages just in order to keep up with the kids. Meanwhile outside on the school field someone was quietly stringing together a Daisy chain of academies.

Delores was looking as stunning as ever – like she’d just stepped off the cover of a glossy school prospectus.  She could sure keep me in detention anytime she liked. But I could tell she wasn’t happy.

“I don’t know what to do about the new KS3 curriculum.” she said. “I’m trying to deliver it as required but the children don’t seem to have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s almost as if they just haven’t yet covered the much higher demands and expectations of KS2 in their Primary schools, so that makes it quite impossible. And as for these new GCSE grades, well they’re so much nonsense, aren’t they? It’s just replacing letters with numbers and adding a 9 to fool people into thinking somehow that makes it louder. Perhaps next time they’ll use colours instead – for example, you could have Green for ‘Pass’, Yellow for ‘Get Ready To Pass’ and Red for ‘Stop and Repeat’. That would be much better, wouldn’t it?”

I looked around and checked out the notorious art room sinks, but in this case they were gleaming white: this was clearly a clean sink school. On her desk I noticed a cracked, not-so-young Toby jug crammed full of bald paintbrushes. I wandered towards the art storeroom door, but noticed Delores suddenly seemed uneasy, as if she was trying to hide something.

“No, Marlowe, No.” she pleaded. “Please don’t go in there. It’s not safe. You might not like what you find. It’s – where I keep my whips, if you get my meaning.”

I wondered if this was a side of Dolores I didn’t know about, or whether she perhaps just had a penchant for Walnut Whips, but then I made the connection. I had my hunches about what, or rather who, might be in there, but I decided to let sleeping dogs lie. If that’s where Gove was, he couldn’t do any further harm.

Back at the office I rang Lt. Wilshaw. I told him I thought I’d found Gove and he was well out of harm’s way, but I was afraid I couldn’t reveal his whereabouts. Wilshaw sounded relieved, but still not happy – I guessed perhaps he’d really wanted to get to Gove himself so he could finish the job off properly. It could only happen in education.

The bell to signal the end of school for the day rang somewhere in my head and I decided it was time to head for home. Gove may be gone – for now at least – but there’s no doubt his legacy will live on for some time. It’s going to be a while before the Blob manage to take control of education again, and Big Mickey’s Mob are never going to be far behind. I wasn’t feeling human tonight, but at least I hadn’t turned into a zombie. Not yet, anyway.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 20.38.50

Lower image credit: Flickr/emiliano-iko

Design & Techknowledgy: revised GCSEs

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 11.13.20

So what does the new draft D&T GCSE content add up to?

While the new draft GCSE content for Cooking and Nutrition was extensively covered in Thursday’s press, you could be forgiven for having missed the fact that the new draft content for the Design and Technology GCSE was published on the DfE site as well (along with Drama and Citizenship).

It remains to be seen whether the final content for D&T does follow this draft structure, and most importantly the eventual breadth and depth developed and packaged by the examination boards, but in the meantime it’s worth highlighting some of the major proposed changes.

1. There will be just one subject called Design and Technology, i.e. there will be no separate courses for Resistant Materials, Textiles, Electronic Products, etc. Food Technology will no longer exist as such and will be replaced by a separate non-D&T option called ‘Cooking and Nutrition’.

2. Students can elect to design and make a product in a series of ‘areas of interest’, which include fashion, interiors and furnishings, advertising and promotion, consumer electronics, leisure and mechanical systems.

3. In addition to knowledge and understanding relating to their chosen ‘area of interest’, all students will be expected to cover pliable and resistant materials, textiles, mechanics, programmable components and new materials.

4. A clear distinction has been made between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’, with both being acceptable, provided they are ‘high quality’.

And elsewhere it has been reported that coursework will be reduced to 50% of the final assessment instead of 60%.

There are many positive things about this proposal, though largely in the sense of ‘Well it could have been a lot worse’. There are encouraging references to ‘the iterative design process of exploring, creating and evaluating’ (or ‘having, growing and proving’ as the Goldsmiths e-scape project described it some years ago). And there’s even a remit for student-developed briefs, ‘a creative approach’, ‘taking design-risks’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘collaborative discourse’ (though sadly not collaborative working). But it’s a pity there are no prompts for work in spatial or built environment design, and nothing to promote a deeper understanding and practice of ‘modelling’, which lies at the very heart of design.

Some implications of the draft are issues as to how the course will come to be delivered. Ideally perhaps schools will develop a team-teaching approach with students accessing former subject-specialist teachers and teaching areas as and when appropriate. But others, and probably the majority, will doubtless adopt a materials-based ‘theory’ circus, and/or assign students to work in a chosen ‘area of interest’ right from the start of year 10. Let’s face it…

Fashion = Textiles Technology
Advertising and promotion = Graphic Products
Furnishings, Mechanical systems and Leisure = Resistant Materials
Consumer electronics = Electronic Products

Which just leaves the problem of how to deliver a more broadly-based theory course, unless textile teachers are going to be willing to cover mechanics, and electronics teachers are happy to deal with fibres and fabrics.

Meanwhile the increase in the knowledge-based ‘written paper’ to 50%, although not unexpected (and could have been even higher), continues to defeat the whole point of studying D&T. Every D&T teacher tells stories of students who are excellent designers but fail the examination because of the difficulties they find with the written papers, and similarly of students with minimal practical capability in D&T who get high grades simply as a result of being good a formal exam technique.

There remains the age-old problem of the statement that:

“The word ‘product’ is understood throughout to be a generic term for all 3D final outcomes of design practice including systems and objects. “

Beyond the fact that this understanding is somewhat out-dated in design these days, it presents issues in the advertising and promotion area for the production of promotional 2D graphic work, and in particular ‘digital promotion’, which presumably involves websites and video?

Although the distinction between ‘products’ and ‘prototypes’ is helpful, it still needs further consideration. It should perhaps read: ‘Final proposals should be presented in such a form as to effectively communicate your design ideas to a client, user, manufacturer or financial investor.’ Or even better still: ‘Final proposals for design ideas should be uploaded to Kickstarter in order to obtain feedback and potential funding for further development’.

But, to be realistic, the statement that students are required to ‘demonstrate the ability to:

• design and develop innovative, functional, aesthetic and marketable products that respond to needs and are fit for purpose’

is somewhat ambitious to say the least, because if they can succeed at doing so in their GCSEs they would be achieving what most teams of professional product designers fail to do in a lifetime! How about ‘demonstrate they have the potential capability to…’ instead?

And going back to the proposed ‘areas of interest’, this article suggests that opportunities have been missed to really drag the subject into the 21st Century by following the suggestions made for categories for future professional design disciplines, listed as:

• The Design Coder
• The Design Entrepreneur
• The Hybrid Design Researcher
• The Business Designer
• The Social Innovator

Or even:
Sustainable design pioneer

But there’s one statement that really can’t be forgiven, it’s:

“The types and properties of the following natural and man-made materials:“

Yes, you read that correctly: MAN-made materials. What is this, the 1970’s? Synthetic, manufactured or just made materials, please. Or, following the ‘less is more’ design principle, how about just ‘…the following materials’?

Whatever happened to Food Technology?

While the new GCSE in Cooking and Nutrition can only be welcomed, it must be regretted that Food Technology appears to have been dismissed from Office. Far from being toxic, overall it was the D&T GCSE that probably achieved the highest, most rigorous standards and the only one that really succeeded in delivering practical work in school alongside a real understanding of the issues of scaling up a ‘one-off’ into a batch or mass-produced product. And while the future demand for 3D product designers is at best modest, there will continue to be a substantial need for expertise in the extensive UK food industry. The proposed new course can only be described as ‘dumbed down’, a phrase an enthusiastic Nick Glibb strangely omitted to use. All Change Please! therefore hopes that some form of higher-level GCSE Food Technology course, either within or outside the D&T framework, will be re-considered.

And at the same time however, it seems only reasonable that similar courses in Woodwork, Metalwork and Needlework should be re-introduced to compliment Cooking. After all, the next generation of young men and women who fail their more academically-demanding GCSEs are going to need to be able to do something useful during their long hours of future unemployment, aren’t they?

Consultation

Details of how to make your views known can be found on the DATA website.

Image credit: Flickr/Josef Stuefer

One giant leap?

4605051691_217618f677_b

If All Change Please!‘s recent One small step post suggested that the way forward for education was to try to get traditional and progressive teachers to try and come to a better understanding of what each are doing, then what would One giant leap for Schoolkind be like?

Well, it might not surprise you to learn that All Change Please! regular Tony Wheeler has some suggestions…

“I’m sorry to be the pouty one throwing my toys out of the playpen, and I really do want progressives and traditionalists to get closer together, but having spent the last 30 years pussy-footing around, tactfully making the connections and emphasising the similarities (in order to make progressive more palatable for traditionalists), all that happens is active/progressive/project-based teaching and learning gets more deeply compromised, misrepresented and sidelined.

The truth is that while it may be possible to identify some bits of evidence in some bits of lessons that look a bit similar, progressive and traditional both start from such utterly different intentions that unless you have felt/experienced/participated/enjoyed both, it is really really difficult to make meaningful comparisons.

As I do, most educators seem to value most what has worked for them, and this is the real problem. Everyone’s had good, bad and mostly mediocre experiences of traditional fact-based chalk-n-talk. Despite what Daisy, Gove, Toby and the Campaign For Real Education would have the media believe it’s still what kids get for well over 90% of the time in schools.  In contrast, at the same time well over 90% of people have never ever seen, let alone participated in effective, purposeful, contextualised active learning.

If I were managing a school (perish the thought!) I would want to work with a team that wanted to (amongst other things):

  • give young people as well as teachers, real power to participate in the design of new approaches to teaching and learning
  • stop using subjects as the key components of curriculum and attempt to replace them with something more like ‘teaching’ (not learning) styles to ensure a breadth of experience
  • talk about metacognition as being important for pupils and doubly important for teachers. I would negotiate a process involving pupils and colleagues to help all teachers contemplate and review their own strengths and weaknesses as educators
  • encourage all teachers to prepare and maintain a dynamic personal teaching and learning statement (i.e. ‘I think education is important because…’, ‘The role of our school is…’, ‘The capabilities/approaches I bring are…’, etc.) which they share and build into collective dialogues with learning teams
  • replace timetabling as a mechanistic process to manage resources/subjects completed by an administrator with a process to choreograph individual pupil’s daily learning experiences managed by experts in pedagogy.
  • ensure all children have equal access to ‘purposeful active’ and ‘knowledge transfer’ styles of teaching. As they progress through the system they can opt to specialise in one or other but they will always need some of both.
  • manage the range of style and expertise so as not force staff to teach/interact in ways they are unhappy to take on
  • as a community search for the similarities/links/connections across subjects and negotiate purposeful activities around these supported by appropriate knowledge transfer.
  • group students by interest, experience and capability, rather than age, ability or gender
  • encourage the local community (and teachers) to participate as learners, trading time/skills for learning participation
  • evidence progress using structured dynamic portfolios, building towards external individual presentation beyond school
  • accredit through international collective comparative judgements
  • agree more equitable and appropriate measures by which to report school effectiveness (i.e. emotional index, elective participation, community impact, range of destinations)

In the wasteland of the last 20 years of government tinkering and media misrepresenting, this would of course pose a significant CPD challenge and require a multi-million pound marketing budget to convince potential parents. But if we really want to create an education system fit for the 21st century, that’s what’s going to be needed.

In the meanwhile, maybe something we could do as a start is to identify, profile and champion compelling isolated exemplars of active learning and begin to devise possible strategies for scaling up across the whole curriculum and all schools.”

So, if you were managing a school, where would you start? Or perhaps you already are, and have done?

 

Image credit: Flickr aloha75

One small step

6634355899_76d2fb0da2_o

If teachers can’t agree on what schools of the future should be like, someone else is going to decide for them

In All Change Please!‘s recent “You Say Right and I Say Left, Oh No…” post, it concluded by suggesting:

“At the end of the day/lesson, the debate should not really be focused on whether traditional teaching is any better or worse that so-called progressive teaching, but simply whether traditional and more progressive methods are being applied well or badly in the classroom.”

This sentence was picked up and re-tweeted a number of times, so to extend this thought, here are some extreme examples of good and bad traditional and progressive approaches to lessons that All Change Please! has at some point had the fortune, or misfortune, to observe. Although they didn’t all occur in the same school at the same time, they are things that actually happened in real lessons.

A ’traditional’ teacher is sitting at his desk at the front of the class. He addresses the class, who have learnt to sit still and face the front in fear of being individually demeaned by the teacher’s penchant for sarcasm or informing them they are both stupid and failures. After pouring his considerable knowledge into the empty vessels before him, he writes some notes on the whiteboard (while still lamenting the removal of his blackboard) and tells the students to make some notes about what he has just said, which they do, in silence. He then asks a question and the children slowly begin to put their hands up, cautiously responding to his ‘Guess what I’m thinking’ game. Eventually he reveals the correct answer which, they are informed, is the one they will need to give in their final examination. Without variation, this approach continues to the end of the lesson, and homework – to ‘read the next chapter of the textbook for a test next period’ is set.

In an adjoining classroom is another ‘traditional’ teacher, standing at the front of a class. She has smilingly welcomed the students in and starts by re-capping the last lesson with them. A number of keywords have been written on the board, which are particularly checked for recall and understanding. By using more open-ended question and answers she is able to judge how much knowledge has been retained, and by whom. While she challenges those who have obviously not been listening or have not completed the set homework, she is positive and encouraging, and clearly has a good rapport with the class. Her explanation of the lesson content is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation that highlights the key points with some strong, memorable images. She uses analogies and metaphors to help the students relate the concepts she is explaining to situations they will be more familiar with, and tellingly she draws on her own experiences of life outside school. During the lesson, the children are asked to briefly discuss an issue, either with a partner or in a small group, before making their own notes. To keep the pace of the lesson moving, there is a strict time-limit imposed. At the end of the lesson there’s a re-cap, as at the start, and she explains how today’s lesson has informed the next. Clear learning objectives have been set, and met. She sets the homework which is to study the next chapter and compare its content and presentation with a given web page on the same topic, ready to present during this next lesson.

Meanwhile in another part of the school a ‘progressive’ teacher is working with a class who are mid-way through a term-long project. They are working in groups. At the start of the lesson the teacher told them to get on with their work, and she is now circulating, becoming absorbed in sorting out in each group’s projects and problems one at a time. The rest of the class sit are round chatting and have little idea what they are supposed to be doing, and find working together difficult. They have done some research, mainly printing out pages from Wikipedia. Some students have decided what they are going to do, while others are still unsure, or claim they have finished. The teacher has no idea as to the extent and level of the problem-solving skills they have already developed in previous work, and as a result few children manage to extend their capabilities. During the lesson the teacher makes no whole-class input, or seeks to break-up the long double-lesson time. The room is noisy, with some minor instances of misbehaviour occurring, which the teacher ignores. The bell rings and the children dash off to their next lesson.

But next door, it’s a different story. Another ‘progressive’ teacher, working with a different class on the same project topic has started the lesson with a class review of progress to date from each group. He introduces some new content that he wants the class to consider and incorporate during the first part of the lesson, which they do while he goes round and quickly checks what each child has done for homework. He then asks the class to break off from their on-going work to reflect on how well their group is working and to establish some clear targets for the next fortnight. One group learns that one of their members is likely to be off sick for some time, so they re-allocate their roles amongst themselves accordingly. Back on their project, everyone is working and there is a busy, lively, purposeful atmosphere. Many of the children are talking, but the conversation is about their work. The teacher is circulating, but generally observing rather than directing, and being available as and when needed. Well before the end of the lesson the teacher stops everyone working and sets an individual research task, informing the class that simply printing off a page from Wikipedia will not be acceptable, and that they need to consult a variety of sources, evaluate the reliability of each and state their own conclusion. At the end of the lesson he asks one group to share an account of their progress with the whole class and uses what they say to ask some searching questions and highlight both positive achievements and where greater application is needed if they are to progress further.

In both the successful traditional and progressive teachers’ classes, there are some children who clearly shine and prefer either the more knowledge-based or more process/skill-based approach. What’s important is that children get the chance to experience both types of teaching and learning, and that they are properly supported in the approach they feel least comfortable with.

Meanwhile a striking feature of the two ‘good’ lesson examples is that they are not actually that different. As the new ‘academic’ (as opposed to practical?) year gets underway, isn’t it about time we stopped arguing amongst ourselves about whether traditional or modern educational methods are best, and start to develop a broader, more consensual approach to teaching and learning? We need to take the best of both approaches, and not be afraid to mix them up and make them nice. And in reality of course that’s what already happening in a lot of schools.

Meanwhile teachers are certainly are going to need to be singing from the same song-sheet if they are to successfully rise to the real challenge of the next few years and ensure that low-cost, second-rate, multiple-choice assessed computer-based teaching and learning systems do not become accepted as an adequate substitute for the real thing.

Why replacing teachers with automated education lacks imagination

or, as Timothy Leary didn’t put it in the 1960s:

‘Sit down, switch on and shut up!’

 

Image credit: Flickr/bsfinhull 

Can I see tea?

tristramshepard:

From the vaults. Dedicated to all teachers about to embark on delivering the new Computing curriculum…

Originally posted on All Change Please!:

8127876004_0233d81485_c
Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your facebook hacking app later – which reminds me, you…

View original 370 more words

Now this is what I call a Textbook

1s-241979129_2174cf1d60_b

In days of old, when teachers were bold, this is what a school textbook used to be like.

Before the not-missed-at-all Miss Truss was given her marching orders she made a number of speeches in which she advocated a return to the regular use of the  textbook. As such she was simply providing yet another example of the DfE policy-making process as being ‘Come up with a vote-winning bit of spin and don’t actually bother to think about the implications of implementing it’.

The problem is that the production of textbooks is now very different from the way it was back then in the days when everything was apparently wonderful. In those days school budgets were more bountiful and publishers could afford to employ armies of reviewers, editors, proof-readers, picture researchers and designers, and authors were carefully chosen as being recognised experts in their field. Their royalty rates, although never more than 10%, meant that reasonably good sales over an extended period of time would provide an adequate return on their considerable efforts. And there was a wide variety of small, independent publishers looking to specialise in a range of subject areas and age-ranges and to take risks on books that might or might not be particularly successful, providing something of quality and value had been produced.

But of course, like everything else outside the DfE, things have changed over the past fifteen or so years. For a start there are now just a couple of really big educational publishers, considerably reducing choice. Authors are now usually relatively inexperienced, foolishly hoping that being published will look good on their CVs and as a result prepared to work for next to nothing – often just a share of 5% on a work that will probably be out-dated by a curriculum change before its first reprint. Content is now all about delivering the narrow requirements of the specification with an emphasis on teaching to the test, rather than providing a broader, more pedagogically sound coverage.

Meanwhile manuscripts go through largely unchecked by subject specialists and desk editors. Picture research budgets have been slashed, and page-by-page design is a thing of the past. Titles are focused on the main subjects that have the biggest GCSE entries and the most extensive book-buying habits, such as science, maths and geography. And as prices have risen, classroom sets have become increasingly expensive and unaffordable. No wonder so many teachers have chosen to produce their own content more suited to the needs of their own learners and their preferred teaching styles.

There are, however, some things that Ms Textbook Truss might have suggested that would have been more worthwhile. The knowledge-base of most subjects has now become so extensive that it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to cram everything in to the limited number of periods a week they have with each class. As such, high quality independent study support resources of the electronic kind would be a valuable development. Unfortunately at present these are usually produced by new-media companies with little or no pedagogic experience, and more with the intention of winning an award for the cleverness of largely superficial so-called ‘interactive’ animation than with actually assisting learning. So something to improve the standards of electronic resources would have been something really worth speaking about. At the same time, there are teachers in many non-core subjects who could usefully be guided towards the more effective use of support resources within their lesson planning.

But wait, wasn’t Truss missing a trick here? Just think about it: ‘Text’ and ‘Book’, ie a Book of Texts. Not the ‘No need to think or plan, ready-made just pop-in-the-microwave, everything blended into in one easy-to-open package NC/GCSE/A level course of study’ that they all are these days, but surely if we are heading back to the golden age of the 1950’s, what’s really needed are books that contain a series of learned academic discourses on the subject in question? No engaging photos or artwork or course, except maybe four pages of black and white ‘plates’ placed on their own in the very centre of the book. And if these were produced as e-books they could be distributed very cheaply to all children to read on their smart phones on the bus on the way home…

If that doesn’t raise academic standards, All Change Please! doesn’t know what will…

On and on and on. That’s Life?

 

 

So, this summer more children have gained higher grades at GCSE and A level, and at the other end of the scale, more have failed. Sounds like Gove’s initiatives have paid off and academic standards are rising. That’s great, until you want to get your boiler fixed. Which is exactly what Carla, one of All Change Please!’s regular readers, recently discovered.

Friday 25th
Today I contacted Ariston as my electric boiler had stopped working. As it was just one month later than the warranty expiration date, they gave me the name of their repair company. I called them and explained the problem and that I needed an engineer. They booked him for the following Wednesday between 7am-1pm. They asked me to pay £85 +VAT there and then and £25 for any further 30 minute periods after the first hour.

Wednesday 30th
I stayed at home to wait for the engineer. By 1pm, as nobody had arrived, I contacted the company. They said that the engineer had come, rang the bell at 9:45 and left a message on my mobile to say that they will call to rearrange appointment. This seemed strange as I had not heard any bell and there was no card on the doormat.

Strangely, half an hour later the engineer arrives, but he was told that it was a gas job hence he has no parts! He has to come back again with the part. I told him that I had already paid for an hour’s work and I had clearly told Ariston what the problem was and I was not going to pay any extra, He said he will tell the company he had only spent 10 minutes. So, still no hot water tonight as well and another day to wait for them to come.

Thursday 31st
Having heard nothing further I call the engineers to check what’s happening. Apparently the engineer will come on Monday if I pay £186 now for the part, which I reluctantly agree to.

Monday 4th
Waited in. The engineer arrives, but has brought the wrong part, despite the fact that it is clearly numbered, so goes away again.

Tuesday 5th
Waited in. A different engineer arrives with the correct part. Unfortunately he is unable to remove the heating element. Why they had not done this the first time, I do not know. We would have realised that the boiler needed replacing and I could have saved £189 of parts. All at an added £25 per half-hour. For the third time, I call Ariston to complain. I am now leaving it to the landlord to sort it out

Wednesday 6th
Waited in. My landlord’s plumber arrives and is able to quickly remove the heating element, but he does not have any spare parts.

Thursday 7th
Waited in. Some new parts arrive, but the plumber informs me they are not the correct ones.

Friday 8th
Waited in. The correct parts arrive, the plumber fits them and departs. Looking forward to bath tonight! Unfortunately the water runs cold.

Saturday 9th
Waited in. We are still battling with the water heater. After three botched up attempts, one just to diagnose the problem, one with the wrong part, one with the right part but unable to remove the heating element, one with the landlord’s plumber that removed the element in just a few minutes but had to wait for the parts, one with the wrong part to be redelivered, one with right part in hand but not plumber, this morning the landlord’s plumber and an electrician come to check the boiler. After spending an hour checking the system they discover that the newly-fitted thermostat is faulty.

Monday 10th
Waited in. A plumber arrives from Ariston and replaces the Thermostat. Finally, seventeen days after reporting the fault I have hot water again!

Back in the 1990s Ariston used to have a clever advert that kept repeating: ‘Ariston And-on-and-on-and-on-and-on’ . I always thought that was meant to refer to the length of time their white goods lasted, not how long it would take to get them repaired…

 

There’s a catalogue of failures going on here. First are the workforce themselves who don’t seem to know what they are supposed to be doing and have not been trained well enough to identify and sort the problems out. As well as the boiler, the management and communication processes seem to have completely broken down as well. Then there is the manufacturer who doesn’t seem to care very much at all about customer-care.

There’s clearly something wrong in a world in which we can transmit video signals across the world in an instant, but still can’t get a boiler fixed without a great deal of hassle. What we clearly don’t need right now are more students studying academic degrees at university, while anybody who does something that involves anything useful or practical is deemed to be a second-class citizen.  As Natasha Porter writes here

“Unfortunately, “better with their hands” all too often suggests “not very bright”, or “poorly behaved”. We need to stop seeing vocational education as the option for non-academic students. The modern plumber, for example, needs to have strong arithmetic skills in order to understand complex pricing and measurements, as well as having excellent communication skills and scientific reasoning.”

And finally in true ”That’s Life’ style All Change Please! is indebted to Jenny, another regular reader, who recently posted about her recent unfortunate experiences trying to get a repeat prescription from her doctor.

http://charactersfromthekitchen.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/give-me-strength-to-visit-the-surgery/

 

 

 

The Importance Of Being Ignorant

 

 

Lady Bracknell. …I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.  Which do you know?

Jack.  [After some hesitation.]  I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

Lady Bracknell.  I am pleased to hear it.  I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance.  Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.  The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.  Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.  If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

From The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London.

 

I know one thing, that I know nothing.”  Socrates, 5th Century BC

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  Albert Einstein, 1929

 

“There are a lot of facts to be known in order to be a professional anything — lawyer, doctor, engineer, accountant, teacher. But with science there is one important difference. The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance… Scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but minuscule, but rather on what they don’t know…. Science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it. Mucking about in the unknown is an adventure; doing it for a living is something most scientists consider a privilege.

Working scientists don’t get bogged down in the factual swamp because they don’t care all that much for facts. It’s not that they discount or ignore them, but rather that they don’t see them as an end in themselves. They don’t stop at the facts; they begin there, right beyond the facts, where the facts run out. Facts are selected, by a process that is a kind of controlled neglect, for the questions they create, for the ignorance they point to.”  Stuart Firestein, 2012

 

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”   Thomas Gray’s ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (1742)

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 14.48.52

This post is dedicated to all those A level students who got low grades in their results today: you will discover there is more to life than going to University.

 

Photo credit: Flickr  adesigna