supporting, encouraging and sharing innovative and effective approaches to education

We’re moving…

Following the recent meeting and subsequent discussion and vote, Education Futures : Scotland has now moved to its new home at pedagoo.org

See you there?

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I know, I know. The experiences and outcomes have been around for ages now. Surely we’re long past getting to know them? In my experience however, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us seem to have taken something from them first time through, but now that we’re approaching the blunt end of assessment and reporting we’re beginning to wonder if we got them right.

Through our work with Myra Young, we’re being encouraged to take another look at the experiences and outcomes – this time starting with the purpose. This can often lead to a quite different approach to planning. Rather than looking at the experiences and outcomes and jumping straight to the activities we’d carry out, we think first about what the purposes of the outcomes are in terms of learning, how this could be evidenced and what the success criteria are.

On our inservice days next week at my new school, we’re lucky enough to be receiving CPD from teachers at Cramlington Learning Village with a view to planning our lessons using the accelerated learning cycle. But first I’m going to suggest that we need to ensure we understand the curriculum before jumping into detailed collaborative planning of lessons based on the learning cycle.

This can be illustrated with one of our science experiences and outcomes. Whilst in the past this might have led to us planning a series of lessons covering all the various organs of the systems we feel we need to ‘cover’, a fresh look at the purpose of the learning outlined in the curriculum brings a different emphasis and therefore quite different lessons.

We often complain the experiences and outcomes are vague and complex (which they are…but do we really want a version of the National Curriculum instead?) but if they are how can we expect to be fully familiar with them already? As difficult as it is to accept from the perspective of development work (which is going to get worse when the new NQs start arriving), the reality is that our understanding of the curriculum is going to evolve over time and I’m doing my best to try to keep my mind open to that…

Cross-posted on Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts

The following are some notes I made during the first Education Futures : Scotland open meeting tonight. You can watch it back here. A huge thank you to everyone who attended and contributed!

  • What is it we’re trying to achieve?
  • Highlight what’s good. Positive. Possibilities. Highlight good practice. Try things in public.
  • Building a system which deliberately sets out to create positive feedback loops. Pick up, use, spread.
  • Isn’t that LTS? We’re not a corporate a voice. Classroom practice. How we are implementing it in our classrooms. Practicalities of implementing CfE.
  • On the ground and practical or a systems approach? Whole school approaches are vastly different across Scotland. Some are using inservice, others learning rounds etc. Still a dissatisfaction as to how we’re going about this – the system we as teachers are having to go through. A bitty approach. Need a systems view.
  • Are these contradictory or complimentary? Complimentary…all finding our way…isn’t this part of autonomy? But still constrained by a National framework.
  • Core business = voices of the classroom.
  • Initiative fatigue – no mugs/mouse mats etc with edubuzz.org Is CfE seen as an initiative?
  • This is about a fundamental change in the way go about teaching, not an initiative.
  • Can we change the narrative? Use “Best Education System in the World”?
  • Practitioner led/owned leading to a change in the narrative of CfE.
  • How do we reach out to more than the twitterati? Should we be attempting to do more than blog?
  • Learning Rounds – Share practice. Work with other schools. Learning Rounds style approach to the twitterati?
  • Forming/Storming/Norming/Performing – are we at the storming stage? What are the norms…?
  • Learning Rounds – look to be very effective, but still can be seen as threatening…
  • How can we make use of these ideas? Move these ideas away from National agendas – collaborative web. Not top down. We are autonomous and appreciate the potential this gives us as a profession.
  • Perhaps this is best described as a permanent, online TeachMeet?
  • Modeling the opportunities – begin to communicate beyond the Twitterati…and to parents too? Massive social campaign…on a par with clunk, click every trip?
  • Need to share real ideas of classroom practice – and the learning resulting from trying.
  • Have we made the right call by going with a collaborative wordpress blog? Could we/should we go for another format? How about this from @dgilmour?
  • WordPress = a good start. 10/40000 at this meeting though…? A big challenge ahead.
  • Need a Facebook presence too.
  • What about Glow? Glow brings advantages, but many disadvantages also.
  • Shall we get our own domain name and have the blog hosted to help avoid filters? We have had a kind offer for hosting from paulwheatley.com
  • General feeling of approval in the room. Not perfect (i.e. possibly less permanent), but probably the best compromise between wordpress.com and glow.
  • Have we made the right call with the name? Can anyone think of anything better?
  • Perhaps could be catchier…ask for suggestions on twitter.
  • LearnMeet? A TeachMeet for learners was suggested. This could be fantastic. Who’s going to take this one forward…?

Cross referenced from Just Trying to Be Better than Yesterday

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of four. I was at home with my family and everyone was eating bags of crisps – or potato chips if you want to get all American on me. The bag, I recall, had a little cartoon man on the front – perhaps made by Smiths or KP – and I had opened my bag from the bottom. The man was upside down. At four years old I clearly couldn’t accept that state of affairs so I turned it upside down to open from the other end. Disaster.
A clear learning opportunity, wouldn’t you say? I never lost another crisp in my life; so isn’t turning things upside down sometimes a clever way of making things better. Even different. Reading Guy Claxton’s ‘What’s the Point of School?’ recently I came across this passage;
‘Imagine a society…in which physical education, design technology and art are the three most highly esteemed subjects, and English, maths and science are obviously less important because they only merit one lesson each a week, and they became optional when you are fourteen.’
He goes on: ‘The outstanding successes of the school are those who are strong, fit and physically agile; who can solve practical problems by inventing and building useful gadgets; and who can make elegant sculptures and great photographs.’
Now I know there will be readers of this who will be thinking, ‘That’s Rubbish’, ‘Maybe’ or ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ but it has rattled my cage somewhat over the last few days. We may indeed mock Claxton’s suggestion but on closer inspection it could have some merit. What happens when we, the teachers and adults, become jaded, uninspired by work, and desperate for something new? Most of the teachers I know would fit into one of the following groups: we wish we could play a musical instrument in our spare time; we may start to enjoy sketching or ceramics as a creative outlet; we take a photography course and buy an expensive camera; we join a gym.

     
Quite simply, we desire all of the things which at the moment are, perhaps, the least respected subject areas in our school system, the things we value less. We actively discourage the skills we ourselves desire thirty years later. Ironic? Perhaps. However, what I think it does is suggest a great conversation to be had. I’m not suggesting we should change everything just for the sake of change but if we are to truly encourage engagement with Curriculum for Excellence we at least need to have these ‘out of the box’ conversations. In fact, we not only need to think outside of the box but, as again I read somewhere recently (apologies for forgetting exactly where), we need to create a new box that doesn’t even look like a box.
Whatever happens, whatever the Curriculum turns out to look like, let’s get talking. And we can start by turning things upside down and seeing what they look like.

Motivated Reasoning

When you are confronted by something new, how do you react? Are you curious? Do you try to understand what the new thing is on its own terms, or do you try to evaluate it using the frames of reference you are comfortable with? Your answer to this question, and approach to this scenario, may help explain your attitude to Curriculum for Excellence.

I Don't Believe In Global WarmingThe serendipitous nature of my RSS reader (NetNewsWire) landed me on a recent New York Times opinion piece about why 45% of Republicans in America believe that President Obama was not born in the USA. It’s an interesting, albeit brief, explanation by Professor David P. Redlawsk, professor of political science and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University.

It turns out the reason many Republicans do not trust the evidence is because their existing beliefs, those they have spent so long cultivating, are sufficient to reject any new evidence, no matter how compelling. This is “motivated reasoning”. As Prof Redlawsk writes:

We are all somewhat impervious to new information, preferring the beliefs in which we are already invested. We often ignore new contradictory information, actively argue against it or discount its source, all in an effort to maintain existing evaluations. Reasoning away contradictions this way is psychologically easier than revising our feelings. In this sense, our emotions color how we perceive “facts.”

I think it was the phrase “existing evaluations” that gave me my Eureka moment, because what I realised was that the above paragraph could just as easily be applied to many of the critics of Curriculum for Excellence. We have spent so long teaching in a specific way, of assessing in a specific way, and learning in a specific way, that we are effectively ‘hard-wired’ and predisposed to reject anything new that is presented to us. In fact, I suspect this also goes some way to explaining why so much INSET time is perceived as being wasted. We are unable to accept new information at face value because we are comparing it to, and with, what we already know.

Perhaps the problem lies in the reliance we have on our feelings. Again, to quote Prof. Redlawsk,

It’s not the evidence that matters. Feelings come first, and evidence is used mostly in service of those feelings…

If we feel unsure — and with a new Curriculum, who isn’t — we will allow our feelings to overrule any evidence presented to us. No wonder CfE is proving such a hard sell. As well as changing what and how we teach, we are up against good old irrational fear! It doesn’t really matter what evidence is produced to show the benefits of CfE as many are still in the dark about what is involved… And we’re all, at an instinctual level, afraid of the dark.

What is the answer? Well, one thing the Education Futures: Scotland blog is intended to do, is throw light on good practice. Teachers need to share what works, and, just as importantly, what didn’t. In a sense, we need to do what parents do for their children who need to sleep with the light on: reassure, be patient, offer support and show them there is nothing under the bed. (Actually, I did have a sudden mental image of looking under the bed and seeing an HMIe Inspector there, but that’s maybe just me!)

It is not easy to do, but it is possible and the alternatives are too awful to contemplate. For me, the fundamental difference between Curriculum for Excellence and what has gone before is that CfE is trying to bridge the gap between testing and learning. Instead of comparing CfE to what you already know, try to look at what it is intended to be. If you don’t like the Principles and Practice documents, ask yourself if this is because you are comparing them to what you already know, rather than looking at what they are meant to do. And finally, remember that CfE is not really designed for us. We were taught in a different time and when society had different needs, and where it was easy to write learners off because they would still be able to pick up a job. At its heart, CfE is designed to help prepare our learners for the world they will enter on leaving formal education, not the world we entered.

We are wary of change, but change happens. By recognising that motivated reasoning is real — though irrational — but can be addressed, we are just a few steps closer to shedding some light on the future for our learners.

Cross-posted at http://nwinton.wordpress.com

There’s been so much discussion surrounding this blog and how best to take it forward, I think it’s best that we try to have a meeting to work out how to proceed. We need to make sure that as many who are interested are able to contribute to the direction we take.

Lots of others agreed that this was a good idea, so we came up with a date on doodle: Tuesday 10th May at 8pm.

David Noble has kindly agreed to organise a slot for us on FlashMeeting, which is really easy to use. All are welcome!

So, now we need some sort of an agenda…some suggested items include…

  • What is it we’re trying to achieve?
  • Have we made the right call by going with a collaborative wordpress blog? Could we/should we go for another format? How about this from @dgilmour?
  • Have we made the right call with the name? Can anyone think of anything better?
  • Shall we get our own domain name and have the blog hosted to help avoid filters? We have had a kind offer for hosting from paulwheatley.com
  • How do we reach out to more than the twitterati? Should we be attempting to do more than blog?

Other suggestions are of course more than welcome. Please add as a comment below. See/hear you on the 10th!

Cross-Posted on Fearghal Kelly’s thoughts

I’m just back in the classroom this week – phew, I’d forgotten how much of a rollercoaster teaching is! You strap yourself in and off you go…good fun though!

One of the things though which has really struck me this week so far is how much I’ve changed as a teacher in the last couple of years – but if you were observing me you might not even notice. For example, when planning for some of the lessons this week I was looking through some of the supporting PowerPoints on the server and while the were perfectly fine, I just had to make a couple of changes. Rather than starting with titles and learning intentions, I added striking relevant images to the start to get the discussion going, their brains whirring and make them inquisitive. And where there was a diagram, I tried when possible to add a picture or a video to give the slide more relevance and interest.

There’s other examples as well. When meeting each of my classes, I haven’t started by reading out the rules and telling them the consequences of their actions and so on. I’ve started by telling them a little about me, finding a little about them and carrying out an activity which required them to work in groups to share their thoughts on how they learn, what they’ve learnt, why they want to do well, why science is relevant and how they should behave and then getting them to summarise the responses – some which are fantastic.

One of my classes is revising for an exam and so with 20 minutes remaining in a lesson I told them to open their textbook to the contents page, find the topic which they found the hardest and go to that chapter. I then told them to look at the questions in the chapter and not to do any which they knew the answer to, skip those and do the ones which they had no clue about. This threw quite a few of them, but I simply explained that they were there to learn and to do so they needed to search out the things they can’t do – not the things they can do already. I’ll be honest and admit I made this up on the spot – I’ve never taken this approach to revision before.

All of these examples are tiny. I’m almost embarrassed to be writing them up and publishing them on the web as so many of you probably to do all of this and more every day. What I am proud of, and the reason I can bring myself to publishing this, is that to me these are much more than simple ‘techniques’. These are the manifestation of much of the reading I have been undertaking into learning and I am therefore convinced that the consistent application of approaches such of these, and more, will lead to better learning experiences for the pupils in my classes.

So much of Curriculum for Excellence is being undermined by the perceived expectation that lessons need to appear radically different. I disagree with this assessment of the change. For me, lessons can appear to have changed only a little to the untrained eye, but should be increasingly planned with a sound educational rationale in mind. That will take time however.

Medicine and agriculture are now both ‘evidence based’, and it is time for education to follow their example. It is no shame to follow them; it is easier to work out how a liver works or how a plant grows than how a person learns. But we do know a great deal about how people learn now, and we need to change our practice accordingly. Geoff Petty, Evidence Based Teaching