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Archive for the ‘CfE’ Category

Getting to know the E’s and O’s

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

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

Sometimes, it’s the little things

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

The X Factor and the Future of Assessment

Cross-posted on:  Just Trying To Be Better Than Yesterday.

This week my middle school S4 class and I looked closely at an article from The Observer, ‘Is Simon Cowell Essential to the X factor?’ where two prominent commentators debated the latest news that he may be leaving. Knowing nothing about the programme, I expected these kids to tell me all about the latest news and give me an Idiot Guide. They did so. I must say, very little surprised me and I tried not to look too appalled as they told me that the greatest glee they felt was

But Simon, I Thought It Was Higher, Not National 4!from watching the really bad singers humiliate themselves.

What did they think of the winners? They would be successful because they would be millionaires in a year. Hmm. At my age it is very easy to get up on the middle class moral high horse and condemn this ‘low culture’ as a lot of nonsense but I am beginning to think that there is something far more damaging than I first thought. It seems that the X-Factor teaches three things:

  1. If you are a winner then you are placed on a pedestal not necessarily because you are the greatest talent but that you have the greatest money making potential.

  2. If you are a loser then you are a loser. You will be mocked in public and treated like a loser. Why? Because you tried and failed in front of others.

  3. You can be a judge. Even the viewers are judges remember. Standing on the sidelines mocking the losers. Not commiserating or offering help – at least Cowell and his smug cronies occasionally do that – but wallowing in the humiliation of others, gleefully celebrating their rightful comeuppance. Who Do they think they are?

So is there anything really wrong with a harmless bit of schadenfreude on a Saturday night? Well, yes, actually. As an educator I see the kids who watch this show every day. I see kids who have learned that taking part means win or lose, that having a go must mean that success is the only option because reputation is on the line. I see kids who would rather sit on the sidelines and say ‘I don’t know’ to every question because being wrong in front of an audience, and an audience of peers at that, is too horrible to even contemplate.

And, do you know what? I don’t blame them. I would do the same. Because school reiterates that X Factor feeling every day of their lives. Humiliated into a ‘bottom set’ from the age of eleven. Pressed into an assessment funnel from even earlier and spat out at the end either a winner or a loser. If it was me, and I was given that choice, I would stand on the sidelines too.

If Curriculum for Excellence is to change things for kids in Scotland it needs to consider an assessment process which will help them get out of this X-Factor mindset. Success and achievement should not come in a certificate in August. It should come from us, the adults, every day of their lives.

*Excellence not Guaranteed!

Excellence; the fact or state of excelling; superiority; being exceptionally good. So does Curriculum for Excellence mean we have to build an excellent curriculum, then deliver an excellent curriculum and create excellence? This is what I find most daunting about CfE. Just by its title it doesn’t feel achievable and I don’t feel worthy enough to build, deliver or create it, and I know lot’s of others who feel the same. Last term, when discussing CfE in the staffroom, it was jokingly suggested that our school motto should be *Excellence not Guaranteed. I find it sad that one word can make good teachers feel they have to put a disclaimer under their teaching. So I say ignore the title and ignore the phrases; excellence groups, sharing best practice and building your curriculum that make us feel inadequate and focus on the fantastic learning and teaching that we are all capable of.

The ten point implementation plan was supposed to enhance teachers’ confidence in CfE, but I’m not sure these statements would make me feel better; “drawing on experience of teachers from neighbouring schools who have already fully prepared for the new curriculum” translates to ‘this is how you should have prepared’ and “excellence groups” translates to ‘if you are deemed good enough we would like your input’. I agree that the best way to move forward is to get out and about and see how other’s put things into practice but the focus put on this has maybe been more of leading by example rather than networking and building together.

The focus needs to be on sharing and realising that we are in charge of our own classrooms and if our children are happy, engaged and learning, and we are experimenting with different techniques and trying to make learning relevant, deep and enjoyable then we have our own perfect mix of non guaranteed excellence!

Collegiality is going to be one of the most important ways of building each others confidence and moving CfE forward. We need to talk, share, moan and develop together in safe and nurturing places, whether physical places or virtual places, such as here or twitter. The best thing we did at school recently was go out for coffee. At 3.15 on the last Tuesday of the month we ditch the folders, schoolbags and USB drives with our lives on them and just go drink coffee, eat cake and chat. It was great to do and reminded you that the best discussions, developments and ideas come in the least stressful environments! We need to work together in the way we ask the children to, we need to put our hands up if we are stuck and praise ourselves and others for the fantastic work we do! So leave a positive comment, go out for a coffee, introduce someone to twitter, compliment someone and feel good about yourself!

*Apologies for the very happy shiny circle time feel to this post but we need some positivity sometimes!

National Qualifications – Mythbusters

Click on the image to visit the SQA Mythbusters page.

There is a new page on the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) website which is a start in addressing the FUDsurrounding the new National Qualifications.

The page is called New National Qualifications — Mythbuster, and has explanations of why the roll-out of the new National 4 and National 5 qualifications are progressing as they are. Well worth sharing, and don’t forget that you too can add you tuppence worth on the CfE Feedback page.

Reflecting on Learning

At a time when Scottish education is changing and standard tests were no longer around, I wanted to develop my own use of assessment within the classroom. I already used different forms of formative assessment which gave me as an educator instant feedback but although the use of ‘thumbs up, in the middle or down’ etc was somewhat useful, I wanted it to be more beneficial to the children. In short, I wanted assessment to inform next steps.

I then went onto create a Learning Log. As my first attempt had a few flaws (it was just based on achievement…it didn’t work too well!), I went on to develop a Log based on ‘Two Stars and a Wish.’ Every Friday the children reflect over each curricular area and write down what they have learned. They think of a maths and a writing wish too. Although they found it difficult to start with, the class now find it easier to identify specific wishes that they work on the next week. This means that each learner knows exactly how to improve their work. The children are encouraged when their wishes turn to stars.

When the opportunity came for the staff from our cluster schools to join/lead Learning Communities (groups of teachers from various schools working on a chosen topic to enhance learning and teaching in their classroom) I really wanted to be involved with the assessment community.

As a newly formed group, we wanted to look at the ‘Learning and Teaching’ A4 ring-binders our school had given every pupil, as well as Learning Logs. We tried out different types of Learning Logs within our classrooms. We also benefitted from an opportunity to visit another local school to view their folders to see what they were including. The whole group liked the ‘I can…’ list for every curricular area/topic covered in class so the children know exactly where their learning is going. (However, I would create these lists after the learners have helped to plan their topics.) From this visit I realised that these lists would be helpful but I still wanted to include a personal reflection ‘wish’ section so the learners know what specific points they have to work on.

The group have since asked the children and parents what they think of the folders- we received very positive feedback and interesting suggestions to improve them further.

As my Primary 4 class are now reflecting on their learning more specifically and regularly, I would like them to record their reflections on our class blog (http://edubuzz.org/blogs/dunbarprimaryschoolp4d/) or through film. It’s always good to keep things fun and fresh! Perhaps they have some ideas…

Throughout the year I have enjoyed seeing the class embed reflection into daily class life, not just as a written exercise once a week. Their honesty and enthusiasm to progress has certainly helped their learning progress and they, along with me, are greatly encouraged by it.