Friday, 6 November 2015

In a GCSE curriculum change spiral of despair

I am so pleased that I decided (all three science subjects decided) to stay with the same A-level examination board. There are subtle differences in the content and I have at the back of my mind that I have to do a decent job of the core practicals in order to help the students gather enough knowledge to access the questions in the exam paper that will be around practical work. I have actually embraced the chance to reflect on my A-level teaching and think carefully about how my lessons and schemes support the students I teach and what I can be doing differently. I am including more technology and making more of an effort to investigate different practicals and demonstrations that I might include in my lessons.

However, the department are also working through our key stage 3 changes. Some of it we love. Some of it we find lacking (the homework) and some of it needs a bigger solution (the end of topic assessments). We really need time to discuss the changes, divide up the work, upload what we have created independently to the platform and make notes for the schemes of work to stop us from making the same mistakes next year. But we don't have that many opportunities to do any of that because we're working on year 12 now.

We also teach Year 6. Luckily, I have bought an excellent scheme of work. But it is not perfect. Again, homework isn't great and I spend three hours per week preparing for one hour of lesson because I have to make presentations and often have to make equipment or set up my classroom to be ready. Teaching Year 6 needs a lot more thought with respect to classroom management/organisation that teaching year 11 does.

So adding yet another curriculum change to the mix is distressing me. I can't describe myself as feeling any other way.

When I was teaching the final year of the old key stage 3 and making resources I didn't feel I was wasting my time. I figured that key stage 3 is flexible so I might teach that content in that way again. When I was teaching the last year of the previous A-level specification and making resources I felt the same. But GCSE teaching is the majority of my timetable and even though I am teaching the final year of a specification I am still making resources. Resources that will be unusable in their current form in the new specifications. Resources that are very specific to lesson P3f (for example) of the Gateway specification.

Why am I making resources? I am making them because the students now have iPads and I feel that I need to embrace the new technology we have to ensure that the girls are using them and their parents investment is not wasted. I am making them because (in the case of video) it genuinely does improve the educational experience of the girls. But I know I am putting effort in for the students I teach now that is not going to be laying a foundation for the future.

So this time next year I will have an even greater amount of work than I would have if there had been no new curriculum changes. Not only will I still be trying to perfect the key stage 3 and 2 schemes, and ensure we have key stage 5 schemes that prepare the students for the longer more integrated terminal examinations I will also be starting from scratch on a totally unknown GCSE where I will be able to use very few of the resources that I have spent the last 10 years developing without some level of adaptation. Add to that the uncertainty of how practical skills will be assessed and what the grading 1-9.

Understandably within school we are grappling with the best procedures and timings to deal with all the changes. The changes that not only impact science. If the drama performances or geography field trips have to change then what impact does that have on the time pressures on students and my teaching time in science? If examinations are longer, how does that impact our mock examination weeks and internal assessments? How do we change our reporting at key stage 3 and 4 to reflect the new GCSE changes? The options booklets and curriculum descriptions all have to be changed, the parental handbooks regarding revision and coursework have to be updated (twice, once saying this is provisional and again when the changes are confirmed). Etc etc, all little things that add up to a lot of administration work we need to do.

Not having a settled school environment and knowing this is going to be the case until at least 2018 is filling me with dread. I was told when I started teaching that after six years of teaching I would have my resources and be able to get a decent work life balance. I would not be working until 1am just to keep my head above water.

To have every aspect of my working life affected by the shear volume of change being created by the previous and current government is distressing enough, but knowing that it we are not being given a decent length of time makes me extremely angry. Knowing that the Science GCSE specifications will not be ready until February, 6 months after some people have started teaching it is unacceptable. For me is a yet another straw. When will the camel's back break?

I am overwhelmed by the changes, by the swirling mess of knowing that everything I am doing, every aspect of my working life is on shifting sands and there is no end in sight.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Nurture 14/15 Update.

1. Writing with purpose
My blog needs more attention and direction. I would like it to show what I feel and my vision and I don’t believe that it does. I have strong feelings about things and I want to be able to describe them in a rational way. 

When I go to my blog, one word stands out: "draft". I have written a lot of posts about education. But most have been too angry to publish. Nothing that is really constructive and adds to the educational landscape. However, we now have curriculum change and a reason for me to write about the things that I am doing (particularly post-16) and share the progress of the things that I put in place. After Christmas I hope to look more at GCSE. 

2. At home
We only have one plan for the this year - getting Richard qualified and ready for Paris-Brest-Paris in the summer. It really is the culmination of ten years of cycling so that he is ready for this challenge. My main hope is that some of his colleagues recognise the achievement, it will mean so much to him. I doubt it though. We did say that we would take Richard’s daughter to Oxford to see the city and to go to the Imperial War Museum as we haven’t been for a while. When Richard is out cycling I want to work on things around the house and get over my fear of gardening. 

Richard has qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris. I haven't got over my fear of gardening. The over growth is winning every battle. I really want to let it win the war. However, in the house I am doing better. The recycling pile is increasing and I am being ruthless. We did take my step-daughter to Oxford, it's a really lovely place. A trip to London is planned for the summer. 

3. Bringing a conference/an event to Westonbirt
The head has seen me help organise activities outside of school and has invited me to replicate this in school. We certainly have the space. I need to think about this in order to bring together something valuable. It is a real compliment to be trusted with this. 

Still in the planning stage. 

4. More curriculum change
The next task at school is to embed the changes to KS3 and do more to look forward to the changes at KS5. I think that the department will need some help to develop the idea of a lab book as will the students. The changes at GCSE concern me greatly, I don’t think that the specifications will be ready towards the end of 2015, again giving teachers and publishers less and less time to prepare a good scheme of work. 

I am really pleased with how well Year 7 have done this year with the new scheme of work we have. We're teaching less in Year 7 than we used to and I think this really helped them. I worked hard on revision with them and as a result the test results were extremely high. 
I am teaching them as Year 8 in September, so I can continue to work on the new schemes. All of the curriculum change is a work in progress otherwise. 

5. What is next?
I love my school and working there. But I also feel the pull of a new challenge. I don’t know what that is yet and I fully expect to see myself working at Westonbirt in a year’s time, partly because I want to see through the curriculum changes and develop my use of 1-2-1 devices in the classroom and partly because it is a fabulous school and I believe in what we do. But I need to prepare myself for what is next. Would I get an assistant head position from where I am? Do I want one or do I want to stay more closely tied to science education? Would being an assistant head affect that? Am I good enough? Do I want to stay as a teacher?
But I also think that to look to the future I also need to consolidate. Think about what we/I/the department do really well and make the most of those things. Ensure they stand out as excellent and don't get lost amongst all the change. 

I have spent some time this year talking to my colleagues in other departments. I think that it is important to understand the pressure and commitments of other subjects if I am going to have whole school responsibility in the future. However, I am still really enjoying thinking about my own subject and working with my team. I want to work on the current set of curriculum changes and I am enjoying working on the 1-2-1 iPad scheme. I also enjoy being able to tap into the expertise within the ASE, the professional learning conference reaffirmed it's usefulness to me last week. 

Saturday, 11 July 2015

ASE Professional Learning Conference 2015

Back in January Joanna Conn, chair of NAIGS (which is the advisor and consultant subgroup of the ASE) suggested that anyone with an interest in teacher CPD should attend the NAIGs/ATSE (science ITT tutors group of ASE) conference in the summer. The date was set for after I finished my term, and I do organise conferences and have an interest in teacher CPD as part of what I do in my own department, on twitter and where my career might go, so I thought that I would go.

The first session was by Prof Shirley Simon, entitled 'CPD, what does it really mean?' This was definitely my favourite talk of the two days and the one I took the most away from. Prof Simon was obviously an expert, her talk was pitched very well for me though. It was understandable, yet also thought-provoking. (I was very glad she delayed her holiday a few hours to give us her time).

She said that moving from 'surviving in the classroom' to 'teaching for learning' (I love this phrase) was a life time's work. I have to agree. Even now, 11 years in there are occasions where my lessons are about getting through the hour and hoping the students have a positive experience, rather than knowing what I am going to do will be valuable and result in progress. I suppose the positive I take away from that is that I do know the difference. I always get the impression others are planned and perfect all the time, but I have a way to go until I am organised enough to be brilliantly prepared for every single lesson I teach.

Prof Simon said that for valuable PD it was important to learn from outcomes, that collaborative learning was important as well as critical reflection, and teachers need time to change. To support teachers in this they need relevant classroom activities, accessible strategies and the opportunity to reflect.

At the time I was struck. I should know these things, I do know them. I suppose it is just the right time in my career to hear them? I am thinking about moving to senior leadership, but more on the curriculum, procedural side (time tables, exams, policies, that sort of thing), but on hearing this I decided that despite my lesson than perfect performance in the classroom perhaps I would have something to give a teaching and learning role.

Is what we do in schools transformational to the way that teachers develop their teaching? I don't think it is. When I consider the way that CPD has been delivered in schools I have worked in over the past 11 years of my career I feel that it is far from being transformational and collaborative.

Prof Simon went on to describe some of the projects she is involved in, listening to the way that she works with teachers, schools and other organisations was very interesting. It made me hope that one day I can work more closely with a university researcher to improve my practice. Her analysis of why the work she was doing had more impact on some teachers than others was interesting too, again going back to reflection and collaboration.

Next was a session by Paul Clark who examines international qualifications for Edexcel. He went through examples of exam questions that require students to have done the practical. I am more confident that students who have done the practical work and learned from it and about it, will have a greater advantage than those who haven't in the new qualifications. It also made me acutely aware we need to discuss practical skill development with Year 9 students when we start in September. I would also advise any reader to have a look at the examiner reports of international qualifications.

I wrote the following questions at the end of the session.

  • can students apply their theory in context?
  • do students know how to use pieces of equipment appropriately?
  • do students understand practical concepts or are they learning them by rote?
  • just because a student has an A, do we assume they have a good grasp of all topics?
The next session I went to was excellent. It did assume more knowledge of how to deliver good practical work than I really have, so the conversation went slightly too quickly for me to make good notes in places. Prof Paul Black and Prof Jonathan Osborne both spoke about the importance of practical work. 

One set of statistics that I wrote down, and I hopefully remember the context correctly was also about the importance of practical work in increasing understanding. Prof Paul Black said that in a study involving three groups of students one group was given a list of equipment during their learning, another pictures of the equipment and the third group was given the actual pieces of equipment. In the assessment of the work those that were given the list 15% got top grades and 72% got the bottom grades, the group that got the pictures 32% got top grades and 54% got the bottom grades, and as you can guess those that were able to use the equipment 48% got top grades and 33% got the bottom grades. That sold the importance of practical work for me.

Jonathan Osborne spoke about the obsession there is about practical work, and that it is only a small piece of what we do in science education. He talked about the importance of the practical coming from what we do before and after it. He refuted that practical work itself was motivational, but that the motivation came from answering a question. His talk was compelling and makes me need to go back to the work of Abraham and Millar on good practical work. Jonathan Osborne's article in SSR is also worth a read if you are an ASE member or know one. 

The final session of the day was from Tony Sherborne. I love hearing from Tony, everything he does is so considered and rooted in theory. He talked about a mastery curriculum as he is working with AQA to develop this idea at key stage 3. He talked about assessing students before teaching the topic so we know who needs extending and who needs intervention and we can do something about it. He talked about ensuring that students get the support they need. This is something that has been going around my mind for some weeks now (after doing the future learn AfL MOOC) but I don't really have a practical way that I can accomplish it - yet. Some of the advisors in the room were slightly more sceptical than I. I saw mastery statements, that helped breakdown the key stage 3 curriculum into steps that we can use to help students achieve this mastery then move onto excellence. 

In the evening we had a great conference dinner. The social aspect really helping to make the conference something special. It was time for reflection and to meet people that I only know virtually. It was also great to be able to talk to Liz Coppard and Stuart Naylor about the day and get that opportunity to reflect. Stuart is a real joy to speak to, everything he talks about is backed up with examples and rooted in his vast understanding of classroom practice. He asks challenging questions in very non-challenging ways. Through my interactions with him I have learned a lot over the past few years. I also have to mention Liz Lawrence, Andrea Mappleback, Briony (PriSciGeeks), Chris Harrison and Pete Robinson, who were brilliant company too. 

The second day started with a presentation by Sir Andrew Carter of the Carter review. A very charismatic man, with a lot of positive things to say. However, I do believe after that presentation that he is not the person to be able to sort out the recruitment crisis in education and that power hungry heads should not have to have been given power over ITT routes in order to make schools pay better attention to the quality of teachers on entry to the profession. The whole thing made me worry about teachers.

I then went to a session by OCR about the new practical endorsement. OCR are officially my new favourite exam board. I took away that I really need to get my head around the practical endorsement, lab books, teaching and recording. But that there is a lot of work being done by exam boards - especially OCR, so we are not alone. More importantly we can be positive about practical.

If you get the opportunity to hear Brain Cartwright speak then take it. I know others who have been invited for biscuits at ofsted feel that there are good people in the organisation and I feel that Brain is one of them. 

He outlined what inspectors do when they come to a primary or secondary school to look at science and why they might do that. (The data from the school shows there is something going on in science that is different from the rest of the school). And that he is looking for evidence that the students are being taught the national curriculum, including working scientifically. He does this by looking at the work the students produce, visiting lessons and by talking to students. He also looks that schools are following the best health and safety advice. A lot of new schools are not part of CLEAPSS and as a result do not always get it right. Ask yourself, have you read maintaining curiosity and have you read the purpose of study section of the national curriculum documents? This is what ofsted are looking at. Brian's presentation was hopeful. The issue over grading lessons was wiped from my mind, he didn't mention about looking for progress in the lessons he visits, he talked more about looking for evidence of the type of experiences the students have and the the outcomes for the students, including them speaking confidently, being proud of their work and enjoying science. 

After an amazing lunch. I heard Alan Edminston talk about the update that is being given to the CASE materials. He told us that CASE is very popular still and that a few years ago a very small charity was set up to try and update the resources. The charity have now been given money from EEF  to work on let's think secondary science. I was very alarmed and interested to see the comparison (and apologies if you are not familiar with CASE as this will make little sense) between the results from the volume/density CASE test II from the students in the 1970s and the students involved in the new study. The results show a drop in the cognitive ability of our modern students. Alan's hypothesis for this was that young people don't explore the world in the same way anymore. However, we await the outcomes of the trail, which are due in the winter of 2016. 

The final session was on the SAILS project. It's about assessing inquiry learning in science. I remember sitting through the presentations by both science teachers involved and hearing their enthusiasm and wondering if that was really coming from working as part of a project that forced them to reflect and collaborate (bringing me back to Prof Simon's initial talk). The open endedness of the inquiry that the teachers had allowed the students was inspiring though. Every teacher should be working with a researcher on something, it would help all of us to continually improve. 

As the session was being lead by Dr Christine Harrison I suspected that there would be an element of participation. She asked us to come up with questions that we might ask the students at each part of an investigation. I was absolutely thrilled (and tongue tied) when Prof Paul Black complimented one of the questions I came up with! The reflection on what questions I can ask during scientific inquiry was very useful. How much time is spent telling the children what to do rather than eliciting their ideas about why they have done what they have done. Something to consider for the future. 

Then I grabbed a taxi back to London and had some food and great conversation with Andrea Mapplebeck. So useful to be able to talk to others about CPD. I know that Science learning centres have evidence that two people from the same school going on a course has a greater impact on return than just one, so being able to talk to another colleague and friend about the experience of the conference was very valuable. 

Jo and Caro (Chair's of NAIGs and ATSE) did a great job of putting together a strong conference that helped me to reflect on my role in helping the rest of the department (and myself) continue to improve. I am beyond the point now where I need to be told what I should be doing in the classroom. I am at the point where I need help to ensure that I implement it. My continued engagement with the people of ASE and the conversations it allows me to have with people who support and challenge me.

If you are a head of faculty and are research engaged, then I do suggest you look to try and attend the professional learning conference and engage with ASE.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Do the DfE care?

After the department for education posted ANOTHER dreadful version of the GCSE science subject content I am left feeling even more bereft than previously.

Do they care about what we teach? Does anyone there understand anything about science? Does anyone there have the passion to get science education in England 'right'? 

At the moment it really doesn't feel like that. 

Let's face it they have made too many changes in too short a time frame and teachers are left pushing round pegs into square holes and hoping ofsted don't notice. But even if the curriculum that has been decided on is quite a distance from perfect it is a massive insult that they couldn't even get the science in it right. 

More care and attention required.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Improving and Organising my A-level teaching

My aim for A-level this year is to make sure that students are working and learning the basics right from the start.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a great teacher at the school I worked in and I told him how it was my opinion that to 'get' A-level physics students had to first know all the individual pieces of information, but that would only get you so far, an E or a D. To get a higher students have to apply their knowledge, which requires lots of practice.

So next academic year I want to make sure that I scaffold my students from the start to learn the key knowledge they need to start the journey through A-level physics. With this they can hopefully recall it quickly to be able to answer questions. I know that this will only get them so far, application and creativity are required to make the journey up through the grades, but it should help build confidence and get them working and in good habits.

Firstly key words, I have a quizlet list of key words for them to learn on the topic of materials: And I have made longer lists with just the words for them to do themselves (I will check what they have written).

Secondly checking over their class notes. I have been thinking about this since pedagoo south west, and want my students to write Cornell Notes so that they can review them by writing questions and summarising. I think the will take time to practice, but I hope using this structure will mean that it is more obvious on how to actively review notes.

I want to make sure that the homework/prep that I set is accessible and covers all the basic information they need to answer exam questions. I have made some summary knowledge question sheets for students to do. I hope to give these out when the students get to the end of the section in the specification. This means that even if they can't do the exam questions from the start (and many can't as they are not used to dealing with many pieces of information at once) they can still begin picking up pieces of information that they will need later.

I am also writing the time that I want students to spend on each homework task so that they get the idea that I want them to work for an hour after each lesson (four hours per week) and give the option for more. I hope to encourage them to organise when they will do their physics prep (and I will work with their timetables in what I set).

Again, in an effort to prompt my students to go over their work and revise it I want to set them regular tests. To do this I have been setting up quizzes in socrative that test basic knowledge like SOC #: 16472046. This would give automatic feedback and allow me to keep a record of their errors. It will also be easy to resit. I want to use scores in multiple choice quizzes that cover the basics to keep a record of who is really struggling to get to grips with the basics so that we can intervene. I have written the points at which I want to do them into my scheme of work to help me ensure I find the time and can give the students plenty of notice.

I am also using past papers to set up examination level socrative quizzes like SOC #: 16471038. This will then help give an idea as to how far the student has progressed from learning the basics to being able to answer exam questions.

There are a lot of people out there doing great work on A-level changes. Two brilliant examples are linked in the tweets below.

Their resources have loads of practice for skills that the students will need.

This site is very useful for resources for the core practicals: which I have to work on next.

Hopefully I can strike the right balance, using routines to promote working independently.

This is all done so far, so my next step is to work on the core practical requirements, ensuring that we map the skills that will be examined into the practical work we do. I also want to have mapped the mathematical requirements against the specification topics and resource the practicing of the relevant skills. Then do the same thing for the waves topic.

As an aside, I am using Trello to keep a note of the activities I am doing as part of this project. Which I am finding useful.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Pedagogical Aims for A-level

Totally stolen from Tom Sherington I have put together the list of things I am working on for A-level.

I do usually do something like this in my improvements note book for each class at the start of the year.

1. Building a bank of key words using quizlet 
In order to get to a grade E in physics students have to know all the basic definitions, there is no way around this. Last year I spent a long time laminating key word definition cards for my ELT students. This year I have done the same thing on quizlet, but really I want my students to do it for themselves. This will help me because I will be able to see their understanding in their definitions and help them practice phrasing their ideas succinctly. What I need to do is draw up the list of words I want my students to know to ensure they cover them all. 

2. More opportunities for longer answers
My students, and I can't imagine I am alone, don't feel confident approaching exam questions where there are a lot of blank lines to fill in. I need to make this part of their experience in class so they are not so nervous in approaching this type of question in an examination. What I really want for inspiration are paper 6 questions from the pre-2008 specification. But I am not sure where I can find them now. This is probably the most under developed idea for next year, at the moment I rely on past exam paper questions and development of this skill between Easter and May when they are working to complete papers, it needs to get embedded. 

3. Low stakes testing at regular intervals
I have tried to do this before with a groups of students I was trying to move from U to E and it wasn't successful as it didn't make a difference to their learning of the basic facts (they still did no work between lessons no matter how accessible I made it). However, I think that my current students would respond well to this. It will help to encourage them to learn the facts they need to be able to start to access the A-level materials and give them confidence that they are making progress. I want to test the uni structural/multi structural knowledge students need. I have made lists of closed questions for the materials topic and will do the same for waves topic during the course of this half term. Answering them will then form part of their prep. I have also created some socrative quizzes that should be 'easy' to check knowledge at certain points in the course, such as : SOC #: 16472046  It will mean I can track failing students and hopefully work with the pastoral teams to intervene early. 

4. More practice in maths basic skills, building to multi step questions
For the first time 2/3 of my physics class won't be doing A-level maths along side their physics A-level. I have discovered this year from one student that this can pose quite a confidence problem. I aim to make sure that I am explicitly considering the mathematics I am asking my students to do. Currently I am mapping the mathematics skills in the back of the specification to the units that I am teaching to ensure I teach them too. I find that students struggle with the prefixes to unit and standard form the most, and I know that I must teach calculator skills. I have bought some resources to help.

5. Hands on practical wherever possible to encourage problem solving
I know a lot of people don't like this idea, but I did read an article about how 'experts' learn by solving problems and 'novices' need to be told something. After reading this I taught an A-level physics lesson and it rang true. I want my students to ask questions and search for answers and doing practical work brings up those questions. I feel that if students ask the questions themselves they will engage more with the answer (particularly given it has a context) and will build a better understanding. They will need to think widely about a topic to answer exam questions and learning to question is part of this. I will have a group of up to a maximum of 6 students so I can manage discussions and ask questions to get students to the conclusions I want without talking at them for an hour. In the past I have not been as good as I could be at using practical work with A-level students and I want to change that. 

6. Opportunities to work with authentic data and draw conclusions
I don't know what the new exam questions will be like, but I know that they should include working scientifically. When we do the core practicals I want to ensure I am taking more care than I have previously on making the most of the practical activities to ensure students understand how to process data and evaluate it. 

7. Develop lab book skills
I want to create a course book and have the students use it to keep a record of their core practicals. I will be relying on Alex Weatherall to lead the way here! The shape of what I want to make is still in development and very much in note form in my note book. 

8. Increase context by reading around subjects
I want to copy the idea of Sarah Pannell and develop a journal club for the science post-16 students (and perhaps some Year 11s who are keen). I also have students who have ambition to apply to some very high caliber universities. I want to make sure I am helping them in their applications by giving them a helping hand in learning beyond the specification. More than that though, physics exam questions have contexts to them, and learning more about the context of physics should help to expand the vocabulary of EAL students and practice thinking about physics in different situations for the others. The Salters Horners course does help to do this, but I would like to go further. 

9. Using prep to instil good study skills from the start of the course
The amount of work you do for a single subject at A-level is a big increase (four times) than what you would do at GCSE. In some cases turning up to your GCSE lessons is sufficient to pass a GCSE. It isn't enough at A-level. I need to get my students into the habit of working 3-4 hours per week on their A-level physics work, but it isn't easy at the start. I still haven't got this right yet. Students struggle with the questions because the amount of knowledge we expect them to use to answer an A-level question is far beyond that at GCSE. For example, changing the unit they are using, understanding standard form, rearranging a formula, knowing what letters mean, remembering a formula, understanding the context of the question (is it under compression or tension) etc etc. I need to consider the develop of my students from the demands of GCSE to the expectations of an A-level student. 

10. Use video to help give clear explanations
I want to try and expand the number of videos I have made for the students. So far I have only made resources for GCSE, but I would like to support any A-level students who need to refresh their know of a skill or key idea by being able to watch a video of me. I find this an excellent way of explaining things clearly as I can have numerous goes until I am satisfied the explanation is clear and uses key language appropriately. Hopefully I can encourage the students to do this too using showme to explain how they are doing calculations so I can see their thought processes, which will be useful assessment. 

I will try to follow up with the sum of my preparations during July.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Considering the Practicalities

I have had aspirational blog posts come under my nose recently and they have made me think, not about what if... but how?

How do we really tackle issues in a school so that there is improvement?

I have been exposed to a lot of improvement ideas over the years I have been teaching, it doesn't feel like many of them have stuck. A few have come around again though. It is the 'innovative' ones that I dislike the most.

I will start with Ken Robinson and his message about creativity in schools (despite not really in a position to comment having only really watch one of his videos). About 5 years ago we had a federation in service day and one of the Head Teachers showed a video of Sir Ken talking about schools killing creativity. I remember thinking how I did agree that some students really didn't fit into the structure of normal schooling and it would be much better if we could inspire them/facilitate them into doing something else constructive with their time like ballet dancing. (Which I believe was his example). But in this video there were no practical ideas about what this would look like. I remember thinking "all well and good, but how" and then going on to think that perhaps the children of East Bristol needed more than just a place to learn how to dance and if they didn't engage in art or history lessons dance lessons would probably represent as large a challenge. To be fair to Sir Ken, my confusion at the lack of practicalities wasn't directed at him, but the academy leadership whom I felt had never got beyond Ken Robinson the great orator. I can't think of a single thing that changed as a result of seeing that video and that group of schools seems to have swung in a very different direction. Sir Ken talks about revolution not evolution in schools, yet fails to explain the practicalities of where the money would come from to fund such a change in the way students would be educated. (Forgetting whether or not you agree with him in principle).

Classrooms without walls. Has anyone, anywhere, actually worked out the practicalities of teaching in a classroom without walls? I have tried. I taught my previous school's competency curriculum in a large classroom without walls for a 100 minute lesson per week (The majority of the students' timetable was the competency curriculum). There were three of us teaching 90 students. At the start I moved tables, organised groupings, created resource packs and basically planned to an inch of my life for this lesson. At the end of the year the three groups were taught in different areas as if they were three separate classes. (Not my decision, but of the other people who taught those lessons as students spent most of their week on the competency curriculum). Practicality wasn't considered. In science we were given three classrooms with no walls between them. That lasted just over a year. The practicalities of the timetable killed that.

Practical advice seems to have been very thin when it comes to my career. Speaker talking in ideals and emotion. "Get the children thinking", "empathise with your colleague", "use creative approaches", "raise aspiration", "encourage GRIT", "have high expectations", "close the gap", or any of those sound bites. Even things like "use more literacy strategies" are not that helpful without practical ideas suited to the context. I have read many education books that really don't help me understand how I can improve in my classroom, they just give the big idea. I need the nitty gritty.

What I want to hear are changes and plans that are practical. I need to understand their benefit and outcome and I need to be able to fit them into what I already do or directly replace something. I want to know what it looks like in practice. I need the structures and routines that the changes will mean for both me and my students.

I want management teams I work with to consider the effect on staff when they introduce a new strategy to their school. It can be confusing and patronising to be told the bigger picture without the practicalities. "Have high expectations of your students" is one. Apparently, when I started teaching my low expectations was part of the reason why students were not getting C grades. I didn't expect them to misbehave, I expected them to love learning, it didn't help one little bit. In fact it made me feel worse to think if I believed something enough it would happen, so I obviously couldn't.

Growth mindset is a good example. If all that happens is a few motivational posters and being told about the background then there is little point. (In my opinion). If there advice encouraging a change from staff praising cleverness to praising effort then this is both practical and can be implemented successfully and with understanding. If we understand that as a staff we are looking for evidence that students are spending more time on their learning as a result then we can start to realise the benefits. Moreover it can then be treated as a long term change within the school, with continual reminding and refining. If you believe that it is the right thing now, then surely it will still be the right thing in ten years time, not something to change again next September?

Perhaps I am not really cut out for the management game, but I can't just make hypothetical changes. I can't just motivate, engage, or whatever. I can't embed within the next couple of weeks and I will never tick a box by putting up a poster or creating a space in a lesson plan pro forma. I feel there is no point making a fundamental change that relies on the timetable, or on the skills of one member of staff. (Doesn't mean it isn't worth doing). The problem the change addresses will just have to be tackled again later. Finally I really don't like a strategy that requires a fanfare. There are so many variables involved in education that I don't believe that many of the things we do will cause a great shift forward.

So lets consider the practicalities in what we do in education.
(Notice no practical advice on how to be practical - how frustrating and hypocritical).