Saturday, 28 September 2013

Flipping homework!

I've read lots about flipped learning, via the likes of Bruno Reddy (@mrereddymaths) here, and Colin Hegarty (@hegartymaths) here. I like the concept but have never tried it myself... until now.

Not fully flipped but encouraging independence
This week's homeworks have all contained internet links to different resources.

One class had a link to some of the Hegartymaths videos to give them support with a topic I know they've struggled with, and then included some related exam questions. Another class had links to information about a topic we've not covered before, and the homework sheet required them to answer key questions about the topic (and the resource), then answer some questions.

Both of these classes included an extra task to find out about another GCSE topic and tell me 3 key facts about it.

To help the students to access the resources the sheets included the full internet link, they were given access to a PDF copy with a working hyperlink, and I also put on a QR code in case they wanted to scan it with a phone/tablet.

An example of one of the homeworks is as follows:

Early indications are good
I've not yet collected all of the homeworks - not due until Tuesday. However I've already had some submitted to me, and I'm really impressed at the results.

The students have grasped the key points about the main bit of the homework, and when questioned were able to go into reasonable detail.

What's more interesting though is the extra "choose your own" bit. They've chosen very different topics, none of which I've actually covered in lesson before. The 3 key points given clearly demonstrate that they have understood the new content to a reasonable extent.

Not making the classroom redundant
I should be clear that I will re-cap and double check any understanding gained via independent work to make sure it is sound and not riddled with misconceptions or really superficial. However I do think this is really powerful as a way to either consolidate a topic or introduce a new one and get a foothold on a tricky topic.

Doesn't just have to be videos
Of course I know that some people dislike the video tutorial - think the objections are along the lines that they are too didactic, possibly not engaging enough or encouraging enough deep thought? The same people are usually highly anti-textbook. While I do recognise this argument I also think there is a valid place for the straight tutorial alongside other teaching methods and approaches. For some students a traditional "chalk and talk" approach really is the best thing to do to maximise their exam performance.

It certainly seems to me that online videos can be very effective, and so far the students do seem to engage with it very well. However I should be clear that don't plan to use the same source or type of links every week.

Sometimes I'll be linking to our online textbook resources, other times tutorial videos, other times it might be a google doc or padlet  to contribute to, a news item that might be relevant, and there are a few other ideas that I need to flesh out... The power of the internet is that there are just so many different types of resources out there that it is always possible.

Taxonomy of errors
A key thing I'm really interested by is that this approach makes response to individual student's needs far easier. This links nicely to the "taxonomy of errors" approach proposed by Keven Bartle  (@kevbartle) in this post.

By spotting patterns in the mistakes made by students I plan to be able to personalise homeworks and responses far more by guiding the students to particular resources based on their needs. This kind of personalisation has always been a real challenge for me to do effectively without spending hours and hours creating the right resources, however using the power of the internet I think it becomes far more accessible.

Early days
As with many of my posts - this is early days and I'm going to keep an eye on how it progresses. Several of my department are also pushing this and developing it so there will be a large amount of feedback in a relatively short period of time.

I'd be keen to hear about others using this kind of thing and any other ideas you might have to make it more effective. As always all comments welcome.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Tentative SOLO steps

Got to be brief this week...

Learning curve for SOLO
If you've not heard of it before then look up some background to SOLO on Pam Hook's website here. Also for a quick intro watch this video.

Having stumbled upon SOLO earlier this year and used it to help structure some questioning (see this post) we are now starting to try and spread it across our teaching more widely. Frankly I'm still amazed that SOLO isn't a core part of teacher training - in my opinion it is so much more powerful than Bloom's taxonomy but that's still pushed heavily.

The first step for us was to take our department through the SOLO concept in a departmental meeting last week. We watched the video and discussed the levels. The team rapidly moved from prestructural knowledge of the name only through to relational understanding. Several of the team could identify how the taxonomy links to recent lessons... We're now looking at the extended abstract bit of this - embedding SOLO in our day to day practice. Big tip of the hat to Rob (@robewilliams79) for leading this with the team and for the vast majority of the ideas below.

Small beginnings
We're not trying to run too fast with this... We have two rooms set up with "SOLO" walls - displaying the Icons for the different levels. Further use of these is under development - we have some thoughts on using them to indicate progress through topics but they're not full formed yet.

Selected classes are also being introduced to the terms and symbols. They've been shown the lego video and are starting to get to grips with assessing themselves vs the various levels.

Some lessons have started with an introduction of some facts (unistructural or multistructural level) for example angle facts in triangles and on straight lines Then the objective has been set to solve a question that uses combinations of those facts, e.g. finding compound angles in a diagram or proving rules about angles. This has been reinforced with the students by demonstrating that they are making links between the facts, and hence moving them up the SOLO taxonomy into relational understanding.

So far so good - the groups it's been tried with are really warming to it - and it is certainly not hurting their progress. They see the structure and understand that they need to start with what they know and use that to develop towards what they need to know.

Further steps
More of the same really - continuing to develop the use across more lessons and embedding it further. I'm also keen to use it to structure & guide thinking for 3 act lesson a la Dan Meyer. As I see it Dan's approach effectively presents the extended abstract question and then encourages students to break it down to the multi and unistructural level facts and information that they need to build a solution. I see this as a good approach to breaking down this kind of maths problem, and am keen to use the solo terminology to help the students to frame their problem solving processes.

Watch this space
Realise this isn't the fullest of posts - very much a work in progress, however it signposts the next key direction we are taking and I'm keen to share it and get any feedback. I assure you there will be more posts on this as we progress further.

I'd be really keen to hear from you if you have any SOLO experience that you'd like to share or have any other comments on this.

Leave a comment or find me on twitter... @listerkev

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Rockets to A Stars

Something that one of our teachers is doing with their group - I really liked the idea so thought I'd share it...

Target centered display
One of our top set groups has this on the wall of their classroom:

Each student has a rocket, and there is also a rocket on there for the teacher. The teacher's declared target is to exceed the school record of 10 A* grades at GCSE. It's worth noting that this group has only has one student with an FFTD target of A*, the rest are A and B grade targets so this is a stretchy target to go after, but the way the group are progressing it is realistic (last year we had a target of 2 and delivered 10 so we have a precedent too).

Each student has been given a list of key A* topics loosely based on these excellent passports by Mr Slack. They have self-assessed on these lists and chosen one to focus on initially, and then written these as targets on their rocket... here are 5 examples:

Hopefully you will notice that the students are identifying how they will achieve their target as well.

Tracking progress
Shortly all of the rockets will be re-grouped at the bottom of the board, and the challenge will be that they climb up the board "towards the stars" by ticking off completed targets.

To mark a target as completed firstly they will need to do some work on the topic they have identified. Then they need to show their work to a classmate who will peer assess and decide whether they think they have mastered the topic. Only once the self and peer assessment is completed do the students then ask the teacher to tick off that topic - then they can move their rocket upwards.

Then they select a new topic, add this to their rocket and the cycle repeats.

Not for everyone
This approach requires the students to be fairly self motivated, but hopefully the visible nature of this will also encourage those that are a little more reluctant. Certainly the enthusiasm of the teacher involved and the outstanding relationship she has established with the students will also help.

Lets see if it works
If this can help us to deliver a few more A* grades for students then this approach certainly can't hurt. Even if they "only" get grade As it's still a fantastic idea. Importantly by asking the students to write down both what and how they are going to do this it requires a level of buy in that wouldn't be there otherwise.

I'm really looking forward to watching this develop - it looks like a great idea and will be the first to congratulate the teacher and students if it helps them to achieve their school record aims.

As always all thoughts welcome...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Good as a foundation for better

How many outstanding teachers are needed for an outstanding department?
I want our department to be outstanding and produce outstanding outcomes for our students (and staff). However I'm increasingly of the opinion that to achieve this I don't need to have a department full of outstanding teachers; we don't even need a majority that are outstanding, we may not even need one.

The department is a team and together we can achieve performance that is greater than our individual abilities. I think it is important to say this because there seems to be this general feeling across teaching that all teachers should perpetually strive to be outstanding. However unless you're one of the few truly gifted individuals that churns out outstanding lessons without really trying then the relentless pressure to be outstanting can be counter productive in terms of time spent planning or demoralisation when that elusive grade 1 always seems out of reach.

More than just observations
Firstly we need to get away from the concept that a teacher's ability over a period of time can be judged from a single lesson observation.

We had a range of lesson observation outcomes in our department last year, from "good" to "inadequate". However this snapshot simply doesn't indicate the quality of teaching that was really going on day to day, week by week and month by month. It also doesn't account for the fact that these observations were made mid-year, and we were actively improving various aspects of practice throughout the year, some as a result of feedback from the observations.

When you compare the yr 11 class residuals to the teacher's lesson observation ratings then the worst residual is linked to one of the "good" teachers. Conversely the teacher who's lesson was judged as "inadequate" delivered one of the highest residuals.

As I rated most of these lessons I have to wonder whether I was simply being too harsh, or whether the lessons observed really were less than outstanding or even less than good. I will certainly be thinking about that when we go through the observation process again. I am also raising the question of how to account for long term performance in these ratings across the school (I'm sure it's not just me).

It's also notable that there are departments in our school that have a large number of teachers consistently graded as outstanding, even a majority on grade 1, but our results are better than theirs. (were those observers too generous or is there something else going on?)

It's also important to remember that many staff find the whole observation process so stressful that they become effectively incapable of delivering their very best when being observed. Over thinking the plan, worrying about what the observer is or isn't seeing or being derailed by an apparently small mistake that gets compounded by nerves are all possible.

We definitely need a more balanced and rounded view of a teacher's performance, not based on Observations alone, as Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) suggests very well in this great post. See also this from David Didau (@learningspy).

An accumulation of good can be outstanding
As mentioned above, NONE of my department's teachers were graded outstanding in their individual observations last year. However as a team we delivered the following list of achievements:

  • Second consecutive school record year 11 results with over 77% of students achieving expected progress in maths (well above national average and would have put us in the top 5% of schools in our local authority vs last year's results).
  • Year 10 results that show we are ahead of prior years at an equivalent point, meaning we expect well into 80% making expected progress next year, possibly into 90%.
  • Year 8 and 9 performing well ahead of FFTD targets, and Year 7 hitting FFTD target.
  • Consistent identification via pupil voice as the department that gives the most useful and regular feedback.
  • I could continue this list but that's not the point of this post
Now I'll admit these stats may not quite fully justify my claim to be an outstanding yet - I have no external observation that can certify this. However the stats certainly do indicate that we are well on the way to getting there. These highlights are an important part of our journey towards outstanding and certainly place us towards the top end of good rather than the lower end.

The key thing we have been working on in my department is developing key aspects of practice that are just basically "good". An example is feedback and marking - we started with a wide range of practice from outstanding to missing altogether. We're now in a position where I am confident that all teachers in the department are consistently delivering good feedback. Those that may have done outstanding marking may even have been able to scale back - spending their time on other important things both inside and outside of school. At the same time the poor -markers have got a process to follow and a framework that helps them to achieve a good standard. I discuss more about this in this post

Good as a foundation for better
This pursuit of a core of good practice was acknowledged by one of our deputy heads at the start of this term. On reflecting on how the department has delivered substantial improvements in the last two years she said that she had realised that it was no single big fix, and it was nothing that was all singing and dancing. Nor was it anything else that stands out as clearly outstanding on its own. It was driven from a clear focus on consistently good practice. Do this for long enough and the combined results can be outstanding.

Part of this post is inspired by one of our long term teachers who retired at the end of the last academic year. His approach to teaching maths was to be uncompromising on the basics. His lessons were always sound, but he used no gimmicks. He rarely took any risks, and he used a fairly traditional approach, often chalk and talk. He also never dressed lessons up for observations - he simply delivered the lesson he would have planned anyway, and he was consistently rated as good. He never aspired to be outstanding in an observation. But this relentless focus on good meant that his results WERE outstanding. He helped a large number of students with E and D grade targets to achieve Cs. He secured Cs with challenging pupils through consistently high expectations. He was held in high regard by pupils and parents, and now he's retired I hope we can continue his unrelenting pursuit of basically good.

Sum of the parts
What I'm trying to say is that the sum of the parts can be greater than the apparent value of the individual bits. Consistently good practice brings outstanding results. A core of good practice with key tools and approaches shared across the department then also gives the foundation to build the occasional outstanding lesson onto.

We can't all be outstanding on a specific day in a specific lesson. Very few can be outstanding consistently for a long period of time. However I am happy to guide my team towards
just being relentlessly good, and if we keep it up for long enough that will be just as effective in the long run.

To all those good teachers out there - keep going, you've still got a great chance of producing outstanding outcomes!

All thoughts welcome as always.