Losing some of the best – retiring teachers as a wasted resource

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There’s been a bit about this in the news recently, however I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Nicky Morgan has muted people coming back into teaching once retired.The typical Twitter response I’ve seen is ‘Don’t be ridiculous. When I retire I don’t want anything to do with teaching’. However, having sat through a leaving ‘do’ at the end of the academic year a couple of weeks ago I think we’re missing something.

There are some really excellent, experienced, inspiring teachers leaving teaching. The day they leave all their knowledge, years of classroom experience goes; an overnight resource loss. Some of them however are not of the opinion above. They don’t really WANT to stop teaching. They love the kids. They love their subject. They love their job. They are years of ‘research’ without any written papers. I know for some people that’s hard to believe but they will really miss school. These are the people we need in education. 

So why are they going? Even in an amazing school like mine it’s not just about being in the classroom with the kids. Teaching is so much more. It’s tiring. It’s draining. And for some, learning more new systems, pedagogies, administrative tasks is just too much. 

So what can we do? We need to think how we can use this huge wealth of experience and knowledge to out students’ advantage. A teacher who the kids love, remember for ever, inspires and has helped students achieve excellent results should not just be left to walk out of the door.

Let’s start thinking of practical, manageable and effective ways of utilising these invaluable resources. These amazing teachers who have inspired for years should be able to continue to inspire without continuing to be full time teachers.

Any ideas?

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When did teachers start to think that all children can’t succeed?

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I regularly see tweets on Twitter proclaiming that “All can succeed” and learning should not be limited for any student and from a few years ago “Every child matters”. To some extent I include any ‘Growth Mindset’ references in this.

These annoy me. I’ve never thought any differently, and I have to assume that all teachers have at some point in their lives, thought the same. I believe that all students in front of me can and will learn whilst in my classroom. No excuses. No growth mindset needed; they will. And everything I do will support this expectation.

 So, it leads me to ask when did some teachers start to NOT believe these things? Why have they been highlighted as so important that teachers are pronouncing them almost as though they are controversial views? When did teachers stop thinking that all the children that they teach can learn/achieve and/or make progress?

We have to start with an assumption; when someone becomes a teacher they think all children are the same in terms of being able to be taught  or at least believe that all students, regardless of any subgroup they may fall in to, can learn.If not, why would you bother becoming a teacher?

I want to consider what might be happening inside education that means that these tweets are favourited a thousand times instead of ignored as a basic principle that doesn’t need a tweet, a bit like “You need to air to breathe”.

ITE

I haven’t been involved in teacher training for a while now. Is there something happening in training that is giving teachers the impression that all students can’t learn or achieve? In particular, how are the follow points presented to new teachers?

Differentiation
This term has become a bit of an angst for teachers. It’s developed a sense of foreboding as something than can never be done properly and usually takes hours and hours of time to prepare. Could the concept of differentiation have made teachers believe that because all students are different and we have to cater individually for them, that some cannot achieve? There is no differentiated intervention that will work for every individual?

Use of data

Could the large amount of data teachers are given, give teachers the impression that some children won’t succeed? If they fall into so many categories whether it be SEN, PP, LAC etc, then maybe they are impossible to teach? Or their learning will be limited in some way?

Alternatively, there has been a pressure on teachers to create data to track students and compare progress of groups. This in itself has given the impression that there are groups that aren’t achieving or progressing, rather than looking at individuals. It then follows that if a teacher happens to have a large group of these students in their class, then they may believe that they may not be able to achieve or make progress compared to other students. Has our grouping of students given some teachers the belief that some students aren’t as ‘good’ as others?

The concept of progress

The concept of progress has been skewed and oversimplified into sublevels. At GCSE the notion of probabilities has  dominated what equates to progress, this means other less measurable forms of progress is either not seen by the teacher or in worse cases disregarded by the teacher. This is also blurred by setting “challenging targets” rather than looking at individual students and what their own challenges may be. Sometimes challenging targets see to be more aimed at the teacher to achieve with a class than what an individual student can achieve. Has all of this meant that some teachers don’t see the value of progress achieved by all students in its many forms? If it doesn’t track on a progress spreadsheet then it doesn’t exist or matter? If it isn’t a ‘C’ or above it isn’t worth anything and thus worthless?


Experience of children

Or perhaps these teachers went into teaching believing all students can learn but have been faced with students who don’t seem to want to learn? They don’t seem to want to listen to everything the teacher has to say or do what the teacher tells them to do so, in the teacher eyes cannot learn or be taught.

Vulnerable groups & targeted intervention

Has the practice of intervening with groups of students created its own issues? I remember when I first started teaching that people always spoke about “boys” and how they underachieved and there were courses and books that told you how to redress the balance. Was it the public declaration of these vulnerable groups a self fulfilling prophecy? Did it put into teachers’ minds that boys indeed, could not achieve?

Setting

I will admit I love teaching sets but as I’ve previously said I’ve never believed or said these things about students I haven’t allowed the concept of setting to change my practice and beliefs. However is there a chance that some teachers have been influenced by the use of setting so much that they believe that particular sets. Have more chance of learning or are more able to make progress? This is the core argument against setting and may well hold true with those who have the attitudes to achievement and progress I’m arguing against.

Blurring of behaviour with ability to learn

Finally, I think this is a strong contender. Does a child’s behaviour impact a teacher’s perception of whether they can learn or make progress? If a child does not follow what you tell them, do their homework, follow classroom rules then are their learning capabilities prejudged? I’ve seen this happen. Teachers who struggle to control a class conflate this with their learning capability. Is this why many challenging schools, in terms of behaviour also get poor results? 

Interleaving & teaching for memory; has it worked?

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At the start of the year I decided that I would attempt to use an interleaving technique with my GCSE class. A year on, it’s time to think about whether it has had any impact thus far into the course.

What I did differently 

Teaching topics

I used to teach topics like this:
I used to stick with a topic and then teach both religions i.e War, Christianity first and then Islam.

Instead I thought I would trial this model:

new Pand C

Here I’ve stuck with the religion and covered the topics and then moved to the 2nd religion. My hypothesis was that by doing it this way key concepts of the topic would be repeated the second time through, hopefully encouraging recall and embedding in their memory.

Using core teachings/quotes

I also identified core teachings from other units that I could refer to in the teaching of the new topic so students had to recall prior learning (see table underneath). The idea is that repeating core teachings that are appropriate to most topics would help them to remember them and also give a core set of teachings they could apply across the topics i.e ‘Love your neighbour’ and ‘The Golden Rule’.

Testing

I also used a method of testing as below. I used to teach then test that topic. Teach another topic then test it etc etc

interleaving

Instead of teaching all paper 1 topics then all paper 8 topics I’ve also alternated these over the 2 years to see what impact that may have.

This year I have trialled testing all the topics previously studied. Essentially whenever I test it gets longer and longer and covers all content taught thus far.

The idea behind this is that students are having to recall all previously taught material not just the topic they’ve studied. The theory is that if I hadn’t done this the content from September may easily be forgotten.

Testing keywords

Finally I have continued to use a strategy that I’ve used for many years now; keyword tests every fortnight. For each unit students have 12 keywords that they must know the meaning of. There are 8 units so they need to be able to recall 96 keyword meanings. Due to the nature of the mark scheme it is safer for them to learn the definition provided by the exam board so I issue them with these lists and set it as a ‘perma’-homework to learn them.

I then test them every fortnight on the keywords that belong to the unit we’re studying. I record their mark out of 24 and ask them to nominate one word that they need to work on each time. They have to increase the number every fortnight and occasionally I make a minimum number they must achieve. If they don’t they spend time with me to go through the definitions.

keywords

This shows how they increase their score each test (or not)

I did a small-scale research on this technique a year ago which looked at their attitudes to the homework & testing. This showed that many of them didn’t actually do the homework but knew the test was happening so briefly looked at the sheet before the test. This was enough each time to usually get them through.

Evidence

Students have just done a ‘mock’ exam which covered 4 of the unit studied this year.

Here is a summary of my group’s results:

markbook2

Each unit is out of 20 marks. The colour coding is relative to the student i.e. green is their highest scoring unit and red their lowest.

The units are in order of teaching.

Here is the other group’s results. They have done the testing in the same way but not the other strategies in the same way I have.

markbook6

Hypotheses & analysis

It would be unwise to suggest any definite correlations between action and results but I have some suggested hypotheses based on the mock exam results:

  • Students did better on the first unit because:
    • They remembered it best as the content has been repeated multiple times through repetition of core teachings
    • I taught it ‘better’ (whatever that means?)
    • We spent more time on that unit
    • They’ve been tested on it four times
    • The questions on that unit were more accessible than the others
    • They answered that unit first in the mock exam when their thoughts were fresh and hand didn’t hurt from writing
  • Students didn’t do so well in the last unit because:
    • We rushed it
    • They didn’t revise it (as much) because it was the last unit we’d done
  • Students didn’t so well in Peace & Conflict because:
    • Some say they didn’t like it as some of it was ‘History’ and they don’t like it
    • I taught it using the new model as above and this hasn’t worked
  • Most students improved from their previous scores on the first two units ( green arrows) because:
    • They’ve been tested on these topics the most
    • The questions were more accessible
  • Overall the majority of students got full marks on the keywords and none misanswered a question ( i.e. they didn’t understand what the question was asking due to not knowing the keyword in the question) because:
    • They had done keyword tests every fortnight
    • It was their homework to learn them
    • They were the ‘easier’ keywords on the specification

Looking at the two groups the difference is stark. The group that have had these strategies used did better on the first topic (mostly green) and the group that didn’t do them did better on the last topic (mostly green).

Here also is how the students did in this test compared to the last test which only had the first 3 topics:

Green = Increase Yellow=Same Red = Decrease

Arrows = Green = Increase
Yellow=Same
Red = Decrease

This shows that whilst the first topic is generally their best, it is increasingly getting better. This looks similar for the second topic as well.

Questions & next steps

I have some questions that will be interesting to see the answer to in the next 9 months.

  • Will students get better at the latter topics the more they’re tested on them?
  • Will all topics ‘even out’? Or will there always be topics that are better written?
  • If I spent the same time on the following units as I did on the first would that have improved results? Should I spend longer on units with less time for revision at the end of the year?

Next year I will do the following:

  • I will trial another unit using the technique of teaching by religion and see how that goes
  • I am sharing with students some of the reading that I’m doing on memory and trying to show them how it may help them
  • I am focussing on revision and what it really means for them. Teaching them techniques to help with memory.
  • Due to time restraints I can’t fully follow the model of testing all units as this will now be over 90 minutes each time. I will now rotate testing the units.
  • Analysing the difference between marks in each unit. Can I close the gap between units?
  • Focus revision on the topics they need to, using their year 11 mock results
  • Carry on with the keyword tests

If you have any further ideas about what the results might show or what else I can trial then please feel free to comment.

What’s fun for you may not be fun for me – Why I don’t plan ‘fun’ lessons

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“Miss is this going to be a fun lesson?”

Students have asked me this throughout my career. My theory is that they only ask it when they’ve come from a lesson where they have felt it was fun and usually where they did no ‘work’. I may be wrong. Next time I’m going to ask them what they just did the lesson before. It’s never asked period 1 unless it’s the last week of term.

However my response to them is “My fun and your fun are probably two different things”. Being an RE teacher I want them to a)understand that there are different views of what is fun and b) I don’t deliberately plan ‘fun’ lessons. Fun may be a product of the lesson but not the purpose.

Some of you are probably thinking, ‘what a grump!’. Whilst I am a grump I think as teachers we should have it clear what our aims are. We are not entertainers we are teachers. There are plenty of times when students AND I have a laugh. Sometimes several minutes of hysteria when someone says a classic like “Miss, is Africa in Europe?” and “Miss, I’m impotent!” (We were discussing the omnipotence of God).

So fun isn’t avoided or stopped but it certainly isn’t planned for. 

Sometimes people conflate ‘fun’ with ‘engaging’. I think I do plan lessons that I students can access content and engage with it. This comes from my knowledge and experience of children and how their brains process new material. I like to believe that I know what interests them and how I may ‘hook’ them in. However the value of the ‘hook’ must outweigh the use of time; it shouldn’t take more time to use the hook than the potential learning value of it. 

I also suspect that in many cases when they use the word ‘fun’ they mean ‘no work’. That in itself is interesting. They often mean no writing or not using books. This is why I worry when people use writing as a punishment. Is it reinforcing negtivity around written work? I digress…

So overall if you come to my lessons, you will sometimes hear laughter, some times students say ‘that was a fun’ lesson but essentially my job is to ensure that they’re learning. They can plan their fun in their own time.