Teaching to the top

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Teachers are still asking on forums and social media how to differentiate and sadly observers are still expecting to see multi-task differentiated activities.

Other than the ridiculous amount of time that would take, which isn’t sustainable, one reason I dislike the multi-activity approach is that there is good chance that the different groups might not be learning exactly the same thing. At GCSE they need to all know and do the same thing, so why wouldn’t you help them to do this?

So I don’t teach in that way, I teach to the top. I want all students to learn the same thing and be able to to do the same thing. Whilst they may not all succeed at the same level, they are exposed to what is needed to access the high level material.

The amount of differentiation involved is minimal. It usually comes in the form of suggested structure (optional as some like to develop their own style) or sentence starters. These are optional and the ‘take it or leave it’ manner in which they’re presented means that there is no stigma or compulsion to use them.

With many classes of books to read and mark I’ve considered how I might reduce workload but keep it meaningful.

In the past I’ve used different ‘levels’ to show a student how they’ve met or not met the criteria. Here is a GCSE example:

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It shows what they’ve done according to the mark scheme and the marks linked to it. The EBI tells them how to improve. I don’t think students really engaged with these, they just looked at the marks and when told to improve did the minimum as described in the EBI. The mark scheme is also simplistic and lacks the exact things students need to write a good answer.

However, this year I have considered that the steps towards top marks are superfluous. I want to know if they’ve done what is needed or not. We’ve also dropped ‘all’ grades and marks so I’ve adapted this to a ‘done’ or ‘not done’ model.

 

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This makes it very clear to the student when they get their work back what they’ve done and need to work on. I’ve also gone from using the exam board mark scheme to more detail that makes an overall ‘good’ answer. For example, the mark scheme doesn’t mention quotes but good answers will include them.

Last week a student asked me why I need the ‘not done’ column and couldn’t we just tick ‘done’ or not. He suggested that when they do their improvements they could then tick the gaps. It was a really good point which I’ve pondered but not actioned. I think I like the tick list of ‘not done’ as they stand out more than leaving gaps.

The aim is for all students to do everything needed in their answers. It’s really clear what they need to do and they’ve now stopped asking about grades. There’s only one standard I expect from them and that is the ‘top’ standard.

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Why I love my job

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Those people that really know me, know that my realistic/pessimistic views sometimes shared on social media aren’t a true reflection of what I think about educational and teaching.

I love being a teacher and can’t imagine that I will do any other job. 

I am lucky that I have always loved teaching. Through some very challenging contexts, the best part of my day has always been with students in class.

I love discussing big questions in life with students. They ask brilliant, though provoking questions that I cannot answer. They bring points of view that I haven’t considered.

I love having a laugh with students. I don’t mean my lessons are fun. I mean laughing at the same things, sharing a humorous answer or random personal anecdote shared by a year 7.

I teach 19 classes and I love it. Some students say ‘thank you’ at the end of the lesson. It makes a difference.

I love marking their work. I find it fascinating what they write. It is a great way to show that I value them and their work. 

I love my classroom. Everything is in its place. I once worked with someone who said it doesn’t matter if teachers don’t have a room, I cannot disagree more. 

And even in times of change, I’m loving the new GCSE and its challenge to my subject knowledge. 

Finally, many years later, I see ex students creating their own lives, travelling the world, becoming parents and living  their own lives. Once in a while they let me know how our lessons affected them, even today.

Don’t be fooled by what you might think about me. I’m proud to be a teacher. I love my job.

The Great GCSE religious studies hoax

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Around the country, students and teachers have been hoaxed. They’ve been made to believe that GCSE religious studies is, and should be, studying philosophy & ethics. Symptoms of the hoax seem to be that all they want to teach is philosophy and ethics and their reaction to teaching religion in depth, is one of horror and disgust.

A bit dramatic and a bit of click-bait but I think the world of RE has a huge pending issue that needs to be discussed…

The cause 
The current popular non- religious text/pure religion specifications seem to be a mix of social,moral,geographical, historical issues with some religion in to allow it to be called RS or it’s mainly philosophy and ethics. There are many teachers who seem to be mourning the loss of these. They’ve lost a grasp what religious studies should be; the study of religions. The new specifications (from what I can see are still 50% old style anyway) will challenge teachers to update their knowledge. This can be scary but there is a great network of support for subject knowledge including cheap confer end such as the London RE Hub and forums with kind, members of faith who are willing to answer questions.

Graduates that come in to teaching RE can come from a variety of backgrounds. If their degree and/passion doesn’t lie in the study of religions then a course which does this may not appeal. It is natural that philosophy graduates will want to teach philosophy. 

Implications 

There are teachers that seem to think that the new focus on religion is ‘dry’ and even ‘boring’. Unfortunately I come from the un -pc, unpopular stand point that it is a teacher’s job to make content accessible to students. If a teacher thinks that this GCSE is the worst ever subject they have to teach, then it may not come as surprise that the children pick up on this. 
I think that the confusion of what religious studies is, is yet again another way to undermine it. The RE world is so disparate and this divides even further. 

Solutions

Of course, one of the simplest solutions would be to have a philosophy GCSE but we know this hasn’t happened. Probably a good job as there will be many teachers around the country trying to justify meeting the current law on RE with it. 

In the mean time I hope that those who dread this new GCSE, spend some time reading about religious stuff they need to teach. In my opinion it’s absolutely fascinating.

“Trust teachers to get on with it”

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I often hear this said; let teachers get on and do their job.

Whilst I agree in many senses from the perspective of a teacher, from the perspective of school leaders I’m not so sure.

Do teachers actually know how to ‘get on with it’?

It’s un-pc on forums and social media to even suggest it. It’s rarely discussed, almost taboo but there are teachers for whom letting them ‘get on with it’ might not be a good idea.

I ‘ummmed’ and ‘ahhhed’ about writing this blog and then someone on my Twitter feed retweeted this blog post about giving staff a loyalty card to track their CPD. It convinced me that this needs to be discussed amongst leaders.

Is it possible to leave teachers alone to do their own thing and just “trust teachers to get on with it”?

I think the very fact that this system has been established is because there are teachers that don’t engage pro-actively in their own CPD. They don’t take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development, they need to be cajoled or rewarded.

There are also teachers who don’t know how to speak to children, who don’t know how to foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, don’t know how to clear rules and routines for behaviour in classrooms, don’t know how to impart knowledge and develop understanding through effective use of lesson time. I could go on.

However it is clearly listed in the Teacher Standards that teachers should be doing these things as a minimum.

In recent years the carrot and the stick has become pay; if you do your job you can progress on the pay scale. Doesn’t this in itself support the view that there are teachers who cannot ‘just get on with it’?

I’m not sure how to finish this blog post. Let me be clear I’m not criticising the blogger’s school decision; it highlights exactly the issue that leaders have. I think that I’m trying to say that letting teachers get on with it can be both dangerous and limiting;dangerous if a teacher isn’t doing the minimum and limiting if teachers don’t see development as key to their job.

 

I teach to the test

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Apparently there are teachers that don’t show GCSE students exam papers.

Others leave it until ‘revision’ at the end of year 11.

Some show them parts of a paper but never a whole paper.

I have no shame in saying I teach to the test. I’ve blogged on it before. Not only am I not ashamed to admit this, I propose that if you don’t show them exam papers during the GCSE course you are doing them a disservice. My year 10s could sit a whole paper now and would know what they need to do (they would just lack the content).

We can’t change the fact that they have an exam. We can debate as much as we like whether testing in this way is an effective method of assessing knowledge and understanding but to ignore the fact that they will sit an exam, in my eye, is almost unprofessional.

I liken it to entering a student for a 200m swimming race and they’ve never swum 200m in any training session.

Why would you do that?