Category Archives: Designing for Learning

Die Hard…Or Not At All

Die Hard…Or Not At All

We have both lived in our small home town for 12  years. There is one route through the centre. After the first 3 years, the local council changed the road markings at a junction. You no longer had to make a right turn in order to exit the town, you just had to continue. You still drove on exactly the same roads but there was no longer a need to signal.

However, despite the fact that this change was made 9 years ago, both of us automatically signal a right turn as we approach the former junction...unless we make a conscious effort not to do so. We are not the only ones. I frequently follow drivers who signal needlessly at this junction and a knowing smile of empathy appears on my face. Old habits die hard…or, in this case, not at all.

The original pattern of neural pathways that must be triggered when approaching this junction seems deeply and irreversibly ingrained.  The flow of neural information needs to be consciously re-routed each time. This got me thinking about pedagogy, (sad but true), particularly ‘effective questioning’. Read on…

Image 1 - Version 2There is a place for ‘lower-order’ recall questions but I have been in many classrooms and settings where they are the only type of question posed to learners. Sometimes, it is just a straightforward ‘Who was Henry VIII’s second wife?’.

Sometimes, it’s the ‘finish my sentence’ variety, ‘…and the day after Tuesday is…is….hands up…anyone?’’

Then there is the ‘guess what’s in my head’ question – a recall disguised as a higher-order question – ‘How can we use Pythagoras’s Theorem in real life?…C’mon…you should know the answer…I told you last week!

Encouraging learners to engage in higher-order thinking, beyond recall, requires ‘thoughtful’ questioning from the practitioner. Of course, many of you reading this may have attended courses on ‘Effective Questioning’, ‘Higher-Order Thinking Skills’, ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ and ‘Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy’! You may have walked away with handouts of ‘levels’, ‘question starters’, etc. etc. You may even have walked away with inspiration and good intentions!

Despite the best efforts of your course presenter/trainer, it is unlikely that you walked away with a new, deeply-ingrained pattern of neural connections – unless, of course, your trainer was Derren Brown! Your automatic, habitual style of questioning is probably deeply and irreversibly(?) engrained. Effective questioning, one of the pillars of formative assessment, may not come naturally to you. Eek! What to do?

Speaking personally, I was educated and ‘trained’ in the traditional recall style. This was the pattern that I heard from my teachers and to which I responded. It is no effort for me to emulate them and think of recall questions. However, when I started to think about how I could engage my learners with ‘better’ questions, I found myself quite challenged. It was not as easy as simply following a ‘starter’ pattern listed on a handout. But, like most skills, the more I practised and experimented with formulating ‘thinking’ questions, the more comfortable I became with the process…and the results.

However, I can still slip into the habit of closed answer or recall questions, especially in a potentially stressful situation. The old neural patterns kick in and I have to consciously over-ride them.

Many moons ago, after attending a ‘thinking skills’ course, I scoffed at the idea of preparing questions in advance of a lesson, believing that any educator worth their salt would be able to create questions as needed. Since then, I’ve reassessed that view. I have always invested time and effort into preparing physical resources. Effective questions are a powerful resource. It seems strange to me now that I baulked at the idea of preparing questions to deeply engage learners with their learning. I can forgive myself because it was not part of my original training as an educator and thankfully, experience has been a wise and challenging mentor.

The good news is that by putting in the effort to design effective questions we are engaging and exercising our own grey matter in higher-order thinking activities…and I like it when educators actually model the skills they want to develop in their learners, instead of blindly following a commercially produced script. They call it integrity…I think. 🙂

OK. So, old habits die hard (…or not at all) because we may be up against forces at a molecular biology level – myelination and the like! That is forgivable. Knowlingly condemning learners to day after day of ‘Guess what’s in my head?’ is not. I echo this sentiment for every aspect of education where educators resist developing their own pedagogy because they believe they are ‘too set in their ways’. If we are are in the business of learning we need to be model learners…and sometimes we need to unlearn…and sometimes that can be tough…but in the words of John McLane “Yippee-ki-yay [ inset plural noun of your choice ]..!

For those of you who like/need to know this stuff…

*The image used  is a portion Sylvester (The 7th Doctor) McCoy’s costume from The ‘Dr Who Experience’, Cardiff.

** ‘Yippee-ki-yay + expletive’ is the character John McLane’s catchphrase, in the ‘Die Hard’ movies…when he leaps into action and violently destroys the bad guys/gals.

 

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‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

ny2 007

I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

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A Different Permission…tread softly.

In the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of entering the magical worlds of several 3-5 year old children. Some within an Early Years Foundation Stage setting in Greater London, England and others within a Foundation Phase Nursery/Reception classroom in the South Wales Valleys. 

Yes, I was invited by schools to join their EY environments…but truly entering the world of a 3 or 4 year old requires a different permission – the permission of that unique child.

Anyone who has spent time with young children will know how carefully they judge you and your intentions. Those eyes that silently glance for seconds at a time or those hands that thrust something in front of you and watch your reaction. And for every child there is a different point at which they decide to let you enter their universe. It could take moments, it could take months, it could take years. But only they can decide you are trustworthy and let you enter into their magical world. 

There are so many theories about Early Years Education, so much research, so many recognised practices and documents. All of which are helpful in terms of gaining knowledge and information. But when faced with that young learner, it is the quality of the interaction that takes precedence. The quality of those moments shared. These young children are busy making sense of their surroundings. They are busy constructing their immediate world. And, as educators, we attempt to enter these worlds and become co-creators and guides. Yet it is how we enter and how we aim to interact that can determine whether we co-construct or unintentionally destroy that magical world. 

Educational change is occurring everywhere. Advice is everywhere on how to provide enabling environments that allow the unique child to learn and develop. Yet the pressure is on to measure that development, to speed up the development, to get those children to attain and reach the expected levels. And, measurement of how this is being done does not always take into account that children and educators are people, not just sets of numbers and data to be entered into a system. Maybe, because of the types of measuring tools we use,  it can’t be taken into account. Maybe the systems have no space for the ‘human’ element. But if this is so, at what point do we lose the very essence of who we are and who we are helping our young learners to become? How do we maintain the quality time needed to build relationships, create worlds and enjoy learning moments? 

This is not just a UK pre-occupation, it is happening in many places around the world. I have been alerted to one principal in the USA who decided to take action and write a letter to parents/carers in response to the increase of testing and assessment. 

If we, as educators, attempt to enter into a child’s world purely with a measuring tape and an assessment purpose, then we run the risk of ‘treading on those delicate worlds’. There is a growing concern. A fear that ‘targets and assessment’ are becoming the driving force. ‘Yes’ to accountability. ‘Yes’ to aiming for quality. But, not at the expense of losing our souls and destroying the natural wonder, curiosity and imagination of young learners. 

So, how do we continue to create opportunities for ‘quality moments’ with our young learners? How do we stand tall and hold onto our values…because actually, for many educators, there is fear involved and a feeling that they are being ‘railroaded’ into operating in a way that is incongruent with their passionately held beliefs about learning. Moreover, what will be the real cost? 

This post is for the many educators that we have spoken with in the last few months. Thank you for what you do, often in the face of adversity and the snapshot judgements of others who are operating with a different, often ‘political’,  agenda. 

Lets hope that education never loses the human touch in the name  of ‘systems’ and ‘politics’ and can find the balance needed to inspire individuals, to help them uncover their dreams and to explore their potential – whatever their age. 

‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’  

English: Footprints, Omagh An ecco footprint h...

William Butler Yeats

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‘Quality’ time…?

It has really hit home this weekend how important it is to stop, reflect, recharge the batteries and be kind to oneself. Even if it seems inwardly selfish. A sense of self-survival and self-nuturing is necessary. All too often we get caught up in life, in work, in school, in pressures…and all too often we forget to give ourselves the basics that will ensure we can keep aiming for quality.

Life has been busy for the last 3 months. Work has been busy. We haven’t forced blogs. We didn’t want to force ourselves into writing when we were tired. We didn’t want to ‘find something’ to write about – a ‘forced subject’. We didn’t want to take our focus away from the people we were working with to fit in time to ‘blog’. That would not have resonated with our souls.

We are currently doing lots of thinking about the world of ‘online’ connectivity. The potential 24/7. The potential of a tool for learning and connecting. The potential of it adding quality. The potential of it destroying quality. And striking that balance.

Quality is going to be the focus of the next few blogs. This blog begins with a recognition that we all need to give ourselves time to reflect and recharge our batteries in order to be able to aim for quality. We found a place to do that this weekend. And we valued it.

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Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook – A Taste of Professional Development

The ‘lone’ chef!

Starters

I like to cook. Simple dishes or complex menus, I enjoy the preparation, the cooking and the presentation. However, I like to cook alone. I don’t like someone else being in the kitchen, especially if they are trying to engage me in unrelated conversation. It spoils my personal enjoyment of the act of cooking. 

(Or looking at it from a consumer’s point of view…you begin eating a favourite dessert…someone engages you in conversation…suddenly, you’ve finished…but you didn’t savour a single mouthful because your attention was elsewhere…and there’s no more! 

I know at this point some ‘food fans’ will need to recover. Take your time, take your time…)

Main Menu

Good cooking is about paying attention and being aware of what is happening to the individual elements within the meal. It is about skilfully using tools and utensils for their intended purposes but also exploring new uses. And, yes, I like cooking because it allows for creativity. Experience and experimentation. 

Cooking is not just about following a recipe. For a long time I could never understand when people would say, ‘I can’t cook. I follow the recipe to the letter but it’s always a disaster.’ I couldn’t understand this until I watched a friend of mine ‘performing’ in her kitchen. 

Many years ago, just at the beginning of my teaching career, I received a dinner invitation. I arrived on time but cooking had not commenced so I was led into the kitchen where I offered some assistance. My friend put some oil in a saucepan and turned the gas on a high flame. However, the pan was then left as she began to prepare the ingredients. I anxiously watched as the oil began to ‘smoke’ and then I had to intervene with a warning. My friend laughed and with good humour, said ‘I’m always doing that. The smoke alarm lets everyone know that dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.’ Hearty guffaw from her, nervous laughter from me!

For my friend, cooking was a necessary evil. She didn’t enjoy it and was resigned to the fact that she would never improve. There was also an attitude that cooking was about doing ‘stuff’ to food using unfriendly technology…and somehow the food always fought back and the technology would always sabotage your best intentions!

(OK educators, I guess you can see where this going but bear with me.)

Perfecting the pastry.

For me, cooking is an art and a science. Last Christmas, I discovered the science behind the need to keep ingredients cold whilst making pastry for mince pies. (Honestly, I was fascinated.) The texture of my pastry has become more consistent because I have a better understanding of what is going on in the mixture. 

Cooking can also be a kind of meditation. Engagement and attention. Three saucepans, a frying pan and an oven. All with different timings. That requires attention. It requires engagement of all the senses. It requires the right intervention at the right time – small adjustments of heat, timely stirring, tasting, add more of this and a little of that. It also means frequently dealing with the unexpected…hmm…I don’t think there are supposed to be lumps in this…! You need to be focused and responsive. 

To really enjoy cooking requires a willingness to learn. To learn new preparation skills and techniques; to learn about new ingredients; to learn about the theory or ‘chemistry’ of cooking; to learn to wield new tools and utensils; to develop resilience following the inevitable disappointments. 

And, as we all know, not only does learning require reflection but also an attitude of self-efficacy. 

Waiting…managing time…

It seems incongruous that my friend, who was also a teacher, was resigned to her status as a ‘bad cook’. There was an acceptance that small fires and smoke alarms were the norm. I haven’t seen that particular friend for many years and we didn’t teach in the same school. But as I was musing about how I might develop this blog, I wondered if she applied the same resignation to her classroom. Had metaphorical ‘small fires and smoke alarms’ become the norm? 

This is not a blog ‘knocking’ teachers. It is about how attitude and self-perception are key ingredients in professional development. Please read on…

My own kitchen disasters happen when my attention is pulled away from what I’m doing. A thirty second lapse, as I answer the phone, can be all it takes. Something gets burnt, boils over or I miss an important step in the process.

How many well-prepared, well-intentioned, highly-skilled practitioners have their attention pulled away by unnecessary interruptions. A thirty-second lapse is all it takes. Someone gets ‘burnt’, something ‘boils’ over or you miss an important step in a process. 

Hmm. I can hear some murmurings, some whispers…‘Aren’t you about collaboration? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical saying that you want to work alone?’

Collaboration isn’t about doing everything together all the time. Collaboration means that we work together to solve problems that are difficult or impossible to solve by ourselves. We use our individual and collective skills when it is appropriate. Collaboration could occur at various stages of problem-solving. It could mean collaborating at the point of generating ideas and then implementing agreed solutions individually. Or, it could be a collective task of implementing one person’s idea which they could not achieve alone – architects, generally, do not physically build the house they have designed.

With reference to my own cooking. I don’t need another person – I’m usually cooking for no more than three. This is not challenging. I can manage it alone – if I’m not interrupted! However, if I was cooking for a large number, then I’m going to need some help. As a collaborative entity we would need a whole different set of skills and attitudes, from how we would organise ourselves to how we would communicate without going into Gordon Ramsay parlance! We would have different roles, and we would have to be aware of the dynamics between us. Collaboration does not mean that we chop the same onion at the same time…otherwise the likelihood is we will both be shedding a few tears…not because of the onion but because we could be shedding some fingers! Collaboration means that we may be engaged in different tasks, which require different expertise but contribute to a towards a single outcome. (To witness entertaining (but not perfect) kitchen collaboration see ‘Cake Boss’! Leadership or Facilitation? Discuss.) 

A watchful eye…

In a successful collaborative classroom, learners develop the skills to organise and communicate effectively, managing their own learning and also behaviours. This means that if the practitioner is distracted by external forces…

(Knock. Knock. ‘Excuse me, Mrs Can’t-Wait-Till-Break-Time wants to know what YOU have done with the school’s ONLY stapler. SHE said YOU had it last!!!’), 

…then, instead of the ‘pots and pans’ boiling over, they would self-regulate for a while.

Desserts

Some thoughts. Whether you are cooking or teaching, attitude is everything. The desire to learn, to go beyond what you already know, the belief that there is more to explore and you are capable of effecting change. The anticipatory excitement before trying something new and the wisdom to see setbacks as a natural and essential part of the learning process. 

Staying safe, with your limited but tried and trusted repertoire (whether you are a fast food or a top-end restaurant) may please a certain target clientele, make life easier and massage your ego. However, in terms of education it does not model the learning process and certainly does not value the variety of learners and their needs.

Engagement and attention are key dispositions. Do you listen and observe carefully and intervene at the right time? Do you follow ‘recipes’ to the letter or do you respond to what is happening in front of you? How do you ensure that you and your learners are not distracted unnecessarily? Is this an issue in your setting that needs to be addressed by everyone? (Keep a tally of the number of interruptions – you may be surprised.)

Collaboration. If you have too many ‘pots’ to watch, how do you effectively engage the skills of others (classroom assistants and the learners themselves) in moving towards developing a self-regulating collaborative learning community? What tools and strategies do you use which specifically promote and enable learning about collaboration?

And, if you work with someone who burns toast at least 30% of the time, don’t try peer assessment, effective questioning or mentoring…especially while they are holding the bread knife! ;o)

 

Teas/Coffees/Night-cap

The skill or myth of multi-tasking. Cooking is a multi-tasking activity. It requires shifting focus between different elements whilst having an awareness of what is going on elsewhere. If that is something you genuinely find difficult because you are not wired that way, that’s OK. If you like to focus on the start and completion of a task before moving on to something new, that’s OK. It is OK but cooking is probably not for you…microwave ready-meals don’t count! 

When some people talk about multi-tasking they boast of how many things they can do, which is fine, but does quality suffer? Do they merely practice crisis management? I think that the skill of multi-tasking lies in understanding WHEN to switch focus between activities that compete for your attention and also understanding the economy of action that needs to be taken. This is the skill of an outstanding practitioner in the kitchen or the classroom. 

The finished mince pies…

 

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Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


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Good Afternoon (Two Days in Stirling Part Four)

Single Steps Learning's Stirling Adventure

Re-caffeinated, and accompanied by the sound of screeching of brakes, we arrive at Riverside Nursery. It’s great to see Jackie Elliot and Lorna McAllister again (we are late but they are smiling!). We are excited to be here. We have already seen the ‘Documentation’ (annotated and pictorial record of learning) and we have been invited to observe the children collaborating in order to solve a problem. 

They receive a phone call from ‘The Zoo’. One of the animals has escaped! Can they help return the animal (represented by a soft toy), negotiating a series of obstacles…and without direct ‘hand’ contact. 

There is an assortment of resources that the children could use. They are immediately engaged by the scenario and ideas are flowing freely. Resources are chosen and one group settles on using some ‘tools’ to lift the animal into a carrier bag. Using a combination of readily available classroom materials, the children successfully cross a ‘river’ and a ‘swamp’. There is much celebration followed by a ‘debrief’ in which the children reflect on how they solved the problem and interacted with each other. 

Debrief with nursery children sounds a bit ominous and formal but it is a brief reflection and exploration of their learning. Unfortunately, we have seen, in a discussion forum of a national publication, disparaging and mocking comments about asking Early Years children to reflect on their learning. But isn’t this what ‘good’ parents do naturally – question, discuss, show interest and value the thoughts of their offspring? So why would we do anything less? The perception that the educator’s role is to fill empty heads with important stuff is still one of the biggest barriers to effective learning – but not in Riverside Nursery!

The careful questioning we observed, guided the children’s thinking and enabled them to ‘crystallise’ their experience into something tangible. There will, of course, be different learning outcomes for different children – some will be able to articulate reasoning, some may only be able to recall events and feelings and yes, some may not be ready to engage fully. However, taking part in the ‘ritual’ of valuing experiences has to begin somewhere – do we wait until children formally understand all the concepts of a birthday celebration before we allow them to take part in the ‘rituals’? No, we don’t.

We then have our own ‘debrief’ with Jackie and Lorna, who are modelling high quality learning themselves, using collaborative tools and strategies to develop reflective practice within their setting. Thank you both!

We leave the nursery building at a respectful walking pace, run to the car, then back to Bannockburn and Park Drive Nursery. The ‘Drive’ was easy…the ‘Park’ was more difficult. We arrive just as children are being collected…not a parking space to be seen…

Eventually, we meet with Jackie Dupont, discard our coats and bags and have a tour of the setting. We are delighted to meet Sharron McIntosh again and see how she has been visibly recording the children’s ideas for developing their learning. There are some wonderful questions about animals – ‘Can a giraffe fit in a house?’, ‘Why does the farmer put ‘jobbies’ on the field?’

We are thankful for some refreshments and settle down for a chat with Jackie, Sharron and Head of Nursery, Joan Gillanders. Our informal chat turns into an exciting and productive brainstorming/planning session. The minutes fly by and it is time to leave. Thanks to you all for the invitation and the welcome.

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Filed under Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Effective Questioning, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Learners, Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Single Steps Learning

Killin Time

We had been warned that it would be an ‘interesting’ drive to Killin, especially with the threat of icy roads, however, no-one had told us how beautiful if would be! Dawn broke as we passed through Callander and the magnificent mountains appeared through the morning mist.

On arrival at Killin Nursery, we were welcomed by Head of Nursery Elizabeth Hancock, who is responsible for the Killin and Crianlarich Nurseries. It is also an unexpected treat to see Wendy Garner again, who had been on our training last year. 

©Killin Nursery 2012

After a quick tour, Elizabeth leaves us in the capable hands of her Early Years Educators and the children. Everywhere you look in Killin Nursery there is evidence of learners leading learning and purposeful ‘documentation’ – from the visible wall-planning to the fascinating and captivating ‘photo-books’.

 

Everyone is talking about ‘the wolf’ and it’s whereabouts. A model wolf, which had once stood outside the recently closed Tourist Office, had been removed. This has caused consternation amongst the children, for whom it was an identifiable landmark. Recognising that this was an issue of genuine interest to the children, the educators have made ‘What has happened to the wolf?’ a central focus from which the learning grows. 

There have been letters from the wolf, footprints, and sightings. The children have been investigating by asking local community members (including a bemused policeman) to assist with locating the wolf. 

We overhear a fascinating discussion between some children about how high a wolf can jump. There is higher-order reasoning going on here. One boy knows how high his dog can jump and estimates that the wolf is a similar size, so, should be able to clear a fence. 

On seeing us standing nearby and listening, one boy grabs my hand and leads me over to the wall. He excitedly points out his map amongst many.

‘This is where the wolf is. This is where we went looking!”

He then proceeds to tell me about all the other maps and who they belong to…ending the conversation with,

“But don’t be scared. No need to worry. The wolf only comes alive at night. He sends us letters then.”

There is a real feeling of community with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about learning…from learners of all ages! Thank you Elizabeth for our invitation. We look forward to a return visit in the not-too-distant-future. 

©Single Steps Learning 2012

By the way, Andrew used to be a werewolf but he’s alright noooooooooow!

 

 

 

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Filed under Community Learning, Creativity, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Embedded CPD, Passion, Practitioners, Problem-Based Learning, Single Steps Learning

Cap’n’s Blog. Aaarrr-date 30.01.12

Ahoy there shipmates! . I have pledged Cap’n Williams to make this entry in the blog ‘fore the sun sets…otherwise I have to forego my ration of grog! No Blog, No Grog!

‘Twas a blustery afternoon when we weighed anchor in Bernadette Brandsma’s Primary 2/3 Class in St Mary’s RC Primary School, Bannockburn.

We were a wee bit late (as we had become becalmed at Sprinkerse Industrial Estate), so we slipped into the back of the classroom quick smart, as the children were reviewing their previous learning, which, by now you will have guessed was about….Pilates! Oops…sorry…that should be Pirates…how could I forget the ‘arrrrrrrrr’!

Well learning-lubbers, what a collaborative crew, to be sure! The children worked in teams on a carousel of activities – identifying and labelling parts of a pirate ship; a pirate code of conduct; and job descriptions for the crew members.

As we we wandered around the deck, we witnessed brainstorming and recording of ideas, discussion and decision-making. We chatted with the crew, who were all thoroughly engaged with their ‘dooties’ but politely and knowledgeably enlightened us. They all knew their roles and one young bosun even gave me a quick tour of the cabin…er…classroom.

Then, just as we had gained out ‘sea-legs’ it was time to put into port. But wait…what’s this…the crew mutinied and wouldn’t disembark. They wanted to show us their treasure!!!

Quality Learning

The children had made their own treasure chests filled with ‘valuables’. They wanted to explain the personal significance of the precious contents – pictures, small toys etc. It was very touching and we felt privileged to experience such enthusiasm and engagement.

Thank you to Bernadette and the whole ‘crew’ of St Mary’s for a wonderful afternoon…but particularly the amnesty from a flogging for our tardiness!

But that’s not the end of our yarn…with course charted (sat-nav) and a fair wind in our sails we headed for Linlithgow and the company of our good friend Maria, who had just celebrated her ??th birthday and is now a fully qualified instructor of Pirates…oops….sorry, I meant Pilates. Congratulations Maria. Avast! Yo,ho,ho and a bottle of rum…or in Lynne’s case, Pinot Grigio!

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Filed under Coaching, Designing for Learning, Embedded CPD, Primary, Teaching