All entries for Sunday 10 October 2010

October 10, 2010


I've spent this morning trying to get my head around APP (AKA Assessing Pupil's Performance). This entailed getting lost in the endless maze of documents on the National Strategies website - almost every page I went to linked to another 4 or so which looked equally useful! For my future reference, I think the main documents are:

1. The APP Teacher's Handbook. ( Explains what you are supposed to do and what it's supposed to achieve. 

2. The Standards Files. ( These contain enormously detailed examples of pupils who are working at various levels, the evidence and the interpretation which puts them at that level, and the targets set from it)

3. The A3 and A4 versions of the Assessment Guidelines. The A3 version ( is an enormous grid with the levels 2-8 down the side and the strands of maths across the top. The A4 version ( has the strands of maths across the top but only 2 levels down the side: so teachers can pick one page (eg the level 4/5 page) and see what has been done and what needs to be done next, for an individual pupil. 

My understanding is that APP was developed when the Year 9 SATS were abolished. All the documentation I have looked at in detail is for KS3, I've come across stuff for Primary too. Is there any for KS4? The Government wanted a new way to assess pupils, one which would be used to track pupil's progress across KS3. They recognised that pupils generated mountains of evidence and wanted to find a way to use it. All without adding significantly to the teacher's workload.

It started with a Pilot over some schools, one of which I believe is Smith's Wood Sports Colledge, Solihull, which is relatively near here. The pilot was very sucessful. It's detailed in a book, which I thought I'd written in down in my long list of "extra reading" that I like to do. I've got all the books and con't find it so I'll have to ask Jenni which one is is again on Monday! After the Pilot, it was developed for use across the country and copious amounts of support material is available to help make this happen. However, it's been far less successful that expected. Not many schools have taken it on, many that have hated it. From the reading I've done, I'm pretty sold on the idea but there are some hints throughout which may explain why it hasn't been popular:

1. APP is not a bolt on to existing assessment practices, it is intended to replace it entirely. 

If the teacher/department/school finds their current assessment methods to be successful then they would see no reason to try this one which may or may not be as good, and may or may not be replaced with another one (especially true now there is a new Government who is likely to make changes). 

2. "It's not a quick fix, it shows it's value over time".

So it will need to be tried out for a long(ish) and unspecified length of time before the school will be able to know or prove that it was actually a good idea. I can especially see problems between senior management who have decided to trust it, and teachers who have to implement it while seeing no benefit whatsoever!

3. There were several references to "it's hard to get your head around, but once you do it really works", "it's likely to take a significant amount of time to ... allow overall judgements to be made", "it's a steep learning curve". 

So not only are there few benefits short term, it will be time consuming and difficult to actually do! Plus the mountain of documentation to read through makes it look offputting. 

I really like the look of it though. It's related to AfL (which is where I think the next bit comes from) and splits assessment into 3 catergories: day to day, periodic and transitional. There is a lame analogy with the Mona Lisa: day to day is like looking at the brushstrokes. Periodic is like looking at the painting. Transitional is like standing back and seeing the people looking at the painting. 

APP is useful for all three catergories although it focuses on Periodic. I found an example of how a school used it day-to-day: they gave out cards at the start of the lesson which showed what it meant to be working at each level for that particular topic. Pupils gained control of their progress and it was motivational to see how they moved up a level for that topic. I really liked this as by breaking it down into small steps the pupil avoids the big picture which is far to overwhelming to consider on a day to day basis. For transitional, it sounds great if a teacher can be given the assessment packs for each pupil (I'm picturing like the A4 Assessment Guidelines packs) when they inherit a class, or more importantly, when the class moves up into a new KS. This feeds in to what we heard in the Primary session on Friday: some pupils feel the work is too easy and they aren't stretched. I can imagine as a teacher starting low so as not to scare the pupils with the difficulty of concepts - whereas those packs could be used to look up the exact concept and see how the pupils are in relation to it. I can imagine this could get time consuming, but as a new teacher, I'd love to be able to flick through that material to see if I'm pitching at the right level. 

So, periodic assessment. The idea is that a Department will build in regular, planned periodic assessments, eg once a term. The purpose of this assessment is to step back to review achievement so far. They emphasis "review" not "assess". It's split into 3 sections:

1. Consider the evidence. 

All assessment must be evidenced, by work from an exercise book or a teachers notes from an oral activity, etc. I can see problems with that as work, especially the harder stuff, is sometimes copied off the person next to them. It doesn't mention what to do with group work etc and I imagine very little, even of the written work, has been done entirely alone, which is what I thought it was supposed to assess. Confused. 

It also doesn't say how to chose the evidence, although it does say teachers must pick and chose key pieces, the total of  which must be both "comprehensive but manageable". This sounds like it will have to be decided at a departmental level, and therefore individual teachers must make sure certain activities take place in their class to all the same evidence is created? Just in one maths department I've seen a huge range evidence produced, from a teacher who is amazing and who's pupils write little but very meaningful things, to a teacher who does a long exposition followed by an endless textbook exercise. Surely the second will have far more evidence to pick from, which helps the teacher find the good bits, but also it's not that good evidence. We've discussed in our sessions how textbook exercises slowly build up difficulty and pupils spot patterns as this happens and give the answers using these. Later, give them the hard question from nowhere and they haven't a clue as they don't have the patterns they were completely relying on. 

2. Review the Evidence

Once the evidence has been chosen is is reviewed, not assessed, whatever that distinction is, I don't know. Apparently, all the work will of course been assessed as part of the day to day assessment so this is just a review. The reviewing stage looks long but not that bad. The A3/A4 guidelines are pretty comprehensive and I can see how the examples in the standards file have been put together using those guidelines. 

One thing this stage highlights is the need to have created the evidence required or a pupil can't have a point they know ticked off. This feeds into the planning stage, now teachers/departments must plan to make sure all the necessary evidence has been created. I can see the problems this will cause: a lesson should be planned for learning, not for box ticking later on. But actually, if APP is as good as it sounds, then all their boxes need to be ticked anyway, so APP improves the planning stage by making sure concepts are covered. I guess it comes down to trust in the system. 

3. Make judgements

This section contained the vague advice that a teacher must have sufficient evidence but also must use their professional judgement. That sounds a tad contradictory to me! Their guidelines for implementing APP emphasis the need for vast amounts of frequent moderation between teachers and schools at this point. Another vital yet time consuming part. The framework for applying levels sounded pretty good: using one of the A4 pages highlight the points which the pupil has evidenced they can do. If almost all are highlighted, plus some of the next level then they get a "high level n". If the majority are highlighted then they get a "secure level n". If some are highlighted with substantial gaps then they get a "low level n". The levels are awarded for each of the 4 strands at KS3. I like this as pupils can have a large variety of ability between strands which is masked by giving them a single grade across maths. 

The tables seem really good, they clearly lay out exactly what must be achieved at each level and it's easy to read to see what each child can do and what is next. By having two levels across a page (as typically, I can imagine, a child would mainly fill one level and partially fill the next) it's clear what targets take priority to fill the level. 

I can imagine giving copies of the final table to pupils and parents. The way they contain level n/n+1 rather than 2-8 is far nicer confidence wise. It's mentally easier to aim to get across the table rather than make a small jump from near the bottom to slightly less near the bottom of a table. The way gaps are left unhighlighted shows clearly what needs to be done next, and teachers can use these across the class to plan lessons. For a pupil, it is individualised and giving it to them gives them control of what happens next. Since it will take place termly, the pupils can see the progression that have made from the previous terms table to the next one. 

I can imagine parents liking it as it has far more meaning than a single number (or even a string of numbers). One page per subject per term could be more paperwork that a parent wants to deal with though! Especially problematic with maths given the number of adults who hate/avoid the subject. 

I really hope I can see this in practice, if only as a video, as I'm not counting on either of my placement schools happening to do it. I'm still quite confused about the logistics of it and how well it actually does at all the things it claims to be able to do. I'm looking forward to reading about the pilot of it as well, once I figure out which book it is in! 

One final thought. We've been doing about how setting is bad especially as it labels some pupils as stupid and they stay in the bottom sets throughout their schooling. Also, comment only marking is way better than a grade or even grade+comments. This APP stuff seems quite level obsessed. I'm starting to form counterarguments against this in my head already: it's only termly. Grades have to be given at some point. It's intended to be a work in progress, pupils should be able to see themselves progress upwards. Etc, etc. All the same. Hmmmmm, I'm not sure. 

More Reflections on Week 1

Writing about web page /lydiaclarke/entry/team_hopper_gets/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

How my blog entry might have looked if I'd been less tired when I wrote it. I missed out a lot of good points which I'd thought about during the week which Lydia brings up here, having basically the same ideas that I had based on them. 

Developing Pupils's use of maths

Writing about web page /smithg/entry/developing_pupils_use/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Reflections on Week 1

Teaching Proof by Induction

On Monday, Graham and I taught Proof by Induction to our fellow trainees. I learnt one heck of a lot from that experience. We taught groups of around 16 for one hour, 3 hours in a row. It was exhausting. The most obvious thing I discovered is that my voice is pretty fragile! I wasn't particularly loud, and I didn't talk much but my voice we going by the end of it and I didn't feel like talking much all week after that! I've got a sore throat which doesn't really help. 

It was really difficult to teach without a whiteboard. We printed our lesson objectives on paper to hold up, and wrote on mini-whiteboards, but really, it make us less effective and was very frustrating to have a big whiteboard behind us that we'd been banned from using! I'm not sure why we were either. 

We also found that a great number of the trainees grew frustrated with knowing it all already. For many of them, they sat though 3 tiring hours and gained very little for it. During the planning stage, we were aware this might happen. We thought about finding tasks which would actually challenge those who are very familiar with proof by induction, but those questions would be based far beyond A level. Also, much of the difficulty was in the maths required for the inductive step, so they wouldn't be getting any better at proof by induction itself. We eventually decided those trainees would prefer to be taught with everyone else, and that they might pick up some dos/don'ts about teaching this topic from our approach. I've talked to a few people about this issue, and the idea of the sessions being optional came up. That way those who knew it all in detail already could spend their time working on a different area of maths they are less good at, and also those teaching the other sessions would be able to attend the others! I had at one of the other people chosen to teach at the same time as me tell me they wish they'd be able to attend my session as they need to brush up on Proof by Induction. It seems a shame they had to miss out while others who didn't need it were forced to attend. 

Having said that, it was really valuable getting to take  the same lesson 3 times. The mix of trainees was relatively random so it should have gone approximately the same each time. It really didn't! With the first group the pizza cutting proof took ages, to the extent that I think we confused people as the basic elements of the proof got lost in the long explanations at each stage. We flew through it in 1/4 of the time with the other two groups though! It just shows how hard it is to plan suitable activities. Really, I think the only was around it is to be extremely flexible. eg with the first group I thought about pausing the pizza cutting proof, to finish later, and do the much quicker "1+2+...+n = n(n+1)/2" proof instead. It's one of the downsides to team teaching, you really have to stick to the plan as otherwise one of you will be totally in the dark about what's going on (and may not agree to the changes!). 

I was quite surprised by the outcome of the "sort these statements into ones you would try to prove by induction and ones you wouldn't". It didn't go nearly as well as I expected! We tried to do it from the point of view of a research mathematician and therefore, we put in some false statements. In research, stuff just comes up and you have no idea of whether it is true or false. This didn't get communicated well to the trainees and it seemed like they thought the false statements were a stupid idea or a pointless trick. We also put in some statements which can be proven by induction, but can be proven by other methods. For example (I included this in the "Proof by Induction" follow up I wrote earlier in the week), 1+2+...+n = n(n+1)/2. Everyone put that in the "prove by induction" pile, possibly without thinking, since that was one of the questions we set them to prove by induction. But the question was "which would you try to prove by induction" and I did hope some people would say they'd use a different method! It's relatively well known, since it has an amusing (possibly even true) anecdote associated with it. 

The story goes that a young Gauss (famous German Mathematician of the  late 1700/early 1800's) was misbehaving and annoying his Primary School teacher. To occupy him for a while, he asked Gauss to calculate "1+2+...+100". A few seconds later Gauss told him it was 5050. The teacher asked in amazement how he knew that, Gauss explained that he had noticed that 1+100 = 101, 2+98 =101 and so on, through 50 such pairs. 50x101= 5050. I wrote about how this can be extended to 1+2+...+n in the previous blog post. This is my preferred method as it's quicker and easier, is more intuitive about how the numbers and letters come about, and doesn't require you to remember the formula as it falls out as you do the proof. I was really hoping this would come up in the sessions so I was a bit sad everyone skimmed straight past that one when we went through the statements as a group. 

Group work

I was relatively used to group work from my undergrad years. I never started an assignment alone, I always got together with others to discuss ideas and approaches to the questions. Crucially, though, I finished and wrote them up alone. Anything I didn't like from the group sessions, I didn't use. Any last minute ideas which looked better, I used instead without feeling guilty (in fact, I felt more virtuous for having come up with it myself). I started the course quite happy to be working in groups, and once I met my group, I was even happier as I've been given a really nice mix of people. We're pretty good at working together, but now, really, it's taking it's toll. As a group, we tend to discuss ideas then do a task individually on paper. What we write is similar but in our own style with some deviations. We still talk as we do this, when tricky bits come up, or when there is a choice between several equally good options, but we finish with 7 somewhat different versions. This works pretty well, as it avoids the time consuming decision making process we had to go through in the first week when we produced one piece of work between us. We have had problems recently when we were forced to produce one thing between us. We couldn't agree from the beginning on which of several approaches we would go for, and so didn't make very much progress (we eventually decided on one near the end and had to rush the actual task). I'm looking forward to doing something new, which is just as well, since we start our our first placement very soon! Exciting! 

I'm still very glad about the group I'm in, other groups are having much bigger problems than us, but I've really enjoyed the change of scenery that the core group sessions bring. I was really hoping before we started that we'd get to mix with people from other PGCE subjects so it's wonderful to do that! I also loved the Proof by Induction session, as I got to meet and work with Graham, which went really well. I was very lucky we wanted similar things for the lesson and that we managed to produce a plan that we were both completely comfortable with. We also thought along similar lines during the actual teaching session which gave us flexibility in how we were teaching it, I think we did it a bit differently for each of the three groups. 

I've also had a new group for the microteaching, and it's very different to what I'm used to! The group dynamic was vastly different and was quite a surprise to be thrown into. We're teaching as a group on Tuesday which will be very interesting. I have the feeling it's not going to go that well. I'm hoping this will be interpreted as being realistic rather than pessimistic. Firstly, this is our first(ish) experience of teaching a lesson, we're not going to be that good on a first attempt. I'm expecting the experience to highlight just how hard teaching is and the million things that have to be juggled all at once! Secondly, we're teaching a group of 30ish kids. We prepared for around 15 and the lesson plan doesn't scale up that well. There are also 5 of us in my microteaching group. That's one crowded classroom! We each have to take the role of teacher during the lesson which meant the lesson plan had to be arranged to make that possible. We've got a very tight schedule to stick to or some of us won't get our turn as teacher, which isn't ideal as I haven't seen a lesson yet where some small item or other isn't passed over for lack of time. Also, I'm very aware of how flexible a teacher must be with her lesson plan to meet her pupil's needs which crop up as the lesson unfolds. We won't be able to address this at all, any changes would need to be run past and agreed by all 5 of us during the lesson and that's basically impossible to bring about in any non-time consuming way. 

Behaviour Management

We've had some great sessions on behaviour management this week. Nick McIvor was utterly fantastic. He set a book as reading and it's not long before my request at the library will go through and I'll get to look at it. By the way he talked about it, I'll end up devouring the whole thing! (I love reading.) He made some really good points about the "status" of people and the way their actions and words lose or gain them status. It's helped me make sense of some of the interactions I've seen between trainees, very interesting what some people have been doing! From a sociology/psychology point of view our maths lot are fascinating to analyse as we've established patterns of behaviour by this point. 

We had a great session on Friday, the first taken by my lovely personal tutor as Jenni was not in. We were given roles of pupils in the class, and some of us took turns being the teacher and taking a starter activity with that class. It was interesting to see the outcomes. The pupil who couldn't read followed almost nothing but this went basically unnoticed. The teachers pet was vocal but easy to control, the girl who asked inappropriate questions, less so. Most useful  to me was the boy who volunteered answers without thinking it through, and so would get it wrong. He took up a disproportionate amount of the teacher's time as she'd carefully examine his answer and lead him through the reasoning to the correct one. I've seen pupils volunteer incorrect answers a lot in real lessons and always assumed the child got the question wrong because they didn't understand, not that maybe they hadn't thought sufficiently. I can see the value of the "no hands up" policy at this point - he'd have time to think about it, and the likelihood of him being picked to answer is much smaller, saving the explanation time that he doesn't actually need. I'm not convinced pupils can be that easily categorised but it's likely some will do this at some point so the "no hands up" blanket ban will help reduce the effect, no matter which pupil take that angle. 

On Wednesday, we had an awesome lecturer I'd never met before talking to us about creating an atmosphere for learning. I didn't learn much new as I'd done copious amounts of research on this over the summer but it was great to see the main points and to have him confirm lots of my ideas. I told friends and family over the summer that I won't shout as a teacher. Most reckon I will, even though I'm not a shouty person now, simply because that's what teachers do. I imagine I'll get loud certainly, I'll need to be heard. Shouting differs from being loud in the tone and harsh quality of voice and that's something I'll avoid. People reckon I'll run out of patience or lose my temper. I'm recording my expectations of myself now to see how much this changes after I've been teaching day-in day-out later in the year. At the moment, I seriously doubt I'll ever lose my temper. I so rarely have done (and mainly did as a stroppy teenager, aimed at my parents). If something is annoying me, I tend to bottle it up and simmer under the surface. I especially don't react to things that annoy me. I'm quite a reflector so I like to think about the best way to react rather than to actually react. This may cause problems teaching wise so I need to be careful to have plans of action for almost every behaviour problem which could come up so I don't have to think about how to react. That will help me stay consistent anyway.  

In the afternoon we had a lecture by a voice coach. I'd started the course really looking forward to something like this, I think my voice needs working on a lot. Very unfortunately, she spoke so quietly I couldn't really hear her. There was also a hand out, which I don't really understand, I think it was intended as a summary of the lecture but as I couldn't hear it's the first time through the material for me. The room had 300 rather restless people in which I think was rather difficult for her, she had to put her hand up for silence an embarrassingly large number of times.   

Getting into the swing of things

I'm really feeling at home on this course now. My group have sat at the front this week and what a difference that makes! I can hear, I can see, and I've been way more engaged with the session leader. From the back, it felt more like watching a lesson take place from a distance and following what is happening. It's something I'm really going to have to take into account in my lessons, especially the simple logistics of if someone can see or not. During the many fruitless occasions of not being able to see a thing and not following what we're doing, I've instead counted the people in front of me. Every line of vision to commonly-looked-at points in the room had 4-6 people in the way. At 5'0" I'm most probably the shortest on the course, and almost every set of people in the way has included someone in the ~6' catergory which chopped off even the top of the board from view. The difference in heights will probably be even more pronounced within teenagers due to individuals different paces of growth. 

The fatigue is setting in already. I don't think it's just me, as a group, concentration has been really low, especially in the afternoons. We finished early twice this week, once due to poor concentration and once due to Jenni not being in. It was a complete relief to be leaving early! The strange thing was, I used that time to tidy the house, buy food etc, and the effect of sorting out my life made me actually accomplished far more in the evening and so my total number of hours' work for that day is actually higher. Strange...

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