All entries for December 2010

December 27, 2010

Spiral or Circular Curriculum?

During my INSET day at my PP1 school we watched a video presented by Dylan Wiliams who asked if schooling was spiral or circular. Are pupils presented with the same material each year, with more and more of them understanding a little bit more than last time, or does it spiral: the same theme but at a higher level? One teacher in the audience was horrified by the idea that teachers could end up circling.

I've just seen it again, in some reading for my current essay: "In each successive year of schooling, we go over the same material, with slightly more students picking it up each time - not so much a spiral curriculum as a circular one for many learners". This totally sums up what I've been struggling to describe for myself. During the observations at my PP1 and SAS school, I couldn't help but be amazed that a year 7 and year 11 lesson on fractions could contain basically the same material at basically the same level. In fact, a higher year 7 set would in all likelihood, progress further during that lesson that a lower set Year 11 and so next lesson with be ahead. There seem to be two problems - higher sets progress faster, or at least cover material faster, that lower sets. A couple of years in that system and you'll have an enormous range in what the pupils have been exposed to, let alone learn. But there should still be progress, in this system, lots for the top people and little for the bottom. But next year when the top lot jump forward several steps, the bottom ones should move at least a little. Instead they do the same stuff. Maybe with more skill, more confidence? Are we playing catch-up? Pupils need a little longer but we need to move on now, don't worry, you'll meet this again next year. Then next year, thanks to the lack of concrete learning and a year of confidence dampening, it takes almost as long to redo it leaving no time for new material. 

I've also found there is an assumption that a top set will know stuff it was taught in the previous years. Equally: with a bottom set you'd best start from scratch. I'm not sure how fair that is. Certainly during my SAS placement I irritated top and bottom level pupils alike by not obeying this. I patronised a Year 11 class with a "Who can remember SOHCAHTOA?" when everyone was way ahead having correctly identified which one we needed and applying it. I also panicked a Year 8 class with assumptions of some basic thing or other. I wonder if it's a confidence thing. My darling Year 7 lower-half-of-the-year-but-mixed-ability class were quite confident and optimistic. They loved easy repetitive activities involving simple sums but also didn't hold back telling me something was too easy! They still shied away from though provoking activities in favour of yet more sums but with harder numbers, but that's a separate issue. My Year 10 class were the opposite end of the spectrum. They coped nicely with some more thoughtful starters I did with they which mainly relied on basic number skills. I chose these because of their severe lack of confidence with maths of substance. I was warned that, especially for homework, I had to set them very simple activities which they would be successful at. Their lack of confidence, not ability, dictated the slow pace and low level of our lessons. 

December 08, 2010

"To Mrs Knap

It's been quite a nice week so far. In at attempt to get well again, I'm doing a miniumum of work and getting lots of sleep. So I did almost nothing all weekend, which was great. Monday and Tuesday after school I went to bed, got up a couple of hours later to eat and did the bare miniumum of an hour or so's work for the next day. Then a nice early night at 10 or 11 pm. I feel more well already, although still aching with a cold, and my teaching has improved as a consequence.

I had a lovely lesson with Year 7 on Monday, we started with a mental arithmetic test which I thought would be a nightmare - I had to time exactly 5, 10 or 15 seconds between questions and they weren't allowed to call out or ask for help when they didn't unnderstand. That's something they struggle with! But they were fantastic and after we finished they sat silently waiting. I basked in the moment by collecting in the sheets myself then asking them to move back to their seats. More silence once they were back in their usual seat. I want to start every lesson with a mental test now! The rest of the lesson went really well, objectives met, pupils happy and confident, and a great atmosphere throughout.

I got my first Christmas card from a pupil, to "Mrs Knap". Married and misspelt! Adorable. It was from a very sweet girl in my tutor group and maths class. She might not be so sweet as she seems though, she knew a bit of a swear word that she accidentally said in front of me! Her endless "oh miss, I'm so sorry, I meant to say...., I really didn't mean to, I'm really sorry" and obvious embarrassment was punishment enough so I just very seriously asked her never to say that again in front of a teacher and she equally seriously promised not to. Ah bless little year 7's. So sweet.

I did the money project today with our Year 10 class. They had to deal with various bills and demands from their "children". Do they buy their daughter a new backpack? Do they let their 18 year old son get a credit card? It was wonderful how their decisions later impacted on them "weeks" later - eg if they let their son have the credit card, then he racked up a £325 bill that he can't pay so you have to. Much complaints at that! They wanted to change their mind - nope, you can't time travel in real life! Another "husband and wife" found their balance was in the negative numbers - "can we just write zero because we can't go below zero?". Nope! No bank manager will do that for you! It was a satisfying painful process for them having to take money out of their savings to cover it. A lot of them did some excellent maths without thinking about it. From another class, one couple decided they were going on holiday to Florida while their 3 kids were being sent to Cornwall - so they worked out 2/5 and 3/5 of the costs and calculated accordingly. Impressive for a low Year 10 class! I was impressed not only with the dedication to the task shown by my class but also the reasoning they came up with and how they related it to their own lives. "No, I'm not buying Sky TV for my kids, that's way too expensive! ..... my mum bought Sky TV for me, and we have extra packages." So I'm very fond of this project, as is the main class teacher so we're going to spend an extra lesson on Friday to complete the whole project (we were due to finish last lesson). I might have to make my own one of those at some point!

December 05, 2010

Reflections on Week 9

An interesting week. My most depressing by far. Still well ill. Wake up feeling really sick. Missed Tuesday as I was being sick before school, woke up in the early hours with that one starting and was still being sick by 7:30 so just gave up that day. I felt very miserable missing school since I'd planned something good with my Year 10's which the class teacher did instead. I didn't even manage to get work done at home as I was too ill. 

My lessons have gone really downhill with Year 7. My feedback, which is on the 2 stars on a wish form when it's not a formal observation, has barely had half a wish hidden amongst 3 wishes. I see why Jenni told me to balance out my wish with more stars when we peer assessed each others essays. Repeated feedback which effectively told me I was rubbish is horrible to receive. 

My lesson with Year 12 was better, I tried to be more sensitive to their confidence which seemed to work. I had a go at them about their terrible homework efforts (they write out all the questions but only occasionally write the answer after it, there are pages upon pages of questions followed by a gap. Do they expect me to write it in for them!?). Their other 2 teachers have already done this but I did it from a "I've never come across this before, I don't understand how you think you're going to be able to answer these questions in an exam" point of view, before offering to give them another chance to try the homework they were going to hand in today, because they'd get more practice with the concepts in the lesson. Many accepted (how many accepted because they thought I'd get mad at them now but have calmed down by next time, I don't know). One asked to see me Friday lunchtime to go through some stuff, but didn't show. Apparently promises of renewed effort is the response the other teachers got to telling them it wasn't good enough. It didn't work for them. 

I felt incredibly ill on Thursday and would have had the morning off at least if it hadn't been for Peter's visit on Friday (I teach Year 7 on Thursday and collect in homework). I didn't want to be formally observed in a lesson where I hadn't seen them for the lesson before - my success depends on knowing exactly what they pupils know already and how they like to think, so I would have had to start the lesson establishing that and then my plan would be changed based on that. Best avoided for a formal observation! I was rubbish, I just lacked the energy to do anything, and my illness came across to the class, who worked less than usual. The class teacher had a bit of a stern word with me about the importance of hiding illness from a class. Given I felt really ill, had just had a rubbish lesson and was being told to do something that felt impossible, I wanted to cry. I didn't, which is something I suppose.

I maxed out medications to perk myself up from Friday's lesson in order to hide my illness. It was an ok lesson, not my best in terms of thinking on the spot as my brain felt like mush. Some of my explanations were less sharp that usual and I sometimes said the wrong word out loud and had to correct it. I forgot to get everyone to write down the general rule for what we were doing, which would have been nice, and I also forgot my second learning objective (I'm not a learning objective person).

Peter was actually really great in terms of feedback. I was a bit scared as he's not really teaching the PGCE any more (all part of some plan to hand over to Jenni, I think) so I only remembered him from taking his module on teaching 2 years previously where he was a lecturer to many people so we didn't get personal chats. Some stuff he's written has come up for our reading which is what I've based most of my thoughts on. He was very different in person, actually talking about the realities of teaching and lack of time meaning we can't do everything which is a first for a uni tutor! We had a really good chat afterwards and he helped me see things a bit clearer. 

My exit question, for example. I set a question, ask them to do it without help just for me to see what they know all by themselves. I've done these 3 times and immediately after the lesson look through them. I don't mention them to the class next lesson. I chose something for it which is a key point or easy misconception eg one gave 4 triangles with various pairs of sides and angles equal and asked which are isosceles (would they realise the sides and angles have to match up? Would they know which way it has to go?). This time I did one which was far too hard, they had to go way beyond what we did in the lesson (the steps were basic arithmetic, it was the realising they were needed and putting them in the right sequence which was difficult). Everyone managed to start it, the first part needing what we'd done in the lesson. Over half got it right, through unknown methods (guesswork!?!  They had a choice of two answers). 6 of those had figured out the whole, quite sophisticated, method and written it with great clarity. I was unhappy that so many had got it wrong and blamed myself for pitching too high. Peter argued that the question allowed all to access it at some level, all to demonstrate they had met the first learning objective, and stretched some, allowing them to demonstrate just what they could do. In that light, I'm a genius for managing to do all that in one question. I think I'll aim for that with my future questions, especially since I don't go through it afterwards, or tell anyone they got it wrong. 

What was interesting what that Peter and my subject mentor think I'm stressed. I don't know. I didn't think so. I've been stressed before (a lot!). Through my A levels - would I get into Warwick? Such stress. Through almost the entirety of my degree, I felt like I would lose my mind with the stress of it all. This summer I was pretty chilled. I got stressed quite quickly on the PGCE course, the first two weeks with everything being new and not knowing what to do. Browsing the website last thing before bed, and oh, what's this page on reading? 3 chapters for tomorrow?! One available online, ok I'll read that now (shame, I want to sleep now!). 2 in books in the library. Hmmm, early morning start too, oh well. Both books not available!?! Heart attack! Will the tutors get really mad at me? Will they cite some thing I signed at the interview day and question my suitability and dedication to the course? Will they embarrass me infront of everyone by asking me something from it? Will I not be able to follow session? Horribly stressful until the 3rd week, because requested books come in a week later and so I could get ahead of the reading. I haven't felt stressed since then. I thought I would. I was told I'd have a sleepless night before I taught my first lesson. I was fine. I felt nervous for the first week or so in my school, but since then I have about 1 min of nerves at the start of each lesson before it all starts and I can deal with it and all is well. My feedback from many lesson including Friday's formal observation is how calm I sound and I'm no great actress! I really did feel calm. Also, I thought stress is supposed to be a "fight or flight" thing, in which case if I was so stressed before the lesson then I should have gladly grabbed any opportunity not to do it. I was sick during tutor period (ran out and made it to the toilets but abandoned my tutor group to do it) and so Peter offered to rearrange his visit for another day. I could have agreed but I wanted to do the lesson. Is it a subconscious VS conscious fight? Subconscious stressed and wanting to run away, conscious enjoying the challenge and wanting to be the best I can? Perhaps it's the ups and downs - the start of lesson nerves several times a day followed by the calm for the rest of the lesson - which is making me have the symptoms of stress. 

December 02, 2010

Reflections on Week 8 (is it 8 already?)

Poor reflections this week. 

I'm horribly ill. Feel like I'm dying. Standing up is a horrible achy effort, talking and making sense even more so. My voice is painful and crackling. Everything hurts. I need way more sleep. A simple task takes me forever because my head is so foggy and I'm so tired I can't just get on with it. Stuff going wrong feels like the end of the world (school's staple gun is out of staples so I have to leave my display half up). Day to day stuff like eating regularly and finding clean clothes are enough of a challenge as I have zero energy. Standing and talking is immensely difficult. 

My feedback from observations reflect how I feel - all over the place. Sometimes I explain stuff clearly, sometimes everyone is confused. Sometimes I'm organised and present stuff well, once the board was a mess. I'm got about a million things to work on. My targets for this week are 1) survive without crying/throwing up on a pupil/losing it entirely. 2) Find the stuff I used to do well and have lost and maintain it consistently over lessons. 

On Friday I will be observed by Peter and my subject mentor. I wish we could have done this already when I wasn't feeling so ill, I don't have the energy or mental clarity to hold all the components of a lesson together at the moment. 

December 2010

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