All entries for April 2005

April 29, 2005

Not again

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

Another less-than-three-hours'-sleep night. Ouch. Still, the presentation looks beautiful, except the bits still missing a tiny tweak or two. Those tweaks are not my responsibility, indeed I'm incapable of making them, so I can begin to contemplate bed now. Oh goodie, I'm giving a (practice) presentation on campus in just over four hours…

April 27, 2005

Academic vampirism

Houston, we have a problem. It seems I'm becoming ever-more incapable of working in daylight hours. A whole day off and I'm just starting to think about doing actually useful stuff. The main issue with this, of course, is that the days are getting longer. I thought it was about 7:00 until I looked at the clock.

On a related note (ahem), I'm up early tomorrow – I'm off to Silverstone to watch a Formula 1 test session – which is FREE to get into! We're expecting Williams and possibly Jordan to be present. Actually while I'm talking about F1 testing issues:

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg started his job as Williams' second official test driver today (alongside Pizzonia). The interesting thing about this is not that he's the son of F1 world champion Keke Rosberg (1982), but that he's younger than I am! He was born on 27th June 1985 - it's just depressing! I mean, look at him – not even past the acne stage yet! He first drove an F1 car at the age of 17; he and Nelsinho Piquet (son of 3-times F1 champion Nelson Piquet) will both be racing in F1 by 2008, I'm sure.

Minardi

Now, everyone knows Minardi are the minnows of the F1 grid. Their annual budget has been compared to what Ferrari spends on hospitality in a year (and Ferrari's budget is actually beaten by Toyota, who have set aside – seriously – around $500 million for this year's spending!). So it wasn't unexpected that they announced their test driver would be someone who'd bring sponsorship money to the team. The surprise was that he was a 41 year-old Israeli who took up racing in his thirties – albeit very successfully, winning lots of championships in lesser formulae. The story on f1racing.net today did amuse me though (I don't mind replicating it because most of their stories are stolen unattributed from other sites):

At Mugello the Minardi team began their two-day test to learn more about their new PS05 car. Testing got underway for the Italian team around noon, but was soon halted when test driver Nissany crashed into his team mate Albers when Albers tried to overtake him.

D'oh.

Possibly more amusing is a fact slipped in by the reporter, who stated

It was the second time Nissany tested for the Minardi team in Italy. In Misano he managed to complete six laps, spinning in five of them.

Although it's easy to laugh at the guy and the way he's seconds and seconds off the pace of a regular Minardi driver, I'm willing to bet he's still comfortably quicker than the best racing drivers I've been beaten by. More proof (if proof were needed) that I'm not going to make it into serious competitive motorsport!

The same article provided a nice insight into the Italian way of doing things. Minardi's a small team, up against the wall, and they've committed a huge sum of money to hire out a test track for the day. They're running two cars each worth nearly a million dollars, supported by a handful of the best engineers, mechanics and drivers in the motorsport world. It's the first time they've tried to gather serious amounts of engineering data from their new car, a monumental task. And yet, reading the article:

We started our day of testing at Mugello just before noon. It went pretty good in the morning… At 13.00 we had lunch…

Lazy

Talking to one's housemates via MSN… the height of silliness.

April 24, 2005

F1 coverage – spolier–free rant!

Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil it if you haven't seen the result yet – and off you haven't, I highly suggest you get yourself to a television at highlights time tonight. Awesome Grand Prix, simply awesome. The most exciting closing laps of a race in a long, long time.

Things I continue to hate – sorry, HATE:

  • Mid-race ad breaks on ITV.
  • People who decide to go to an ad break with not many laps to go and the most exciting battle of the season in progress.
  • James Allen. Speaks in soundbites; is incredibly artificial and superficial.
  • Jim Rosenthal. Six Eight years into the job and still knows nothing.
  • Mark Blundell. Keeps name-dropping to convince us he was once a quick driver. Mark: you weren't.
  • ITV's assumption that every F1 viewer is only watching motorsport because there's no football on.

April 23, 2005

A little late, but…

…happy St George's day!

On another note, I'm looking forward to a fantastic Grand Prix tomorrow! Not only is there a high chance of rain, but the top 7 spots in first qualifying were taken by 7 different teams. This season's set to be a classic, 2003-style! Yes I'm in a good mood – no last-minute work today so I enjoyed a lazy day to get my head sorted ready for the last six-week push.


April 20, 2005

Education essay

The brief: 1500 words. "Discuss the processes involved in classroom interaction".

If you spot any mistakes… I don't want to hear about them! I'm not coming back to it, it's been handed in, and this isn't going to be useful in my future life. That said, I've already spotted one incomplete reference. D'oh.

The Use of Classroom Interaction Characteristics as Indicators of Effectiveness

In a report commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment (now the DfES) and published in June 2000, management consultancy Hay/McBer claimed to have isolated three factors exhibiting a strong correlation with the measured ‘effectiveness’ of the teachers observed as part of the study. These were identified as ‘teaching skills’, ‘professional characteristics’ and ‘classroom climate’. The report now forms a central part of official policy and would be instigated in plans to introduce structured feedback as an aid to teachers. The validity of relying upon these factors will be considered here, with the analytical emphasis being placed upon the secondary school age group.

The premise of the DfEE report is that ‘all competent teachers know their subjects… and the ways [in which] pupils learn’ (Hay/McBer, 2000), but that differences in ‘value added’ (as measured by testing at the start and end of the one-year study period) result from variations between teachers in the way they apply themselves to their profession and the way they conduct their classes. The ‘teaching skills’ group were broken down by Hay/McBer into 35 separate ‘micro-behaviour’ categories: essentially a scored check-list of characteristics exhibited by the teacher in a typical lesson. The report summarises these characteristics as including ‘behaviours such as:

  • Involving all pupils in the lesson
  • Using differentiation appropriately to challenge all pupils in the class
  • Using a variety of activities or learning methods
  • Applying teaching methods appropriate to the National Curriculum objectives
  • Using a variety of questioning techniques to probe pupils’ knowledge and understanding.’
    (Hay/McBer, 2000).

The above definition is would seem to include that used by Muijs and Reynolds (Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice, 2001 – quoted by Brown et al, 2001) to define ‘interactive teaching’, namely ‘the right mix of higher and lower-level questions, the best way to react to right and wrong answers and the use of prompting.’ Brown et al suggested that this, in turn, was a close match with much of the modern literature on the subject, and hence is probably reliable.

The second factor highlighted by the DfEE report has been denoted ‘professional characteristics’. This comprises ‘professionalism’, ‘relating to others’, ‘analytical and conceptual thinking’, ‘leading’ and ‘planning and setting expectations’. Essentially these are management qualities, which suitably reflects the fact that a teaching job is much more than a classroom-only occupation. The qualities are expected to apply to colleagues and administration as well as to pupils and lessons.

As acknowledged by Hay/McBer (2000), ‘teaching skills’ and ‘professional characteristics’ stem directly from the personality of the teacher: as such, it could be considered that their utility as tools for improving existing teachers’ standard is limited. A teacher is unlikely to be able to radically alter his or her teaching style to reflect the effectiveness-judging criteria. Indeed, it could further be argued that the findings of the Hay/McBer report are in mild contradiction to those of the 1996 ORACLE follow-up study: Neill (2005a) suggests that this study shows teaching styles to be significantly more uniform than was the case in the 1976 study. As teaching styles have coalesced under the National Curriculum to the extent that they now lack significant differentiability (according to Neill again, who references Galton et al (1999)), it would seem difficult to rely too heavily on a system which delineates subjects by assigning a value of merit to one style of teaching over another.

It is asserted by Neill in a separate article (2005b) that the ability to convey information to a class of any age is, for the most part, contingent upon a teacher’s maintenance of both discipline and interest amongst the students. This assertion is encompassed in the 2000 Hay/McBer report by the label ‘classroom climate’. As an illustration of the document’s influence, this is the phrase which is now used on several different teacher resources web-pages owned by the Department for Education and Skills (2005).

To paraphrase the Hay/McBer report, ‘classroom climate’ comprises nine separate objectives, of which several are sufficiently similar in meaning to be grouped together for the purposes of this review.

  • Clarity regarding the lesson and its purposes within the subject and the academic year
  • Fairness, equal participatory opportunity and support for every pupil
  • Safety and comfort
  • Discipline, order and a set of behavioural and academic standards
  • Interest and stimulation
    (Hay/McBer, 2000)

Clarity, as defined above, can obviously be an important factor: it is easy to imagine a student becoming less motivated if faced with a number of lessons that seemingly have no direction to them. Fairness and support are important attributes for a teacher to display, for much the same reasons, and it seems reasonable to split ‘safety and comfort’ into factors under the control of the school (maintenance, security and suchlike) and those under the control of the teacher. This latter group would mainly refer to abilities such as the awareness to suppress bullying. This in turn is very close to the ‘discipline’ category, which seems significant enough to deserve further attention.

In order to maintain sufficient order over a class of twenty to thirty pupils, a teacher must be fully aware of every disruption within the group. With time they will acquire experience of the group dynamic and be able to predict likely conflict and misbehaviour, but the teacher must ensure that their initial interactions with the class are handled successfully. The attitudes of the class members towards the teacher are likely to be formed on the basis of the first few encounters: each child will make a judgement of what is likely be considered acceptable behaviour from these initial impressions (Neill, 2005b).

The teacher would be wise to differentiate between so-called ‘open’ and ‘closed’ challenges (Neill, 2005c quoting Macpherson (1983)): the former are likely to escalate and detract from a working atmosphere if left unchecked, whereas attempting to halt the latter (which may be, for example, a child whispering something to a friend) can sometimes disrupt the lesson further and create resentment on the part of the child. That said, however, methods of teacher control can be very subtle – among them slight gestures, changing of voice intonation and increasing teacher proximity (all mentioned by Neill in his 2004/5 IE102 Part B lecture course, among others).

Finally, ‘interest and stimulation’ are becoming more commonly heard of as issues that may improve the ‘added value’ experienced by a pupil. Examples of attempts to increase student interest include initiatives such as Showcase Science, set up by Dr Mo Afzal, a research fellow at the University of Warwick (Berliner, 2005), the creation of a new GCSE syllabus (Lee & Lucas, 2005) and the ‘streamlining’ of old ones (QCA, 2005). The DfES-owned web-page relating to classroom climate advises new teachers to make their classrooms ‘colourful and bright’ (Teachernet, 2005)

There are, however, reservations against the Hay/McBer method of evaluating effectiveness. The report (Hay/McBer 2000, p.8) claims to ‘predict well over 30% of the variance in pupil progress’ over the course of a year. However, a respected pair of authors, Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds, said of their separate model – published the same year: ‘Using multilevel modelling techniques it was found that teacher behaviours were able to explain between 60% and 100% of pupils' progress on the Numeracy tests.’ (Muijs & Reynolds, 2000). Finally, it is noted that the Hay/McBer model makes no reference to a number of key factors that other authors (such as Campbell et al, 2003) feel are significant – among them the curriculum subject being studied (as – especially at primary level – a teacher will normally take all of one class’s lessons, and will naturally have his or her own strengths and weaknesses) and pupil background factors.

Thus it is considered that, although a good initial model, and one against which actual student variance can be measured with a strong degree of positive correlation, the Hay/McBer report of 2000 is by no means undisputed. It uses indicators which, by necessity, are subjective and hence could be employed incorrectly. The use of these indicators is endorsed by other knowledgeable figures in the field, such as Muijs & Reynolds, but many of these experts suggest further measures should also be incorporated into the model. Despite this, the adoption of the report by the British Government in 2000 means that the Hay/McBer model is and will remain an important reference in its field for some time to come.

REFERENCES

BERLINER, W. (2005), ‘Bright Sparks’, p.10 , Education, The Guardian, 15/03/05
BROWN, M., ASKEW, M., RHODES, V., DENVIR, H., RANSON, E. & WILIAM, D. (2001), ‘Magic bullets or chimeras? Searching for factors characterising effective teachers and effective teaching in numeracy’, accessed 25/03/05, link.
CAMPBELL R. J., KYRIAKIDES L., MUIJS R. D., ROBINSON W. (2003), Abstract of Differential Teacher Effectiveness: towards a model for research and teacher appraisal, accessed 30/03/05, link
HAY/McBER (2000), Research Into Teacher Effectiveness, accessed 21/03/05, link
LEE, J. & LUCAS, L. (2005), Bring Out the ‘Wow’ Factor, p. 12, Times Educational Supplement, 18/03/05.
MUIJS, D. & REYNOLDS, D. (2000) Abstract of School Effectiveness and Teacher Effectiveness in Mathematics: Some Preliminary Findings from the Evaluation of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (Primary)
NEILL, S. (2005a), ORACLE, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
NEILL, S. (2005b), Classroom Interaction, lecture notes, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
NEILL, S. (2005c), The Meaning of Pupils’ Non-Verbal Signals, IE102 Part B lecture notes 2004/05, Institute of Education, University of Warwick.
QCA (2005), QCA approve changes to OCR specifications in Latin and Classical Greek, dated 16/03/05, accessed 25/03/05, link.
TEACHERNET (2005), Creating A Good Classroom Climate, accessed 27/03/05, link


April 17, 2005

Thanks for the luck!

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

Karting was successful on a personal level (and I'm still alive), but not fantastic for Warwick Motorsport. I took 6th in my individual sprint race – which could have been 4th if I hadn't made a small mistake with 3 laps to go – but drove really well and had lots of fun. The sprints round went well for the rest of the team too: a win from 6th on the grid and 3rd from the back for two of the others. Third overall from 47 teams won us a little trophy and a packet of Sainbury's value-range Rich Tea biscuits. Second and first got chocolate digestives and Party Rings respectively. Lucky gits.

The endurance round, also held yesterday, was looking promising too. The two slower members of the A-team (myself and another Simon) took a 6th place grid start and brought it home in, if I may say so, a superb third place after an hour's racing and three silk-smooth pit stops. The only thing to mar the enjoyment was the race being stopped for seven or eight minutes while an ambulance went out on track to pick up the pieces of an accident (not the one in the picture here).

At this point we were looking very good to take fifth in the championship. Unfortunately our last race – driven by our two quickest drivers – was a shocker. We lost the fuel cap off the kart not once but twice while it was out on track! One of the guys also had a spin. Result: 13th place, which gave us 8th overall for the round and left us just adrift of Oxford Brookes' B team in the championship – sixth again, for the third year running! Consolations include the facts that we were fighting against more teams this year than in any previous, and that we had a slightly weaker team. Oxford Brookes A – the university runs a huge motorsports degree – won the championship by a couple of points from Loughborough, Leeds and Hertfordshire.


April 13, 2005

Something's afoot

A bit of an in-joke I'm afraid, but it had to be done.


April 2005

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