All entries for March 2019
March 25, 2019
Trainee teacher blog: What the books don’t tell you…Libby
My life has always been happily entangled with books. As a bookseller I charmed my customers into buying stacks of glossy new novels, biographies and special editions. As a Librarian I suspiciously eyed up students daring to annotate upon their precious pages. In September, as a trainee teacher on the School Direct Salaried route, I clung to them in the desperate hope of deliverance.
This first year in teaching has been a learning curve of steep proportions. I don’t doubt that many a secondary trainee never fully realises the pitiful state of their own resilience and stamina until thrust into the bustling circus of energy, hormones and defiance that is the average British secondary school. To navigate the shiny new ideas of differentiation, challenging behaviour and positive management, I eagerly devoured “how to” teaching guides, googled behaviour gurus and sought out pedagogical theory with the firm belief that if I learnt enough, I would be a good teacher. In short, I attempted to give my brain a sponge-like absorbency that is, simply, unrealistic.
The immediate result of this self-education was a bombardment of my poor KS3 classes with new behaviour management techniques run a-mock. Lollipop stick questioning collided with raffle ticket incentives and over-resourcing bull-dozed through the lesson plan to successfully baffle my students: and all this when I still struggled to wait for silence. It was a mess. In my feedback session for the lesson in question I was praised for my enthusiasm and engagement with the pedagogy but the implementation of this learning was definitely categorised “even better if”!
Upon reflection (there’s that word again!), and a much embittered struggle (“but it said it in the book?!”), it began to dawn on me that, (shocker), books can’t teach you everything. This was unusual to an academic minded, book-loving historian like me, and something I am still grappling with. Just because Vygotsky theorised that peer discussion is the way forward does not equate to a successful class debate with my, shall we say, “spirited” Year 8 class. They may easily allow debate to slide into argument, into squabble, into a brawl. In the same manner, my enthusiasm for “how to” guides by the likes of Phil Beadle and Sue Cowley is not a negative feature of my learning but, rather, a lesson in pertinence.
I have learnt so much already these past few months of teaching and one of the more important aspects of this has been learning about my own learning as well as that of my students. I am beginning to involve the theories I have engaged with, steadily, and only as appropriate depending on the class, the subject matter and also taking into account my own developing teaching style. This focused and individual approach is gradually allowing me, through trial and error, to discover which techniques work, which don’t and how they can evolve and be developed to suit me and my students. Some teachers have their desks in rows, some in groups. Some teachers focus on written work while others spend more time on active learning tasks. Through observation and my own sweat and tears I am learning that the books, enlightening as they can be, can only take you so far. Much like in History, a piece of evidence is only as good as the analysis and argument to which it is put. So far, from what I am gleaning from both my maniacal and miraculous days in school, pedagogical theory should always be subject to individual criticality and individual teaching style; and that is something the books don’t tell you.
March 18, 2019
Without research its a career not worth having – Ralph Tabberer
I completed my initial teacher training in the 1970s and had no idea how important research was going to be in my career. Most of my early teaching experience was a battle to get organised and to stay ahead, with material and ideas that would work day to day, and week to week.
I fell into classroom research after two years’ teaching, entirely out of my interest in understanding more of what was happening from the students’ viewpoint.
I worked with colleagues in designing simple exercises to track how students approached learning challenges. First, we paired up students so that one was the observer while another took on a task requiring them to use the library. The written reports of how students struggled to find the resources they needed were unintentionally hilarious until, that is, we realised that our 13-year-olds had no idea how to conduct a proper search. We had never shown them; it wasn’t in our curriculum.
Our work progressed. We asked students to collect the comments and marks they received in each lesson they attended, for one week, and when they played back their written and spoken results, we were ashamed. I still recall one child who spent almost every lesson being told exactly how poor they were. There was no system to our feedback and marking; we were unaware of the accumulated effect.
After a series of these exercises – looking at reading, writing, searching, feedback, problem-solving and more – I deepened my interest in research into the classroom, and into the cognitive sciences, and this has sustained me all my career. In teaching, fashions change – just look at the recent debate about ‘mastery learning’ – and it is incredibly valuable to have a grasp of some of the underpinning ‘laws’ of teaching and learning.
I was fortunate in my school career. I worked for ten years in research after those early exercises in our classrooms. I joined a local authority and made my way in advising schools on their improvement strategies. I had the great honour of being appointed to run a government agency – funding teacher education – and from there I moved to take charge of school policy and operations at the Department for Education. That was during the Blair years when his celebrated top three priorities were: “education, education, education”. Heady days.
At every step, I was able to approach our work with that foundation in teaching and learning. We did not get everything right – by any means – but I have no doubt that our strengths and successes came in those areas where we knew and applied the lessons of research.
I didn’t know how important research was going to be when I started my career. I now realise there would have been no career worth having without it.
March 11, 2019
Reading for Pleasure – what will support children in Upper Key Stage 2?
Reading for Pleasure – what will support children in Upper Key Stage 2? - Kate Glavina
The draft Education Inspection Framework (pub. in January 2019) highlights as an indicator of the Quality of Education, a focus on how rigorously schools develop learners’ confidence and enjoyment in reading. This is across all Key Stages. In light of this, it is interesting to consider a recent report by Dr Margaret Merga on the issues, as she identifies them, with ‘reading for pleasure’ (published in English in Education 2017). Although her study addressed the reading behaviour of children in KS3 and KS4, there are implications for older and experienced readers in KS2. Merga identifies as particular barriers to youngsters’ engagement in reading for pleasure factors such as ‘time availability’ – both on the timetable and in busy households. Access to a wide range of high quality texts is another barrier, combined with ‘choosing strategies’. Young people do not always have effective strategies for selecting reading material and schools do not always support children with this. Concentration is another barrier with screen-based reading arguably developing what has been coined ‘congenital impatience’ resulting in shallow modes of interacting with text such as quick skimming and scanning. Significantly, Merga notes that a hypertext environment reduces in youngsters the cognitive resources for deep processing – for sustained concentration – for becoming ‘absorbed in a long read’. There are some obvious implications here for educators and parents but since every primary school teacher is a ‘teacher of reading’, the implications for them are critical if their pupils are to develop the skills and habits to become life-long readers for pleasure. One of the key motivational factors for children is finding engaging books suited to their individual preferences. Not only does this require teachers to ‘know their pupils as readers’ – but it also requires teachers to have a good knowledge of children’s literature themselves. How many authors of longer novels can most teachers name, beyond perhaps JK Rowling, Roald Dahl and Michael Morpurgo? How many teachers demonstrate to their pupils a love of reading on a personal level, for example sharing and talking about what they are themselves, currently reading for pleasure? Merga’s study revealed that children often preferred ‘series’ over stand-alone titles because maintaining an on-going relationship with characters was motivating. Do the contents of the class and school libraries have the scope to offer children choice within ‘series’, so that this preference can be part of their reading repertoire? Perhaps the biggest challenge for primary schools is the pressure of ‘time’ with typically a reduced amount of time being dedicated to reading and reading aloud on the timetable of upper KS2 classes. Steven Pinker once said that ‘Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory…’ The EIF makes it clear that ‘print’ – at least in terms of the Reading for Pleasure agenda, is not an option. This renewed emphasis on RfP should result in every school taking a fresh look at their reading programme and its dominant emphases. Perhaps for many, it will mean re-examining the values which underpin the reading experiences offered to pupils. As a result of such an audit, perhaps more children will be supported in becoming committed readers who read for pleasure, who become practised at deep attention and who can delight in what books can uniquely offer them – i.e. scope for being absorbed in something other than themselves. Whilst it is not easy to ‘teach’ all children to love reading, nevertheless it is imperative to try…which is why the best starting point is to capture and harness the interest and commitment of our trainee teachers and why on the English programme offered to our trainees at CTE, our ‘strap-line’ has long been, and will continue to be: ‘Literature at the heart of English’.
March 04, 2019
Using and Creating RLOs – Abigail Ball
I have been an advocate of Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) for many years. RLOs are instructional design components that can be used for multiple purposes. They are usually small components that are developed for a specific use, but which can be conveniently reused in multiple settings, often with little or no editing. Some practitioners describe them as ‘Lego bricks'.
Oxford Brookes University (OBU), where I previously worked, took the decision to create an open access repository (known as RADAR) where it stores its publicly available research and teaching materials. This necessitated me becoming the creator and curator of a large collection (over 600 items) of RLOs on the subject of Technology Enhanced Learning. Topics included Moodle, Turnitin, Adobe Connect, GradeMark; generally all of the software that OBU used to support its learning and teaching activities.
What are the characteristics of RLOs?
- Electronic – this makes them easy to store, curate and update
- Multipurpose – they can be used in many different situations
- Support their own learning objectives – each component can stand alone and still make sense
- Contain metadata (keywords) – this makes them easily discoverable by search engines
- Adaptable – they are easy to customise
- Cohesive – they usually have a consistent template or layout
- Compatible – they are learning management system (e.g. Moodle) or SCORM compliant
- Bite-sized online content – they are quick to absorb and effective to use
- Discrete entity in their own right – they usually include an online activity, some form of online assessment and an independent learning objective
These characteristics have been adapted from Pappas (2016).
Can I use anything as a RLO?
Broadly yes but some common examples might include:
- Quizzes and tests
- Visual resources (e.g. Mind Maps or web pages)
- Icons and images
- Problem-based learning materials
- Exploratory learning materials
- Performance support materials
- Blended learning environments (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate recordings)
- Role support tools (e.g. Mentoring resources)
- Help resources (this is obviously a key one for my role)
What can I use to create a RLO?
Software or platforms you might want to consider include (but are not limited to):
- Lesson (this is an activity in Moodle)
- Quiz (this is an activity in Moodle)
- SCORM creation packages e.g. Dipity, eXe or Xerte
- Blackboard Collaborate (or other webinar software)
- Lecture Capture
- Personal Capture
What topics can I use for RLOs?
Again, anything really but as a good place to start you might want to consider:
- Assignment briefs
- Mentor training (or other standalone training component)
- Case studies e.g. safeguarding
Have you any examples of RLOs?
Since moving to Warwick I have continued the practice of making any support materials that I create, freely available, through the creation of a public CTE Academic Technologies portal. I personally have no problem with anyone reusing my resources but it does take a different mind-set to accept them repurposing those same resources for their own needs especially if you have put a lot of work into them.
If you decide you want to try creating RLOs then you need to start the process with the assumption that someone is going to change or adapt you work for their needs. This is not a criticism of your work. Think of it like a Lego brick – it can be used to build a Lego house or a Lego Millennium Falcon – your RLO can be used to create a standalone training component or be adapted to form part of an online course. The base Lego brick remains the same but the use it is put to is quite different.
Pappas, C. (2016) 'Developing Reusable Learning Objects: 9 Characteristics To Consider'. Available from: https://elearningindustry.com/developing-reusable-learning-objects-characteristics-consider (Accessed 04 March 2019).