All entries for October 2019
October 28, 2019
Staff room epistemological highlights
Sitting next to me at one of the computers in the staff room was a science teacher of no little experience and maturity. He was busy preparing a hand-out sheet when with a deep sigh, he mentioned he would need to find some Tippex (other brands are available). Surprised, I glanced at what he was doing, "I could do without all these symbols", he remarked staring at the picture image on his powerpoint presentation. Eager to offer support (and naturally bearing in mind teaching standards part two) I was happy to suggest he insert a box, do a bit of formatting and, as if by magic, the result he was looking for was achieved. Such was his joy that his mood immediately lightened and after at least two high-fives later, this newly acquired knowledge was already rippling, wave-like to his fellow colleague the other side. "Look what you can learn by talking" he exclaimed." Bingo! "All learning is social, according to Vygotsky, I proudly announced, keen to ensure good academic deference, whilst happily condensing too many journal articles into a crudely 'constructed' and grossly oversimplified sound bite (hey, I’m team maths, we like abstraction). A short discussion ensued to the point where our respective zones of development were appropriately proximal, and we returned to our respective tasks. The Plenary. So, what happened here? Well, while the radical constructivists tussle over the epistemological nature of objective truth, or otherwise, we seem to have at least some evidence that learning took place through social interaction, go Lev, and don’t forget to put it in your PDP. People were made happy through the learning experience (smiley face), and I managed to deliver, albeit of a largely procedural nature, one of my best lessons of the week!
October 21, 2019
Bloomin’ Marvellous: Taking my hat off to Bloom – Lauren
Questioning a student prompts thought, it allows them to pick apart elements of History in order for them to investigate why events happened, what their impact was and also what would the world look like if these events did not take place.
After six weeks of teaching, it became apparent that my lessons were not as challenging for higher achievers as I had hoped; back to the drawing board it was. From writing about Bloom’s taxonomy in two of my assignments, I thought this would be a good place to start. Bloom’s theory follows a linear format, ideal for students studying History. I found that, in theory, if the taxonomy was incorporated within my lessons that I would be able to challenge my higher achieving students. Bloom stipulates that students need to start by recalling information and through questioning they are guided to the evaluation stage. In my lessons, I found that some students arrived with prior-knowledge and so, beginning with the ‘knowledge’ and ‘comprehension’ stages hindered their progress. I then looked at activities that would help to challenge the higher attaining students in the class. After research, I found De Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats’ as this activity allows for students to begin at various levels. However, as Bloom’s theory applies to History so well I thought it was important that this form of questioning was incorporated. I combined the ‘Thinking Hats’ activity with Bloom’s questioning. Students were then given a colour, representative of the stage they should begin at, in their book, they then had to complete three sections. This task immediately challenged higher ability students whilst differentiating for those who need additional support. Students utilised their historical skill set and analysed the information they were given before synthesising and evaluation. I found that because I was researching the theory at the same time as applying it, I could tailor it to meet the needs of my higher attaining students within lessons.
There is one potential problem here though, in History it is important for students to empathise with a source to evaluate it. This is a skill that I am currently developing with my Year 7 groups through questioning, for example, ‘why do you think the Black Death was portrayed in this way?’ ‘How does it reflect people’s fears at the time?’ Through this ‘high-order’ questioning students can empathise with the source which inevitably aids their ability to evaluate it. By understanding why a source has been published, students are able to then evaluate why it is representative of the time. To combat this, I placed great emphasis on ‘empathy’ within the ‘synthesis’ stage. Bloom instructs that this stage is reserved for inference and imagination; both concepts which link to empathy. Students, through questioning are asked what can they infer from the source? From this we can then ask them to imagine they are living during that period, ‘what might their key concerns about the Black Death be?’ ‘What were people’s fears about the Black Death?’ This allows higher attaining students to reach the top stages of Bloom’s taxonomy thus extending their knowledge and challenging them appropriately in lessons.
October 14, 2019
The Prevent Agenda and Religious Education – Rachel Cooper
The 2006 Labour Government introduced the Prevent Strategy (2006), as one element of their long term approach to tackling international extremism, known as Contest. Each consecutive update of Prevent has placed an increased duty on education to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Prevent identifies the adoption of extremist views as a precursor to being drawn into terrorism, with extremism identified as ‘…vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values.’ (2015, p. 2), placing a further responsibility onto teachers to ‘…actively promote Fundamental British Values.’ (ibid.).
My research focused on the influence that Prevent has exerted on the teaching of Religious Education. This is of particular relevance in light of the assertions that the discussion of controversial topics is the lifeblood of RE (CoRE, 2019), and the specific identification of RE as a focal point for the delivery of Prevent within governmental guidance (DCSF, 2008).
The data obtained from my study superficially suggested that Prevent (2015) has not influenced the teaching of secondary RE. All of the RE teachers who participated reported that they had not removed topics to be taught due to their controversial nature, and most had not reduced the level of classroom discussion. Additionally, evidence from some respondents suggested that they had increased the amount of discussion-based activities within their lessons.
However, the influence of Prevent may potentially be covert as most participants stated that they always offered the governmental view, identified as Fundamental British Values, within discussions, and referred pupils’ who shared views that could be considered extreme. Arguably, Prevent, both through its inclusion as a safeguarding duty (2019), and within the professional standards for teachers (Department for Education, 2013), removes the opportunity for teachers to engage critically (Elton-Chalcraf, et al., 2017). This could result in pupils only being presented with views aligned with Fundamental British Values, which although this may increase classroom discussion opportunities, supported by the participant responses and Prevent, it may be with surveillance. The surreptitious influence that Prevent may have on the RE clasroom could be difficult for teachers to acknowledge, and ultimately challenge, with teachers promoting a sanitised viewpoint which promotes assimilation rather than celebrating diversity.
If discussion became limited due to the influence of Prevent, this would be in direct opposition to the aims of RE, which are not to promote a dominant worldview but to challenge (O'Donnell, 2017), understand and enable pupils to personally edify (Jackson, 2019). For RE teachers, there appears to be a need to engage with controversial topics in a safe classroom environment. The opportunity to provide counter arguments to all controversial topics is crucial, but this must include terrorism and extremist views. Pupils must be able to explore their own views openly, and consider all points of view. If discussion is closed down, or reporting is feared, pupils may not engage and the possibility of hearing a different perspective may be lost. Arguably, Fundamental British Values and Prevent has influenced the secondary RE classroom by creating a panopticon (Foucault, 2008) rather than a safe space for discussion.
October 07, 2019
The place of music in the national curriculum – Fabia
OFSTED Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s (2017) arts speech focuses on the lack of understanding behind the national curriculum and the neglect schools are facing with regards to implementing it.
Receiving knowledge is a measure of making progress, however the lines for this are blurred as schools are focusing mainly on results, rather than on maintaining sight of pupils. Since the introduction of the new national curriculum in 2014 (slimmed down version) it could be argued that GCSEs are now purely a memory test, and don’t always mean full understanding and knowledge, despite the aim being to increase a “rich foundation of knowledge”. As a result of inspections, focus has been readjusted. Many secondary schools have reduced Key Stage 3 to two years, meaning options are decided earlier and there is even less access to the arts, although the content included in the exams remains aimed for a two year course. Despite the removal of Progress 8, the ability to be flexible for those who need it has lessened.
Moreover, there has been a massive focus on test results and league tables with primary schools, due to a hugely narrowed curriculum. Testing has become the curriculum. In conclusion learning must take precedence over levels of outcomes but this does not seem to be at the forefront of educators priorities. With the help of the Government and Ofsted, the focus needs to shift back to giving equal opportunities and implementing the correct curriculum alongside pupil care.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb’s ‘Why good-quality music education matters’ speech in London (2016) demonstrates his personal admiration for music as a subject. The arts is a topic of discussion as something which needs to be discussed when recognising the lack of opportunities for those less fortunate. One example is the Classical 100 app, which is promoting music in primary schools, offering background and childhood music education.
Gibb states how there are measures put in place to counteract the decline of music and its importance. The increase in EBACC subjects is mostly to blame for the decline in uptake of the arts. Schools are focussing on offering a core academic curriculum, despite Gibb’s arguing that music itself should be seen as an academic subject (with the addition of notation and an area of study to decrease the gap between GCSE and A level). Key stage 3 is setting up children with a good academic and practical background should they want to take it up for GCSE. Pupil premium is allowing those in key stage two further access to the arts, which could increase the intake towards GCSE.
Furthermore, the addition of music hubs are allowing more pupils with less access to the arts to try and discover what it is like. County-wide ensembles are also looking to signpost those most talented who wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity due to financial or support issues. In conclusion Gibb’s speech, despite being predominantly London biased, explains how projects are being implemented to widen access to the arts.
Spielman, A., (2017), https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/hmcis-commentary-october-2017
Gibb, N., (2016) Why good-quality music education matters, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nick-gibb-why-good-quality-music-education-matters