Monday, December 15, 2014

Are we teachers or sheep?

Meek and mild?

I had been expecting the Ofsted inspector all morning due to the Head providing a timetable detailing the team's whereabouts. I was due to be seen just after break. They came after lunch. I was told 10 minutes before. I had French on the timetable but decided to change it to Spanish, I scribbled down a post-it plan that included using the iPad app 'Toontastic' and got the five iPads we had in school into my classroom. The team arrived at 1:15pm, five minutes into my lesson and stayed until the end. I adapted my lesson throughout as I responded to the strengths and weaknesses of every child, I wrote no Learning Objective on the board, nor made a list of Success Criteria, I even had children under tables whilst they used the iPad app so that they could record their spoken Spanish in relative quiet and at no time did I refer to the post-it plan although I did provide it to the lead inspector for a laugh.

I was graded Outstanding. 

I'm sure there are many, many teachers like myself that have taught lessons in this way yet if we I repeated similar lessons today we would no doubt receive a warning from our ever more powerful senior micro managers. We need to ask ourselves why? 

Why have many of us let the inadequacies of senior micro management get in the way of creative and effective teaching? 

Why have we fallen prey to the insistence on very detailed weekly planning for every subject?

Why do we feel inadequate in our professionalism unless we can provide the prescriptive, detailed weekly planning to back it up?

Why we have lost our voices in countless staff meetings and begrudgingly accepted the latest 'Ofsted need the following' tripe as truth?

Why do we continue the ridiculous and non-effective marking strategies that require two or more pen colours and take up most of our evenings and weekends to the detriment of personal life?

Why do we keep allowing our management to add yet another tracking system onto the others we already use so that we can track progress in ever more refined detail and softly, shaded colours?

Why have we become sheep that bow to submission and get on with whatever management has told us to do instead of questioning everything they say and asking for proof that it will actually make a difference in teaching and learning?

Why is it that most of us know we can do a much better job if we just ignored all the crap and got on with the difficult yet rewarding job of teaching?

Are you one of the sheep or a teacher?

Note - Ofsted visited me September 2012.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Learning to write through play

My daughter playing a writing game -Game two

My daughter is three and a half years old. I have never taught her to write nor how to hold pencil using a preferred pencil hold. Before she was three she was naturally holding a crayon using the preferred hand grip, and mark making like any other child her age. I never pushed her to write letters as she enjoyed making marks, circles and then faces with arms and legs. Two weeks ago I played a game with her where I wrote her name and asked her to write it too. She watched me closely then copied it. The picture above shows the second go at the game. To say I was taken aback is an understatement.

I teach in reception (4-5 years old) and children have a wide range of writing abilities. On entry in September, a few can write their name, many more can write the first few letters of their name and some use only marks to show their name. The only reasons I can ascertain as to why children can write their names when they start school are
  1. They are encouraged at home
  2. They are encouraged at nursery
  3. They are encouraged by child minders
  4. Points 1-3 encourage them to make marks through play
Encouragement through play not teaching

Initially, you don't teach three or four year olds, you give them the time to explore, to try out, to play. Young children learn through play, teaching comes second. A few discussions on Twitter and blogs have attempted to demean play as an effective educational activity but they all miss the point that they are completely wrong. Children do learn through play. 

My daughter demonstrates this every day. By game three I had taught her how to form the f and e as you can see in the game three picture.

Play first, teach second. When I taught in Year 5 I used the same approach. I used play in a lot of my teaching from the outset and children responded favourably. Too often some of us look down upon play as a form of fun rather than an educationally sound activity . I ask those who do so to look again and rethink how play can be used as an effective teaching and learning strategy.

Game one 
Game three

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Is differentiation an effective strategy?

Color Your life by Capture

Over the weekend I’ve been reading about differentiation and specifically whether it is an effective teaching strategy. I have been quite surprised to find that it’s not as effective as many of us believe to be so and there are schools that no longer use it.

Differentiation is a teaching strategy no doubt used by many teachers throughout the world. Some use it because it is insisted upon by management and others use it because they always have and cannot envisage why they should not. When I was first introduced to differentiation I thought that it would help children in my class in their learning. Over the years I have realised that differentiation doesn’t actually do anything of the sort, and actually makes my role as the teacher more difficult as I try to come up with three different activities for the same objective for every subject I teach so that the three ability groups in my class can ‘all achieve their potential’.

I now consider differentiation a hindrance in my teaching and a dam that holds children back. Instead of focussing on the original learning objective that I based my lesson around, I ended up with at least three different objectives that tried to meet the needs of each ability grouping in my class. This is not of my own design but a prerequisite of management, my planning must show that I differentiate every lesson and termly book scrutinies check to see if it has been done. If I do not, I will be reprimanded.

My professionalism is questioned every time I teach, if I do not differentiate I cannot be an ‘outstanding’ or even ‘good’ teacher. This is of course absolute nonsense but management don’t think that way. As long as I show that I am differentiating then my life as a teacher can go along smoothly, continue playing the game.

I don’t like playing the game, teaching isn’t game playing. I will continue to question the use of differentiation and will hopefully find educationally sound reasons why we need to use it rather than the ‘because Ofsted expect to see it’ excuse that is so often peddled out.