Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Teaching younger children to code

I've started my current Foundation Stage class on their coding journey and I used the following method as an introduction. All it needs is a white board and pen.

Write the following commands on the left side of a whiteboard and go through each with your class providing everyone an additional phonics lesson too. Explain to the children that these are commands, instructions that have to be followed if written them down in the program section of the whiteboard.

It's basically Simon Says without having to say Simon Says. If there are no commands written in the program section then nothing happens. Get your class to sit quietly awaiting their commands.

Write the command Hands up and show it to the class. They should put up their hands and perhaps a few will soon put them down again. Bring their attention to the program and ask if it says Hands down. Ask what needs to be put into the program to put their hands down. Rub out the WB and try another command, making sure your class do it and then ask which command will get them back to their sitting position.

The children should quickly realise that the program controls their actions. I had originally written the jump command three times and my own followed this correctly. But I wanted them to offer a way to put the three jump commands together so I didn't have to write it three times. If you are four or five the words you might say are 'do it again' which a great answer. Explain that to do it again a program needs the repeat command. Ask how will we make sure the program is repeated three times? And what needs to be repeated three times? Without including the jump command at this point then nothing gets repeated three times. Programs follow a logical order and without logic the program is liable to go wrong, or have a bug in it.

Write a mix of commands in the program section and then using your finger, point to each command and your class should perform the action. It's quite a straightforward way to introduce coding to your early years class without having to worry about providing everyone a computer, tablet or other device.

I followed this lesson up with the brilliant Daisy the Dino app for the iPad. If this has helped you to start teaching coding to your own Early Years class then take a look at another post I wrote where I used Kodable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grading the teaching profession - can lesson observation be useful?

Lesson Observation help or hindrance

I posted this lesson observation template on Twitter and within 24 hours it had been seen by over 1,200 users and counting (Tweet activity via Twitter analysis tool) - it has certainly left an impression judging by the interactions I have also received, and the many comments and suggestions of how it could be improved. One follower went as far as saying it was "frankly rubbish".

The template has been created using Ofsted's 2014 grade descriptors from its School Inspection Handbook. Ofsted makes a point that its grade descriptors should not be used as a checklist, instead favouring a best fit model (p.38) however it would appear that schools do use them as a checklist during lesson observations with teachers facing the dilemma of not knowing how many ticks have gone into which column until they receive their feedback. I am also aware that Ofsted have made a point that their grade descriptors should not be used as a way of making an assessment on individual lessons.

Ofsted's School Inspection Handbook is actually quite a useful document - pages 15 and 16 are of particular importance as they clearly layout Ofsted's current thinking on lesson observation. The following statements should be printed out on A1 and put on every headteacher's door and staffroom in every school.
  • The key objectives of lesson observations are to inform the evaluation of the overall quality of teaching over time.
  • When inspectors carry out observations in lessons, they should not grade the quality of teaching for that individual session or indeed the overall quality of the lesson.
  • Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. They will not look for a preferred methodology.
  • Inspectors will not expect teachers to prepare lesson plans for the inspection.
So how do we make lesson observation useful?
  • Lesson observations are here to stay but how they are conducted can be changed. The following suggestions were offered on Twitter.
  • No feedback should be given.
  • Don't ever use that template, it's demeaning.
  • Only two boxes - strengths and improvements
  • Feedback that has questions to provoke discussion
  • Peer observations
  • Management only conduct one observation, the rest are carried out with peers
  • Video lessons. Reflect and discuss in teams afterwards.
  • Visit other schools and observe teaching there.
  • Definitely do not use this template. Ever.
  • Improve the knowledge of the observers

Unfortunately, when a school decides to ignore Ofsted's advice and concentrate on 'what they think Ofsted wants' they end up creating a system of lesson observation that is more to do with accountability than improving teaching and learning.

I would advise that you now read the brilliant "Life without Lesson Observation Grades" by Deputy Headteacher Shaun Allison.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

We don't need differentiation, we need to be be better teachers.

I read the following post 'The dangers of differentiation and what to do about them' by Andy Tharby (@atharby) earlier today. I would suggest you read that first then come back here. It's an excellent post and I believe that Andy has gone some way in demonstrating how ineffective our current form of differentiated instruction is at the moment. I believe that we are holding back many children due to our obsession with differentiation in every lesson.

Differentiation means well. In a recent post on EdWeek, differentiation takes the following factors of student learning into account.

  • It seeks to determine what students already know and what they still need to learn.
  • It allows students to demonstrate what they know through multiple methods
  • It encourages students and teachers to add depth and complexity to the learning/teaching process.

The problem with this is that it can be unworkable in the classroom. The teacher ends up spending too much valuable and productive time on the time-consuming activity of planning for three separate activities that end up not meeting the planned for lesson objective.  Andy Tharby's lists a 'Differentiation Hall of Shame'. 

1. Differentiation because you think you should. 
2. Differentiation to meet an outsider’s expectations.
3. Differentiation according to prior-attainment grade or target grade. 
4. Differentiation that takes time away from planning subject content. 
5. Differentiation according to all/most/some.
6. Differentiation that does the thinking for them.
7. Differentiation as a life sentence.
8. Differentiation as a list of rules!

You are the teacher, you know your class better than anyone else. You should be able to adapt where you see fit, to change a lesson at any point when you realise it's not working. You should teach your whole class and then respond as and when to those students that need you to make the progress they richly deserve. 

The most effective differentiation takes place inside the teacher’s thought-processes. - Andy Philip Day

We need to teach our children well. We need to ensure they understand what it is they have been taught, and they need to be able to demonstrate this understanding before moving onto the next lesson.