Saturday, October 31, 2015

Switching on the Outstanding Factor

Every teacher has faced the impending lesson observation. Your senior leadership team have told you the date and what the subject will be. So you go home and start preparing for it, usually a few weeks in advance. You believe that you should approach the observation as you would any other lesson you teach but you know that your SLT want you to pull out all the stops. 

What should you do?

Leadership teams have an unfortunate habit of using Ofsted's whole school observation checklist for individual lesson observations. Many teachers will add bells, whistles and even a few fireworks to make sure the observed lesson has all the outstanding features that the Ofsted whole school checklist appears to mention. To gain outstanding you must tick all the outstanding boxes after all. Teachers will also add in additional features the SLT have deemed necessary due to reading up on other school Ofsted reports. These features may or may not help improve teaching and learning but because the school down the road had them in their latest Ofsted report then your SLT wants to see them included.

So your not planned for outstanding lesson looks like this.

  • Write the Learning Objective on the IWB (use of technology ticked)
  • Discuss said LO with the class and what it means - tick
  • Write a list of success criteria to achieve said LO (add additional criteria as you know your SLT like to see lots of them - tick)
  • Show a video/image to draw in the class (this can be related to the LO or not, just make sure the children are engaged - another tick)
  • Ask questions about the video/image but make sure you follow the recent no-hands up policy, use lolly sticks or even better use the class set of iPads lying in the ICT/Computing (what's it called?) suite/trolley and that app someone mentioned where you hold up a printed out QR code or something (lots of ticks here)
  • Model the lesson and play a game on the IWB (children can't come up to use the IWB as that would take up too much time) - ticks galore
  • Make sure children are not sitting on the carpet/chairs for too long as you have to make sure there is pace in the lesson (Mastery hasn't quite made it into your school's SLT lesson observation guidelines yet)
  • Send your Higher, Middle and Lower groups off to complete their differentiated work (tick, tick and tick)
  • Make sure your TA is with your Lower group and ask a few pertinent questions to show your control of the TA's function in the class -tick
  • Sit with one group for at least 10 minutes, ask lots of reasoning type questions and listen intently. Try that bouncing question technique someone mentioned last term (ticks)
  • As children are working interrupt them with inane questions so your observer sees you (tick)
  • Do not mark any work during the lesson no matter how strong the urge as your SLT said no marking during lesson time (see next point)
  • Lesson marking should be ticks and corrections, use corrections on the visualiser to demonstrate powerful learning opportunities (someone in SLT read this online and said it would be food to Ofsted) - ticks all round
  • Add a mini plenary every so often, not because you and your class need one but because your SLT insist on them - a tick for every plenary
  • Keep an eye on the time, the lesson cannot run over time nor should it end too soon. Let the children know when there are 5 minutes left.
  • Plenary time, your SLT want you to move the learning on so do not use this as an opportunity to go through errors or misunderstandings, this is a time to move the learning on. (ticks, ticks and ticks)
  • The observed lesson is over

Later that day you will discover whether or not your lesson was outstanding. 

Your class on the other hand will wonder why you were being such a idiot.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Design Thinking and Moonshots

I recently attended the Google Moonshot Summit in Amsterdam which was led by the inspiring +EdTechTeam. This summit was very much like the Google Teacher Academy London last October which I attended as a mentor. This consisted of design thinking, creating a moonshot and was led by the brilliant +Ewan McIntosh and +NoTosh Ltd. Both events wanted its participants to think big, to create a moonshot. A moonshot is
"an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term success or benefit and also, perhaps, without a full investigation of the risks and benefits." (moonshotsummit)

Think big then think bigger. That's your moonshot. The process at both events involved lots of thinking, teasing out ideas and thoughts, pulling at every suggestion and making it bigger. It was tough but the design thinking process isn't meant to be easy, as President Kennedy said "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

So what is a design thinking process involve? I'll let Ewan McIntosh explain.

Design thinking is much more than using post-it notes, hexagonal pieces of paper or even LEGO bricks. It involves prototyping to solve complex problems. It can also help turn us from problem solvers into problem thinkers.

Unpacking The Design Thinking process - image from Know without borders
I suggest you read through the following sites to develop a better understanding of the design thinking process.

During my attendance at the Amsterdam event, the teams came up with the following moonshots.
  1. What if we could gamify student learning where earned points were used to improve society?
  2. What if we could design teacher training that reflects best teaching pedagogy?
  3. What if we could create a system of Moonshot mentors for teachers and students?
  4. What if we could integrate community/city life into schools?
  5. What if we could build structure that allows students to co-create the curriculum with teachers and experts?
  6. What if we could design a meaningful learning environment and assessment system?
  7. What if we could connect students locally and globally to solve authentic problems together?
  8. What if we could create a program to allow students to chose what they want learn?
I was involved with moonshot 6 and one of our possible solutions was to get rid of high stakes testing that costs millions and instead put that money into improving teaching and learning for all. We can't think of any valid reason why this can not be possible and I would welcome your thoughts about this and the other moonshots.

Thank you to the +EdTechTeam for their fantastic event in Amsterdam, to +James Sanders for his inspiring story, +Mark Wagner+Molly Schroeder +Jennie Magiera for their drive and passion, and to the inspiring +Esther Wojcicki for sharing her time, thoughts and energy with us. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going for interview - Square pegs in round holes

This isn't a blog about getting your first teaching post, this is really about that next step up the ladder, the leadership post. I recently had an interview for an Assistant Headship post. I wasn't successful but the process I went through was. I learned a lot about applying for the job and want to share that experience.

You want to move onto the next level. You've been a teacher for a few years and you're ready to move into leadership. You've had a taste of it with your Core Curriculum involvement and you scour the TES and ETEACH websites looking for the right post. You nod your head at a few and decide to apply. You download the application form and you discover your first problem. You are a Mac/Linux user and the Doc file format doesn't show correctly on your screen. Some parts work and others just refuse to do what you know they are supposed to do. If you're a Windows user you're laughing, everything works. But no matter what OS you have we all face the inevitable question - just how do I ensure the different sections I have to complete are not replicated in my covering letter?

Completing the application form
Look at the bullet point loaded personal specification that the school has included in their application pack. Use the sections in your application to answer every bullet point. There may be a skills and knowledge section where this fits right in. You could use bullet points to answer every bullet point the schools is looking for or divide the section into headed paragraphs that do the same. Just make sure you tick every box the personal spec is looking for. If you don't, your application is as good as dead. Complete every part of the application, leave nothing unanswered unless it specifically advises you to do so. Once you have completed it, check it through. Then check it at least 10 times and ask someone else to check it. Any mistakes found by the school means death to your application.

Covering Letter
Your covering letter is about you and how you fulfil the needs of the school you're applying to. Use this to answer the job description and how you fit it. Make sure you are all over it. Highlight why you are the best teacher for the role, forget modesty - the school has put out an ad looking for the best applicant and your letter should answer that call. Keep it to two pages and only go to three if you are absolutely certain that the last paragraph requires a third page due to its absolute brilliance. Do not waffle. Keep everything succinct yet detailed enough to make the panel sit up and take notice. Always think "What would they say when they read this part of my application?" 

If you haven't gotten shortlisted then email the school and find out why. Some schools will reply and give feedback, those that don't you can blacklist. If you have then dance your victory dance then sit down and prepare for the onslaught of interview. Shortlisting may be a foot in the door, but take heed, most of your body is still outside.

The Interview
Interviews for leadership posts are a tough; headship posts run for two days! Get prepared. Spend the time from your shortlisting notification to the night before the interview preparing. Read the school application pack through, note everything they ask for. Read through their latest Ofsted report and note down anything that requires further reading. You will try to do everything you can to make sure you are completely prepared but you will realise that you can only do so much. The night before should be spent switching off from the interview. It's difficult but try to forget you have an interview the next day. Turn up for the interview in good time, it's better to be early. Settle yourself, meet the other candidates and focus on your day ahead not theirs. Ask questions, look closely, be polite and courteous at all times - the whole day is part of the interview process. If you have been given time to visit the school then make sure you visit it. Go into every classroom, talk to every teacher and TA, talk to children, look through books, look at displays, talk to the office staff, canteen staff and caretaker. Take everything in whilst containing energy for the main event - the interview itself.

You will probably have a data task and/or in tray exercise to complete in 30 minutes or less. This is not based on real life so focus on the most essential and glaring points. If data based then hone in on what needs improving and what is working. Focus on safeguarding issues first if it's an in-tray exercise. You will probably meet the school council who will ask you carefully vetted questions that will help decide on the successful candidate. 

The interview itself is a minefield of questions. Do not under any circumstance try to search for 'interview questions for SLT' as these will lull you into a false sense of security. You can read as many exemplars as you wish, you can learn as many possible answers you think your brain can take but nothing will prepare you for the variation of questions an interview panel can come up with. Here's one for future reference - "What do you think your most recent reference said about you as a leader and what do you think your next reference with this school will say about you in three years time?" 

Answer everything truthfully, do not waffle. If you don't know then tell the panel. Keep answers short and to the point. I have always found this part hard as I can talk but talking is different from answering a question succinctly. You will be provided with a water, drink it as it will help you calm your nerves and compose an answer when you need to think. Questions will be tough but are not asked to catch you out. The school want the best teacher for the post so every question, no matter how ridiculous, has been put in to find the best candidate. 

The wait
Keep in mind that the school will have a good idea of the type of person they want. You might have ticked every box on the panel's form but if your personality doesn't fit with the school then you will not get the job. If you haven't been told of the school's decision before leaving you will have to wait for the phone call. It will usually come before 6 but prepare yourself for a longer wait if the panel haven't reached agreement. If you are unsuccessful do not be afraid to ask why. The points where you have fallen can be worked on for the next application. If you're successful, accept the offer and wait until you say goodbye before jumping around shrieking. 

I have been through many interviews and no doubt I have more to come. As I said, I wasn't successful in my most recent interview but I have learned what I need to focus on to get me closer to a successful outcome. During an interview you can ether play the game or be yourself. I have always chose to be myself as I want a school to know what they are getting. I have told panels that I am a maverick, independent in my thinking, I research good practice and question everything that management and government ask of me. I do not hold back with my viewpoints and I have no doubt lost out to other candidates because of this. You have to decide for yourself where your principles lie. I wish you well in your endeavours. 

Resources for Interviews

Applying for the post

Questions (please keep in mind, these are for your information rather than learning answers by rote)


Interview Technique
STAR situation - task - activity - result

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.