The #Litdrive Way of Life

After receiving a vast amount of interest about my ambiguous spouting on about #litdrive on Twitter over the weekend, then sharing the original post (here if you are interested https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-little-acorn-litdrive/ ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated. One, we shifted from googledrive to dropbox (mainly because my ICT skills leave a lot to be desired and my lack of organisational skills could do with an entire post of their own). We have also grown from the original concept that I posted about; what started in my mind as a resource for literacy has inevitably grown wings, sprouted heads and transitioned to a heaving bank of resources for all sorts.

Change is good! We are now sitting at 350 contributors (primary and secondary) and with lots of shared drives floating about, I hope that the variety of resources will add value to any teacher, anywhere. A plethora of ‘stuff,’ #litdrive offers schemes of work, exemplar work, marking ideas, reading lists and initiatives, written literacy support, literacy across the curriculum and a whole heap in between. I usually have a monthly re-arrange/clear up/back up to ensure that resources shared are safe and easy to find.

What next? I thought it may be beneficial to outlinethe purpose of the drive but also put a few guidelines/pleas in place to make it great for everyone. Excuse the bullet points (some people may not have wanted to read the rambly words above and just get to the good stuff):

 

  • DM your email address with the #litdrive hashtag for me to send over an invite for you. Alternatively, send to my email (Katherine.howard@hotmail.co.uk) and #litdrive world is your oyster.
  • Once you have access, please do share how you have used someone else’s wonderful resource, using the #litdrive hashtag! It may be that you have tweaked a resource or used it in a new way which would be invaluable to any teacher. You may just make someone’s day after an hour of pulling glue sticks out of a child’s hair. Make someone smile.
  • Please, please, please do add your own resources- the top folder entitled wittingly, ‘I have something to add!’ is the place to pop it. I get heaps of messages from people saying, ‘I don’t really have anything great,’ or, ‘what type of thing would you want?’ Nonsense to the first- you’re an ace teacher, joining an online community to collaborate and share resources. You’re resources must be awesome. To the second- if you’re sharing a resource, I will find a folder to put it in.
  • Final gigantic plea- please do not delete or modify files. By all means, download it- stick it on your usb but other shared drives are really suffering as a result of this. It’s never deliberate of course, but if your Dropbox is heaving and you want out, just let me know and I will remove you from the drive.

Thank you so much for getting involved with #litdrive- I have had teachers from all over the world say thank you and would like to pass on that thanks to the people that deserve it. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Seasick and Froth: Independence and Progress

Where did we get to?

I’ve been mulling over the concept of spoon feeding within education, taking away the safety net whilst providing enough of the net for any of us to avoid feeling that swooping towards the cliff edge feeling and how we plan on going about all of that in the midst of what is stormy waters for the educational sector (all the shipwrecked metaphors. What can I say? I love a metaphor).

Previous action research included studying the process of peer and self assessment using a structured framework, guiding students towards making meaningful progress through using one another as an additional resource within the classroom; this then moved onto how to personalise learning through characteristic strengths and growth mindset. At Ashby Teachmeet recently, I spoke about the explicit link between developing the climate that makes things seem challenging and yet possible for all learners; this is only achievable, in my opinion, if we provide learners with the opportunity to reflect upon their own progress. Here is where we got to.

I have trialled the process of reflection, improvement and self-audit with my GCSE groups; one is a ‘top’ set, all working to target grades of B or above. The other, a mixed ability group with the range of target grades E-C. All students have a skills audit sheet that not only identifies the skills that they will develop over the GCSE course, but also outlines the particular assessment objective that the skill will relate to. Additionally, at the start of each unit, we have spent time selecting the skills that we will endeavour to develop during that unit. As a result of this, I am now currently working on a skills audit that will be tailored for each unit and perhaps act as an overlay to the giant skills sheet for the entire course (blue sky and all that). Both groups went through this process: visit audit sheet to identify skills before commencing a topic, using skills audit sheet to peer and self assess class work, planning and assessments and using the skills audit alongside post assessment work to celebrate successes in confidence but also identify areas that should be their key priority for the next unit or when we revisit the following year.

Successes? Both groups got it. The student feedback at a midpoint over the 3 month period and then again at the point of completion showed a clear, strong understanding their progress and the next steps required from the students’ point of view rather than the teacher; male students that always demonstrated a requirement for ‘beating targets’ found some sense of satisfaction in measuring their increasing confidence within a subject that may sometimes feel as though you are reaching a plateau- English content I find is reliant upon transferring skills in addition to developing them as such. One student noted that it ‘was more useful than comparing my work to other people as I don’t write in the same way’ which I found comforting. This was a process that was taking a rather qualitative subject and providing a linear way to demonstrate progress – nuts and bolts are hard to apply within English. The danger then becomes in who got the best and self-auditing means that students move away from test-topping which is always a good thing, surely. One student stated, ‘it helps me realise that I can now approach tasks better,’ and ‘it boosts my confidence to answer a question.’ Personally, this is the value of the progress over progress itself; if the effort is there and I have helped to strengthen that, then I believe the outcome will still ultimately be the same.

The key successes I took from this were that the skills audit acts as a triple whammy for teaching resourcing; one to one discussions post unit were far more focussed and specific to the student, the onus took a shift so that whilst I provided any material to help to make an improvement by way of intervention, the student was the one to signpost to me where they needed to make that improvement. It also made discussions at parents’ evening based entirely around progress and independent learning; conversations were centred around effort and action plans to aid this process. Intervention has been far easier to tailor as a result; students have been in a position to use assessment marking and the skills audit to know exactly what they want to develop or work on as the GCSE course has got underway.

Advice for approaching? Play the long game. This, like any practice or adaptation to teaching will take a routine and modelling to perfect. The more frequently used, the greater value the students placed upon the process of considering their work with a much more obejctive approach than they were perhaps previously used to. Provide as many examples of work using the skills audit to measure skills applied wherever possible; use the skills to drive lessons or form the lesson’s big question.

Two things stood out to me above all else: one, that it is questionable to suggest that the act of self audit has to be accurate or correct. Two, that the link between assessment criteria and the skills acquired needed to be much more clear to even the most able of students; they found it incredibly difficult to understand that they were using the same skills but just with differing content. The ideal? To create an online process for students to visit each time they worked yhrough a topic, measuring their confidence and skills developed as they progressed through the content and completed assessments to test their knowledge. Smaller, regular assessments that were clearly targeting skills outlined within the tool that students could then identify their own capabilities and perhaps even better, have a variety of links to resources that could help them to ‘close their own gap.’ Students understood the value and could identify holes in their learning, but sometimes struggled to know what to do with that information without guidance from me, although I do still need something to do with all this independent work, so I’m not complaining.

Back to the ship, big waves, etc, etc. What next? Develop a clear pathway for students to identify with not only what they excel at, but the targets for themselves as well. Essentially, a lighthouse in all this murky, gloomy weather that we are having. I just need to get around to making it…

Learning the Hard Way: Preparing to Fail

I was raised within both a home and education where right and wrong existed. There was very little room in either setting for a grey area; what was, simply was and what wasn’t- well, you follow. My secondary school was terrifying; my option choices were honestly made on the basis of avoiding certain circles (hence my complete inability to sew) and I lacked confidence to take on an additional GCSE, selecting supported studies because ‘you get a free hour for homework). The curriculum was not an invitation for exploration, but rather an A+B+C formula to the grades that were on my target report. I remember rather vividly, my English teacher correcting me on an interpretation of Browning’s Sonnet and being shot down in an instant (this is the same woman who laughed in my face at the outrageous notion that I could study Literature A level, so without digressing too much, her putdown may not be representative here).

Did I require the extra hour? To step outside my prior self for a moment and look upon 90’s kid Katherine from a teaching perspective, no. I walked out of school with an A* (English, smugly), two As, five Bs and 2 Cs (graphics- textiles would have definitely been my bag. I’ll give you a moment for that one). This was accomplished as a result of zero revision and my speedy completion of Tomb Raider – that four week break in school timetabling to sit at home really paid off. To put it in a nutshell, it could have been better.

It is only now, nearly twenty years on that I can peruse over the situation as a professional and consider the possiblities here. My academic potential? As much of a muchness to any other student at such a fine establishment. So what kept me from success? To toss aside the black/white approach, there was a lot going on outside the classroom, behaviour in the classroom of some subjects was verging on the ridiculous but above all else, I did not develop the confidence to believe that I would cope or could experience success at GCSE. Why? Because failure was not an option.

I’ve spent the last week or so mulling over the concept of failure after discovering the counterargument to Dweck’s growth mindset via Dr Tim O’Brien thanks to Paul Dix. The realisation that growth mindset was flawed shook up my thinking a little until a colleague put it rather eloquently that, ‘anything that takes an approach that is as binary as “you are or you are not” is subject to being flawed.’ I believe in the act of learning as opposed to an end point but yet this is not necessarily the train of thought here; by adopting an adherence to growth mindset within schools, are we then rejecting all those who dare to voice that there IS black and white and there IS a sense of failure as rejection and not simply put, a circumstance that requires us to dust ourselves off and ‘have a think on it’?

Flash forward to my classroom now and the jury is currently out. I very much reward effort over achievement; progress, in my opinion is a result of hard work and the ability to recover from what psychologically the individual may view as a setback. This is not only essential to an academic setting but to the world beyond the walls; coping mechanisms are built through small, repeated actions and experiences of such an emotion as failure- the small shortcomings are received in the same way as the larger and are just in valuable in developing resilience. And so with all of this in mind, how do I accommodate for students that need specific skills to pass a linear examination with a binary grading but that I would ideally like to approach the curriculum with them in a holistic way that defies all of the above? Big breath. Dr Tim O’Brien put it nicely in his article:’Yet in this new mindset environment, a teacher trying to establish which mindset learners possess will naturally place them as learners on the fixed pole or the growth pole. Instead of the teacher having multiple lenses through which to understand individuality and commonality, they now have only two.’ One size, as we all know, is not possible. Looking for the quick win is not what will save the educational format as we have or now know it and whilst my mind boggles at the thought (all multi-faceted sides of it), it is slightly refreshing to observe with children that they can possess a sense of peace by knowing that there isn’t a formula to crack. It is, as they say, all gravy.

Ten Steps to Standing Alone: Developing Independence in your classroom

After attending a GCSE English course today with the key focus being how to ensure achievement for all at Key Stage four as we enter linear assessment, my thoughts returned to my semi-ranty post about interdependence and how we can develop this invaluable skill within even the less confident of students. There must be a happy balance between guiding students towards success and allowing them to consider their own independent, analytical enquiry in response to a text, or their own work with regards to written pieces. I have segmented this into ten ways in which we are classroom practitioners can make adaptations to teaching that can help students complete their education with a more independent mindset; whilst Key Stage four will provide a measurable process for this in the shape of their final linear exams, I feel that Key Stage three needs to be of equal focus so that students recognise the value of their own responses and opinions.

1. Stop Providing the Answers

It is such an easy trap to fall into to give what we believe the be the ‘right answers’ or ‘the way to do it.’ But this can often be at the detriment of leading students to believe that we are the omniscient presence in the classroom. By acting as a facilitator, passing over the onus onto the students may feel risky but the act of presenting questions and encouraging the questions of the students, particularly at the start of a unit can avoid this corner of learning that leads to a tick or cross situation. This could be displaying questions from students that can then be used to respond to at a later point, or providing students with the capacity to lead a Q&A forum within lessons where you simply chip in to encourage elaboration from particular learners. There will always be an element of the non-negotiable within a subject, but that knowledge will ‘stick’ if it is they that provided such criteria.

2. Provide the Opportunity for Leadership and Ownership

Develop your own confidence to sit back and led the students lead particular parts of their learning, In the same way that you would use the strengths of teachers within a department, utilise and share the talents of your students. Student led learning is key to enabling them to have a mental rehearsal for an exam situation. How should we tackle this question? Who could provide a toolkit within your classroom for particular aspects of a response? I like to carry out a ‘Genius Bar’ lesson prior to assessments, where students act as a help tool for others in order to move towards the same goal. This develops the concept of challenge and allows those students that can quite easily become complacent when set a series of tasks to explore beyond the confines of a lesson structure.

3. Use Student Voice as a Springboard for Learning

I regularly use student voice to gauge the success of my teaching and their honesty is priceless for informing next steps as a teacher. End of unit student surveys- Survey Monkey, exit slips, short email homeworks to you directly, discussion boards- provide you with concrete, qualitative data that can then adapt both future teaching of that unit but also that of the particular class. The process also allows students to develop the confidence to own their learning journey by being provided with a voice that has an explicit and active impact within your classroom.

4. Open with Learning Questions

Linking to number 1, and something that I repeatedly harp on about is providing a question as a Learning Objective/Intention. This allows a framework for less confident students and a starting point for further challenge. By handing over the process to reach a developed answer to that questions, the student then feels a sense of accomplishment- they have achieved the response independently and to the extent that they feel comfortable. The higher attaining of the group can adapt the question to push their response further; by deciding on that adaptation at the start of the lesson, they can then stand back and recognise the progress that THEY have made, unaided and self-created.

5. Ask for Fears!

It is an old-age saying but one that students do not buy into often- failure is the first step to success. Failure is vital to learning and by addressing fears as a first step to a task or skill, it helps to then allow students to reassure one another, plays once again on the strengths within the room and builds a sense of compassion within the group. Fears identified can then inform future lessons or be addressed at a later point to demonstrate to students their achievements and capabilities. I am unconvinced from experience that students’ fears of their own areas of development and the reality match up- often, their own lacking confidence obstructs their sucess. By vocalising these, as a teacher you address the elephant in the room and they then provide the coping mechanisms and resolutions for said elephant!

6. Incorporate Collaboration Within Your Planning

Peer assessment, Group Writing, Peer created success criteria, tasks and challenges created by students not only creates a healthy, can-do mindset within the classroom, but also provides the stepping stone to interdependence. It is well documented that peer assessment is the middle ground to reaching a point of being able to become self-reliant in terms of self-assessment. The more the students can unpack success criteria for themselves, identify, prrof read and contribute to one another’s work, the more likely it is that in an exam situation, they will be able to evaluate their own work. By doing so initially with a structured framework and then over time, handing this strategy over to them, it will ensure that in a timed, pressured situation, they can recall these skills. Again, mental rehearsal.

7. Move Away from the Gimmicks

During my training year, I developed a format of processes to develop skills, with very little impact. Whilst a visual accompaniment to a term or point in assessment can be handy, the student will often (in my experience) recall the gimmick but not the skill itself. Engagement is possible without reliance on a process formula and can lead to confusion on the students’ part. I refer to a blender to ‘blend ideas’ or a pea for ‘PEA chains.’ The student recalls that there are three steps to analysis but is still none the wiser as to what to include or how to do it effectively. If students are to excel in terms of a skill, then they must recognise the requirements rather than us provide it for them. One size does certainly not fit all.

8. Create a Context

This acts as an alternative to 7. Develop tasks within the lesson that provide a real life setting to a process- those lessons will be memorable for the student because it linked to a situation that they can relate to in some way. The memorable lessons for skills focuses will ensure stickablility- Dragon’s Den for persuasion, using local information or a news story as a base for lessons. I like to carry out music quizzes to link to themes of a text prior to assessment (my recent lesson for Scrooge’s development in A Christmas Carol featured ‘I Don’t Care’ by Icona Pop and ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson!). The more than students can relate to a character or concept, the more likely they are to discuss it convincingly on paper.

9. Remove the Mist

Similar to 6, students seem most afraid of the Unknown. This has been a point of contention with teachers that I have worked with, but I start a unit by emailing out assessment criteria and the assessment that we will work towards. Could you teach without knowing what you were working towards? The more informed the students are, the sooner they can identify possible gaps in their own learning- this can even stretch to setting out one key target that they aim to fulfil before the final assessment, to understand or demonstrate a particular skill required in the assessment criteria.

10. Have fun!

You remember the teacher that took a risk over the teacher that taught by a specific strategy or focus. Move outside your own comfort zone and experiment. Handing over the controls to students can be terrifying and with the time constraints and pressures of teaching as they currently stand, it seems that the idea of moving away from a plan is simply not an option, but it will be the very thing that makes you more effective! We are facing a one size fits all end point, but there are many different ways to reach the end point. Do not be afraid to go off the beaten path for a bit!