Friday, 23 December 2016

Researching 'good practice' in teaching & learning for your dissertation?


Here are some links to some useful starting points for your literature review, arranged by theme (but in no particular order):


English as an additional language/bilingual learners:


Autistic spectrum disorder:

Talk and literacy:

Music and cognition:

Play:


Creativity/the arts:

Grouping pupils by ability:

Learning styles:

Early years/KS1 transition:

Developing communication skills/pupils with SEN:

Links between prisons and universities:

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Writing at Masters' level: What is "Masters' voice"?

Criteria for assignments set at Masters’ level (or level 7) will probably allude to a set of generic descriptors from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.  Amongst other expectations, these descriptors anticipate that holders of Masters’ level qualifications can:
·      demonstrate systematic understanding (of the area being discussed)
·      demonstrate critical awareness of current problems/new insights
·      evaluate critically current research and scholarship
·      deal with complex issues systematically
·      communicate conclusions clearly (to specialist and non-specialist audiences)


So what should you be doing in your assignment to demonstrate that you've got this Masters' capacity?


Implications of Masters' level writing - what you'll be doing
In practice, demonstrating that you are doing this could take many forms.  Here are a few questions you could ask as you review your work before submission - the questions relate occasionally to assignments focusing on teachers' professional practice, but could be transferred to other contexts:


Self-evaluation questions to pose before submission
I've used the concept of simplicity a few times.  Simple means 'easily understood' or 'uncomplicated'.  You'll be dealing with complex ideas, so aim to express these as simply as you can (because you want the reader to understand what you're trying to say).  Simple is not the same as simplistic, which involves treating complex ideas as if they were simpler than in fact they are.  It is worth reading your work to a friend: the friend might not be interested in what you've written, but if they don't understand what you've said then you know you've got to do something before submitting.

Brookfield writes on thinking (and writing) critically, and explores assumptions and how these link to dominant ideologies.  You can read his chapter on critical thinking here.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Thumbs down for thumbs up...and an alternative

It used to be commonplace for teachers to ask pupils to self-assess at the end of lessons using a thumb up or a thumb down (and occasionally a thumb neither up nor down).  Thumb up indicated success or "I managed that comfortably" or "I understood everything".  Thumb down indicated failure or "That was really hard" or "I didn't get it".  

There are problems with this.  Let's for a moment assume that it works, that it's an accurate way for pupils to communicate self-assessment judgements.  Which group of pupils will tend to raise their thumbs at the end of the lesson?  And which group will tend to lower theirs?  It's not rocket science.  As an assessment tool it won't tell you anything you don't already know.

Actually, in practice, few pupils will want to be "the one that didn't get it", so a pupil who has struggled may put his or her thumb up (along with everyone else) to indicate success.  Essentially, as an assessment method it's unreliable.  (You could ask pupils to close their eyes and then raise or lower their thumbs - do you really think that's going to work?)

And this goes for any simple self-assessment system - traffic lights spring to mind as a similarly ineffective strategy.  The principle of asking pupils to make judgements about their own progress is a very sound one, but a short cut like this won't hack it.

However, you could try using thumbs up/down differently.  Try asking pupils at the end of the lesson how challenging they found the lesson.  Thumbs up for challenging, thumbs down for unchallenging.  Why?  Because you want your lessons to be challenging. Challenging is good. Challenging drives pupil progress.  Challenging demonstrates that you have high expectations.

And what will happen?  Pupils will need to get used to it (because they've spent so long getting used to thumbs up meaning easy), so it'll cause some confusion initially.  But then, once it's established, you'll have an useful pupil-centred evaluation tool.  What you want is for all pupils to put their thumbs up to indicate that they've been challenged.  Are all pupils in all of your lessons challenged?

Developing pupil ownership

If you've been following these posts, you'll have picked up the theme of pupil ownership.  I think this is important.  The model of a teacher-driven, teacher-centred classroom is outmoded.

The future is uncertain, the skills that pupils will require when they leave school are unknown: of the seven- or eight-year olds you teach next week, many will leave the school system in 2024.  This is a sci-fi year.  Children won't know what 'driving' means or 'handwriting' or 'shopping trolley'.  We don't know precisely what skills young people will need, but we do know that they'll either need to work things out for themselves/make informed decisions/evaluate what they've done, or that we should equip them with the capacity to self-manage, self-assess and self-evaluate.

And if developing pupil independence isn't a substantial enough carrot, the Teachers' Standards require that pupils are guided to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs and encouraged to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.


How could you go about this with the children in your class this week?  You could start by auditing your current practice. To the right are some questions you could ask yourself. Inclusion of any these elements would indicate a degree of pupil ownership.  (Just to acknowledge the possibility of some of these elements would be a starting point.) But if pupil ownership is part of your classroom climate then these elements are not bolt-ons.  This way of thinking should become integral to your practice.


To get pupil ownership up and running, identify some gaps and start putting some steps in place.  For example, at the start of a new topic (or theme or unit) ensure there's sufficient space  (time, opportunity) for pupils to identify what they already know and the skills/knowledge they'd like in place by the end of the topic. This is curriculum design and that's your first lesson of a new unit planned (in skeleton form).  There's an example of the left of doing this using a KWL grid and an iPad. 


When reporting back, pupils could decide the method or tool to use - poster, presentation, video, podcast.  Remember: this is the 21st century - why do pupils need to write sentences about what they've learnt?   Ensure there's sufficient space for pupils to assess what they've done - encourage them to assess thoughtfully, to be critical friends.  Self-assessment isn't just about colouring in a set of traffic lights or raising a thumb (although this is a start): it's about equipping children to make informed judgements about the progress they've made.