Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"How are you challenging your gifted and talented pupils?" isn't theright question.

Gagné defines giftedness as "the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed superior natural abilities" and talent as "the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge".  In both cases, Gagné  is talking about people who fall in the top 10% of their age peers. The Oxford dictionary provides a less clear distinction: talented is "having a natural aptitude or skill"  while gifted is "having exceptional talent or natural ability".  In essence the terms are interchangeable, perhaps both implying some natural quality, although to be gifted seems higher up the scale ("exceptional") and less "trainable", if we take Gagné's definition.  

So on that basis and assuming an even spread of Gagné's 10% of giftedness and talent throughout the world, the top 10% of readers and writers in your class - let's say the three pupils who form the ablest half of your highest ability group in English - might be gifted and talented.  But what if talent is not evenly spread? You might ask yourself how those three pupils might compare in reading/writing ability on a local, regional or national level.  Are they gifted and talented, or are they just the most able 10% of a class that in general is operating below local/regional/national expectations?  In this case, shouldn't your energies be focused on raising the attainment of all?

How about other gifts and talents?  How are you challenging pupils who have superior mastery of or superior natural abilities in sewing, or keepy uppy, or Super Mario?  Have you tested all your pupils for their mastery of these gifts and/or talents, or are we just talking about literacy and numeracy when we refer to gifted and talented children?

And just suppose talent is fostered or encouraged by children's experiences outside school, through the systematic support of parents and carers.  And just suppose some parents and carers are better able to provide this systematic support?  Could that be a possibility? Let's take literacy, for example.  The American Psychological Association notes that parents from low socioeconomic status (SES) communities are less likely to provide a positive literacy environment and less likely to read with their children.  This is about socioeconomic class.  The children of parents of higher SES (measured by education, income and occupation) are more likely to get the support at home that leads to the label gifted and talented.  Potentially, schools are more likely to label middle class children gifted and talented.*

And then, how about this scenario.  What if children from higher SES backgrounds with a richer literacy experience at home and who, let's say, get taken to concerts and galleries and theatres by their parents and carers, are rewarded for their giftedness and talent at school with additional book clubs, reading opportunities and concert, gallery and theatre visits.

I'll leave you to work out what the right questions are.

*Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for other examples of how the identification of giftedness and talent is distorted by factors such as when and where you're born.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

What does play mean and how can you have play in your Key Stage 2 classroom?

Play is at the heart of what happens in the Early Years. The government agrees: “Play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, to think about problems, and relate to others. Children learn by leading their own play, and by taking part in play which is guided by adults” (DfE, 2014, p9).

Lindon (2002) suggests that play describes “the activities of children from babyhood until the early teenage years” and identifies some common characteristics:
  •   Activities are chosen by the child
  •    They can be done alone, but are often done with others
  •    Play absorbs participants
  •   There can be disagreements within play “about how the play should progress”

So how does play work in Key Stage 2 classrooms? It’s a rhetorical question – I’m making a point: play doesn’t happen in Key Stage 2 classrooms (nor in lots of Key Stage 1 classrooms).  It seems contradictory that in schools we are comfortable encouraging children aged 3-5 to lead, choose, collaborate (and sometimes disagree) and consequently be absorbed, but uncomfortable about allowing children aged 5-11 this kind of ownership (leadership, choice, opportunities to invite collaboration and to disagree with those they collaborate with).  Perhaps play is not seen as a legitimate use of time.  But these play characteristics are life skills.  Isn’t it the responsibility of teachers to foster these skills?

How could you start to introduce play into your key stage 2 (or Key Stage 1) classroom? * 

Provide opportunities for children to take the lead.  Children might

a.     generate sets of activities in response to specific learning objectives
b.      identify key questions to answer
c.      develop criteria for assessment
d.     make assessment decisions
e.     evaluate the success of activities

Provide opportunities for choice.
  Children might choose

a.     from a selection of activities each of which enables them to demonstrate understanding/progress (see 1a)
b.     the order in which they complete a set of activities
c.      how to record an activity (by devising a chart or using a camera or a voice recorder)
d.     how they want to report back on an activity (through spoken word or PowerPoint or poster)

Provide opportunities for children to organise.
  Children might

a.     devise rules which govern how activities are carried out (and go through a process of disagreement and discussion)
b.     distribute roles
c.      invite participation/collaboration

* These approaches require adult guidance initially (modelling, moderation, evaluation, feedback).  Children don’t automatically know how to do these things, but I would argue that activities such as these develop the types of play activities with which children in the Early Years are encouraged to engage.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Preparing for interview: 10 tips

Frankly this doesn't explicitly articulate a philosophy.  But you may find it useful (and the suggestions are driven by a clear set of principles.)  The link should open a Prezi - you can install Prezi on Windows, Mac, iPhone, or iPad for free.  Preparing for interview: 10 tips

9 reasons why worksheets don’t work

It depends, of course, on what you mean by “work”.  If you want something that you can put together (or download) without thinking too hard, that might keep a few pupils in your classroom occupied for a few minutes, that might (if you provide different worksheets for different groups) provide some uncritical evidence of differentiation, then worksheets might do the job.  But if your classroom is about learning and progress and celebrating difference then forget worksheets.  Below I've listed nine reasons why I think this. Throughout, ask yourself why you wanted to become a teacher.

  1. Worksheets make lessons task-oriented rather than learning-oriented.  In a worksheet-dependent lesson, the objective for the lesson becomes be able to complete the worksheet rather than understand how to… or be able to explain the reasons for… or I can evaluate a range of… Planning can be difficult, but reaching for a default worksheet to slot into a lesson will pull you away from thinking about what you want pupils to learn, away from thinking about what you want pupils to understand or be able to do at the end of your lesson that they couldn’t do at the start.
  2. They emphasise quantity rather than quality as a measure of success.  How many have you done? becomes the key question rather than How well do you understand this? Worksheets encourage superficiality. 
  3. Worksheets are intrinsically unchallenging.  Pupils either can or can’t do the tasks required to complete the worksheet.  If pupils can, they’ll finish quickly or be unchallenged or both.  If they can’t, they can’t: they’ll spend the allotted time completing the tasks incorrectly or they will disengage.   Perhaps you’ve created a worksheet in which the task is more open-ended, or encourages a collaborative approach (see Reason 6) to complete set tasks – that’s great, but ask yourself if you really need a worksheet to do this.
  4. Worksheets create glass ceilings.  Once the worksheet is complete, that’s it: the pupil can go no further.  This is true for your most and your least able pupil: the tasks on a worksheet are finite.  You might have included extension activities, but these too are finite.  Perhaps you’ve created a worksheet in which the task is more open-ended or which invites pupils to devise their own extension activities – that’s great, but ask yourself if you couldn’t build this sense of pupil ownership into the culture of your classroom. 
  5. They invite uniformity. If you want to create a generation of robotic clones, then stick to worksheets.  But if you became a teacher because you wanted to inspire creativity, celebrate difference, foster independence, then bin the worksheets.  Or recycle them (see Reason 9).  Teachers’ Standard 2 requires you to “encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work”.  I can see how a pupil might conscientiously complete a worksheet, but does a worksheet really invite a pupil to take responsibility?
  6. Worksheets discourage collaboration.  Six pupils, each with a worksheet, sitting at the same table are unlikely to collaborate – they may even have been told not to.  Teachers often refer to this gathering of pupils as a “group”, but when they’ve each got a worksheet this is a group only in a mathematical sense, grouped together like so many apples or bananas.  The challenges and opportunities of working as a group will hardly come into it: they don’t need to deal with group dynamics (there aren’t any), to devise a way to pool their resources (they’re often told not to), to motivate or engage one another or take responsibility for anything other than the completion of the worksheet in front of them.  (Is this really what you want Teachers’ Standard 2 to be about?)  And what happened to social constructivism?  All that stuff that Vygotsky spouted about “problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”?  Perhaps you’ve created a worksheet that has collaborative activity built in (perhaps a single sheet which a group share) – that’s great, in fact I’d suggest that’s no longer a worksheet but something different (a challenge, a task, a problem).
  7. They prevent pupils from devising their own ways of recording their understanding or for presenting their findings.  Worksheets are often about filling in boxes: the teacher provides the question or the grid or the table, the pupil writes the answer or fills in the box.  This prepares pupils to complete questionnaires and respond to surveys. Get pupils to devise their own ways to present their understanding – this will reveal lots about what they understand – and if you’re concerned that pupils won’t be able to devise ways by themselves, that’s what modeling is for.  After all, if you don’t give them a chance to devise their own methods, how are they going to become independent, problem-solving communicators?
  8. They create more work for teachers.  You have to design, print, photocopy, and distribute worksheets.  Then you have to collect them in and stick them in pupils’ books – unless you’ve got the pupils to stick them into their books as part of the lesson (Learning objective: I can stick a worksheet into my book). 
  9. Worksheets waste paper.  Why photocopy something which pupils then stick to another sheet?