That Was The Year That Was

With one exhausting year at an end, with another on the way with my first foray into exam board marking alongside my efforts to complete my History Education MA, my sanity demands a brief ‘taking of stock’ of the year that was.

Highlights

  1. Although not immediately related to teaching and learning I had the pleasure of being invited to host the Dartford constituency hustings at our school in May 2015. This was an exhilarating experience, and stands out in my mind as a great personal accolade from 2015. The deeper point to take from this though, is that my students have had an excellent range of enrichment offered to them this year, topped off by the visit of Lord Professor Peter Hennessy to deliver our annual humanities Christmas lecture, where we also raised over £240 for Crisis at Christmas.
  2. Collaborative Teaching – This has been my third qualified year in teaching. As such, I’ve developed a lot of great (and not so great) resources and lessons. This has been the year where I’ve managed to consoldiate them into reasonably solid historical enquiries and have been able to share these with non-specialist colleagues and other time pressed colleagues within the department. It has helped our department standardise our offering, improved non-specialist teaching & laid the foundations for a more collaborative department approach to teaching as we encounter new GCSE and A-Level specifications.
  3. Challenge for All – In brief, I have been working on a few strategies to challenge the most able students. I was then given the opportunity to co-plan and deliver a CPD session on challenging the most able students, in new ‘Personalised Learning Groups’ where staff have signed up to work in a development group based upon one of the school’s High Impact Teaching Strategies as we seek to understand and embed David Weston’s principles of diagnosing areas in our teaching requiring development and refining one new teaching habit rather than making short-term use of a wealth of ideas thrown at us in a scattergun approach in whole-school CPD sessions. I enjoyed the challenge of this, have shaped my thoughts into a Teaching History article proposal and can see the seeds of where I want to take my History Education MA. I have a clear steer for how keep growing in 2016 – that’s the main thing!

Areas for Development

  1. Making feedback work.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading these ideas about feedback by Tom Sherrington in a CPD session in my school in February. They seemed like the perfect way to follow up on my experimentation in the winter 2014 term with marking every KS3 book every lesson (and in this I was particularly influenced by Harry Fletcher-Wood). I learned a lot from this. In essence, marking every book every lesson was a bit of a waste of time but I have come to cherish the principle “plan what you will mark, how you will mark it & how kids will make use of that feedback.” I have not yet strategically thought about planning my marking beyond a week to week basis. This needs to change in 2016.
  2. Sixth Form Independence.
    As I battle teaching the second new history A-level specification in two years without a textbook, I have found my time, energy and efforts being absorbed entirely by ensuring that lessons and homeworks are well resourced. This has left no time for developing meaningful structures for promoting independent learning by sixth form students or wider reading by students. I have found it much easier to do with my government & politics class, where wider reading is easier to identify and co-ordinate for students and I’m quite proud of the thorough unit guides I’ve made for students which they have found most helpful in supporting their independent endeavours. I need to do the same for KS5 history – ideas on what effective independent learning by sixth form students looks like and how to achieve it are most welcome!
  3. Testing for Memory
    Teaching discourse in the last twelve months or so has come to focus much more on low-stakes testing. It is certainly present in my teaching and is increasingly so, but this is not yet routine and I would be loathe to suggest that it is ‘systematically’ deployed in my schemes of learning. I’d also like to further understand and try out the idea of ‘cumulative assessments’ as set out by Michael Fordham here. At present, my feedback & assessment strategies are to look at a piece of work mid-enquiry and then mark/assess a core task at the end of a historical enquiry. There is a more meaningful testing and feedback structure that could be woven together (see making feedback work above).

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Advertisements

In Defence of the Powerpoint

In Defence of the Powerpoint

A Powerpoint is not a substitute for ‘good old-fashioned board work’, but a tool to judiciously use to support great teaching.

The use of a Powerpoint for a lesson is a contentious issue for me. There are few lessons where I do not use one. However it became a running sore from the beginning of my teaching career. My fantastic course leader at the Institute of Education said we should all try to teach without them. I taught without one. The lesson was a disaster. I didn’t put this down to the lack of technology but my observer did. I’m not bitter about having been caught between a rock and a hard place…

However this internal dilemma has been reawakened by Michael Fordham’s declaration that he has been teaching for a term without a Powerpoint, with the suggestion that this has made him an [even] better teacher. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a new idea, I’ve discovered that Joe Kirby and the team at Michaela have similar thoughts.

I understand the appeal. There is something about not teaching with a Powerpoint that can make one feel more connected with the students in a class; it feels like we are doing more, imparting knowledge and crafting the learning more. However I can’t help but suspect that this is something of a Luddite daydream. Not that I want to be drawn into holding an absolute position – that a Powerpoint is a must for every lesson – but I feel a defence of its value must be made and propose that there is not necessarily an inherently ‘correct’ answer but that the judicious use of the ubiquitous Powerpoint will support great teaching.

  1. Teacher Time
    I reject the suggestion that teachers waste excessive periods of time re-formatting their slides and that time could be better spent on other activities. In the Joe Kirby article linked to above, he suggests four better uses of time. His ideas are, of course, excellent. However many plan their lessons whilst constructing great lessons, so to suggest that more time could be spent planning if less time was spent on Powerpoints is something of a misnomer.
  2. Planning Questioning
    I rely heavily on the idea of Socratic questioning and one of the fundamental principle of my lessons is to present students with some knowledge and then get them to do something with it. With a full teaching timetable, I’d hazard a guess that I field an exceptionally high number of questions each and every day, let alone week. This might just be a personal failing, but I can’t remember all of them. Many (I shan’t claim all!) are carefully thought through and designed to steer a lesson in a certain direction and to help students to work up their historical thinking from some initial source material. One might make the counter-point that one could just as easily write their questions out on a piece of paper. True. However there is an added advantage to having questions written out for students in advance. Questioning can also be adapted on a Powerpoint within a lesson to respond to the changing circumstances of a lesson – I’m often hammering away modifying a slide whilst students are getting on with a bit of work. This isn’t in any way different to writing your questions up on the board differently.
  3. Behaviour Management
    There is a desirable sense of authenticity about teaching the perfect lesson according to one’s subject’s pedagogical principles. In reality there are behaviour management issues to consider. One should never compromise too far but a realistic perspective must be had.Some students will miss questions if made orally. In an ideal world, they would be hanging off of my every word. Without seeming too arrogant, most of them usually This isn’t good enough. All students deserve clearly worded instructions, which they can continually refer back to, to maintain a sharp focus to their work. This does not happen with orally issued instructions, and frankly I’m too lazy to turn my back to a class and write them up in full on a board. Students also care extremely little for my handwriting.I also begin each lesson with a title, date, a reminder of the over-arching enquiry question and a welcome activity – something students can get on with, without any teacher input, allowing me to get on with other administrative tasks to support the start of a lesson. It is a routine I get every student in, and makes student behaviour and starting a lesson extremely easy to manage.
  4. Resourcing
    I love getting unusual sources into a lesson. As many as possible. The more unusual, varied and intricate the better. There are two issues here, therefore, with systematically not using some sort of visual display. First of all, my experience has been that the more precise images do not translate well when printed out. Second of all, I do not work in a school with unlimited funds – far from it. Many schools are likely to go off of the financial cliff during the lifetime of the current version of Powerpoint. Many Twitter ‘authorities’ are either blessed with significantly larger budgets than I and/or have reached a position of seniority which likely allows a degree of freedom with the volume of photocopying made per lesson by virtue of a smaller timetable and have easier access to colour printing. I’d rather use more sources, and collectively pick them apart, than fewer sources printed out.

 

I rest my case. I shall explore a little more with a few lessons whereby I will actively avoid making use of the Powerpoint and see how far my views shift. To support such an endeavour, I do look forward to receiving some ripostes which challenge my existing thinking and perhaps help me to navigate the troubled waters of life without visual display software.