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Teachers – The Essential Ingredient

One of the difficulties of dealing with data at a whole school level is the sheer volume of students involved and the wide range of departments involved. As so much of what we do in the higher years is reported at a national level it is easy, and obvious to focus on the Y11 classes, making sure they have achieved what they need to.

When we look at these patterns in most schools we see fairly detailed analysis and focus at ks4, with slightly less focus at Y10. At ks3, the tracking in the main, focuses on progress in individual subjects, again, the quality of this type of tracking varies from subject to subject, and often, from teacher to teacher.

However, if we are to create a real culture of improvement and focus, as is often seen in the most successful schools, we need to be looking at the bigger picture and each subject needs to see its part within it. The challenge is to stop the insular thinking that is traditionally the way schools work. Maths, Science and English often struggling against each other for kudos and higher grades and more time, foundation subjects feeling sidelined or pushing for their needs to the detriment of other subjects. The time has come that we see ourselves as truly part of the same organisation, with the same purpose.

One of the biggest challenges in moving a school from good to great is dealing with within-school variation. This is where students have very different experiences in different subjects across the school, or where the difference between pupils with similar abilities on paper is vast because of the teacher they have. Obviously, there will be differences between subjects, not everyone can or will have the ability to do well across the school. However, should there be such a difference? Students who achieve an A or a B in English achieving an E or F in other subjects. What causes this type of gap? What can we do to change this?

Before we consider the complex world of data, we need to look at one of the most influential and essential elements in a student’s school career- the teacher. Now we are not just talking about the quality of the teacher. Yes, there are teachers who are less confident, less motivated and even less capable than others. There are teachers who have real difficulties getting the necessary level of behaviour for excellent progress. There are, and I’m sure I’ll be shouted down over this, but we all know it is true, some teachers who really shouldn’t be teachers: the teachers who don’t care about the classes they teach, who don’t plan or teach lessons properly, who don’t mark the student work and some, who frankly don’t seem to like children. When we are looking at this final category, the new government plans to remove the informal part of teacher monitoring and to make it easier to get rid of poor teachers is a good thing. Most teachers have had to pick up the pieces of the group who has had one of these teachers. The group who have made little progress since primary school, those who have not covered the content of the course, and those who fail to mark or even set the necessary work for GCSE. I won’t pull any punches here, if this is the case, and these teachers do not improve their working practices, they should leave, and it should be possible to ensure they leave before they damage the education of even more children. For the teacher, yes it may be a career, but you can’t tell me that a teacher who really tries hard (as the vast majority do) would be in this position or wouldn’t improve with help. The hard core of others need to be removed, and we all know who they are.

However, one of the biggest impacts is down to the expectation of the teacher. This starts at primary school, letting the weaker students do less, expecting less. In some cases, it is down to the set number, deciding, based on an arbitrary number, the ability of a group and the students within it. Those little comments made by the previous teacher which are rarely focused on the achievement and progress of the students. This attitude needs to be stamped out from the very start. In Y11 it is almost impossible to turn this attitude around, and this is a key area that we need to address as teachers. As one of the teachers said in Alistair Smith’s High Performers, what is the point of setting a target below a C, the whole point of a target is that it should be aspirational, it shouldn’t be a given, but we should ensure that we are teaching all students the skills and content they need to achieve this. They may not all get there, but at least we can make sure we have done everything we can to achieve this, whatever the set.

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Socrative – A Really Useful Addition To Your Teaching Tools

As seems to be the norm at the moment, I have been finding all sorts of useful tools on the internet. I found Socrative on a list of Web 2.0 tools. Although we have SMART response in school, I have only had a brief training session on them and need to learn how to use them. Socrative seemed to be similar, but without the fuss. One of the things I liked about Socrative was that I could set things up at home and use them in school.

I have completed three trials with Socrative, with a range of different classes to explore how it works and also how the classes respond to it.

Trial 1

My first trial was a quiz on ‘Of Mice and Men’ for my top set Year 10 class. As Socrative can be used on iPhones, Android as well as via 3G and on PC I thought I would try allowing the pupils to use their own mobile devices. As this was the first time I had used this, I tried to keep the task as simple as possible.

The students were very keen to use their phones, but not all could access this – even students with the same types of phone. In the end, they got into groups with someone with a device that worked and completed the quiz that way. They enjoyed the task and being able to show them who had responded was useful. Even more useful was the option on Socrative to download an Excel spreadsheet of the results, allowing the teacher to review the responses.

Due to the technical issues, I decided not to carry on using the program during the lesson.

Trial 2

For the second lesson, I tried the program using a class set of laptops. I planned two tasks – a quiz and an Exit Ticket. It was much quicker loading up the program on the laptops and generally the program worked well, but for the reasons outlined below we only did the quiz.

I encountered two main difficulties, firstly the randomise answers option seemed to move the answers but not which one was correct, so students were marked wrong for correct answers. The second problem was really down to my choice of class. This was a group of Year 10 students who I see once a fortnight. I thought that they would enjoy the change of task, but in retrospect my relationship with the group was not good enough to trial something new. However, several students did say that they had enjoyed using the program.

Trial 3

My most recent trial was with my Y12 Film Studies class. I decided to use the quiz tool as a starter and to assess whether the group had been covering the revision topics they had been given. Using the downloadable Excel template, I created a 20 question multiple choice quiz. The template was very simple to use, allowing me to write the quiz and check it belore uploading it to Socrative.The feedback form would show me student responses, allowing me to make revision tasks more targeted.

I also decided to use the Exit Ticket tool. This asks students:

  • How well did you understand today’s material?
  • What did you learn today? – very useful to check that what we think a class are learning and what they think they are learning are the same!
  • Please solve the problem on the board – a final plenary question
  • There is also an option to pass the Exit Ticket to another student, great if they need to share a device.

With an iPad it is very straightforward, as the App sits on the desktop and one click allows the student to login, unfortunately for me, we don’t have them so my trial was done on laptops.

The Y12s reacted very well to the quiz, they enjoyed it and the whole class found it easy to login.

The Exit Ticket was the best part, each student worked through the prompts and identified the areas they felt they needed more work on. This was very simple to view through the Excel feedback form – I could see at a glance who was confident and which specific areas needed more work.

Final Thoughts

Socrative is an excellent program, currently free as it is in the beta testing phase. It has some very useful features and is simple to use. Definitely worth a try.

Using SideVibe in Class

In my last post I wrote about my experiment with SideVibe, as suggested by @coolcatteacher. I had decided to try it with two groups – a Year 9 class, during lesson time, and a Y12 class for revision homework.

I have now used SideVibe with my Y9 class, looking at some short stories – below is the verdict, mine and theirs!

The Lesson

I had selected two very short stories from Short Stories at East of the Web – the site allows you to search by genre, age range and length. I then prepared a series of relatively simple questions on each of the stories for the students to comment on. I used the ‘Written Response’, ‘Ranking’ and ‘Discussion’ task options. I also used the ‘Multiple choice’ option and a free text  to get feedback from the class.

Logging In

Getting the class onto the site was relatively painless. I had produced a Powerpoint showing them what to do and included the teacher reference. We did find that, when they went to the first ‘vibe’, the website did not show up. This was down to the school system not fully downloading the page and was easily sorted.

Classwork

The class worked through the tasks at varying speeds as the tasks allowed them to work at their own pace. I could keep track on their work by circulating and also by checking the feedback option on the teacher site.

Feedback

I had only spent a short amount of time producing the ‘vibes’ and some of the tasks were a little repetitive, however the group as a whole seemed to like what they were doing. They particularly enjoyed the ‘Discussion’ task as it brings up the responses of their classmates and allows them to respond. This would need to be used carefully and with clear rules, with some groups, to avoid rude comments, but each comment is logged to an individual student and therefore any misuse provides clear evidence! As it was, only a couple of the group made silly comments and they were daft rather than malicious.

The ‘Feedback’ option allows teachers to feedback to individual students – this is something I will explore with the Y12 homework task.

Via the ‘Feedback’ option, it was also possible to create reports of the student responses for all tasks or for each individual task – this could allow you to stick the work into their books. It also means that you could evaluate responses from a whole class pretty quickly, so if the tasks were designed to test particular skills you could use it as a snapshot diagnostic tool.

About 75% of the class said they enjoyed the tasks – although, I would certainly work on improving the tasks when doing this again. I also gave the group the chance to tell me what they thought could be  improved – here are a selection of their comments:

Comments From Y9

Overall

Definitely worth using. The tasks are easy to set up and allow students to work at their own pace.