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« What Skills Does an ICT Co-ordinator Need? | Main | 10 Ways to Use Voting Systems »

Rules of Engagement

Do we need gimmicks, new-fangled techniques to keep kids engaged in lessons? I’ve been watching a TV programme called The Classroom Experiment, in which Dylan Wiliam coaches staff and students in some of his assessment for learning techniques. I have to say I am deeply cynical. There is no doubt that these techniques appear to work, but the question is: do they? And even if they do, are they necessary?

The two main techniques shown in the programme I watched were as follows:

  • Don’t allow the students to put their hand up to answer a question. Instead, select a student at random by picking out a lolly stick with their name on it.
  • Don’t allow the students to put their hand up to ask a question. Instead, ask them to display one of three plastic coloured cups on their desk: green for “I’m fine”, orange for “I’m not 100% sure”, and red for “Help!”.

oh, puh-lease!Having been on one or two assessment for learning (AfL) training days recently, I’m not unfamiliar with these approaches. They’re the kind of thing that, in the rarefied atmosphere of a conference, or even in a school when the kids are nowhere to be seen, sound interesting, sensible and even exciting. I think we can learn much from them, though perhaps not necessarily what Professor Wiliam and the BBC intended.

Let’s take the use of lolly sticks. There are a number of objections to this. Firstly, on a very pragmatic level, who is going to write the kids’ names on them? Teachers don’t have the time, and that’s not their job anyway. If you have a classroom assistant or a support technician, do you really want them spending hours doing that? The last time I was teaching full-time, I think I had around 10 classes with about 30 students in each. That’s a lot of lolly sticks and a lot of writing.

Secondly, in the kind of schools I’ve taught in, the lolly sticks would have either become lethal weapons, and/or some bright spark would have mixed them up, removed some of them, duplicated some of them so that some students would be “picked on” more than others and so on. In fact, towards the end of one of the two TV programmes available at the moment, something did indeed happen to a set of lolly sticks. (I haven’t watched the next instalment to find out what.)

A fun way of selecting a studentBut surely the biggest objection is that the whole process is completely unnecessary? What’s the problem with picking a name at random from your mark book or class list?

If you really want to inject a bit of pizzazz into the proceedings, then use a random name selector like the one I constructed in Excel – just import or copy/paste the students’ names into it – or an online random selector like this one, in which you can also copy/paste your class list from the data help in the school’s computer system. This is free, although you’ll have to rename each list you save with a more meaningful name than the default one (“fruit_machine”).

Whichever method of random selection you decide to use, it’s a good approach, as I can vouch from personal experience from having done it when I was teaching: it keeps everyone on their toes because nobody knows if they’re going to “picked on”, and it avoids the situation in which only two or three students ever answer questions. So, nothing wrong with the principle per se, just the way Professor Wiliam dresses it up.

So the first of my “rules of engagement” is:

Rule #1: Don’t create more work for yourself unnecessarily

The issue is not so much the extra work, but the fact that it’s unnecessary. You don’t need lolly sticks in order to select people at random.

Let’s consider those cups now. Again, thinking about the sort of schools I taught in for much of my teaching career, the cups would have become guided missiles in 3 seconds flat. Not because my discipline was poor: it wasn’t. But having worked hard at establishing good discipline and a good working atmosphere, I wouldn’t have wished to jeopardise it all by introducing irrelevant distractions. You don’t need plastic cups to see who needs help, as I’ll discuss in a moment. But for now, it brings us to my second rule of engagement:

Rule #2: Don’t introduce irrelevant distractions

Now, you may think I’m guilty of tautology: how can a distraction not be irrelevant? Well, there are times when, as a deliberate part of the lesson plan, you will want to introduce a distraction, such as in the case of a newsroom simulation, when suddenly some extra information comes in just as you were finalising the editorial.

Part of the lesson involved the youngsters holding up mini-whiteboards which were, to all intents and purposes, like the old slates but with marker pens rather than chalk. The teacher asks a question, and the students write their answers down on their whiteboards and then hold them up for the teacher to see.

OK, it makes for a quieter and more orderly lesson – no shouting out – but the trouble with this sort of approach is that there’s no record of who said what. I’d like to see the students using a programme like a discussion forum (Fronter, for example, has several types of discussion forum, including a “brainstorming” one in which contributions appear as post-it notes), or Wallwisher. If the teacher intended to ask a closed question, she could set it up in advance on a student response system.

In each of these cases, both teacher and students would have a record of responses, which can be discussed at a later date. I suppose the mini-whiteboard is cheaper and easier in many respects, and would work well in some classroom environments, but I don’t think we should adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to the use of technology. Which leaves us with:

Rule #3: Use the most appropriate technology for the circumstances

And, it should go without saying, use it well.

So let’s get back to those plastic cups. The most significant improvement to one teacher’s lessons occurred when a couple of students were selected to observe her lesson and then give useful feedback and suggestions, which the teacher acted upon. In particular, they said that when several students had a red cup showing, rather than race around the room trying to deal with each of them in turn, why not get them together as a group and deal with them all at once? I derive the following rules from this:

Rule #4: Give students responsibilities…

I think most people would agree that if you give kids responsibilities such as, in this instance, observing a lesson, they will usually rise to the level of your expectations. In short, give them responsibility and they will probably act responsibly. This was apparent from something one of the observers commented. “I hadn’t realised”, she said (I’m paraphrasing), “how much work goes into preparing a lesson. I’ll think twice before messing about from no now on.”

However, it’s no good leaving such processes to chance, and the school quite rightly trained the students in how to observe lessons objectively and give feedback sensitively. Had that not happened, we may have heard the sort of ridiculous comments found on the Rate My Teacher website, like “My teacher is useless cos he’s always giving me dirty looks”. So the next rule is, of course:

Rule #5: … And teach them how to execute them responsibly

As Peter Parker’s (aka Spider-Man) uncle said: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

But I’d also like to know what what exactly was being measured when students’ learning improved after a period of using the plastic cups in class. Was it an example of the Hawthorne Effect, in which the mere fact of being observed leads to positive changes in behaviour? Or was it perhaps yet further evidence of the incontrovertible fact that if you give a good teacher a box of paperclips and a piece of string she will somehow create a fantastic lesson from it? The answer will be important in determining how the school spends its budget, if nothing else: continuing professional development courses or plastic cups? So it seems to me that a crucial rule is:

Rule #6: Know what you’re measuring

As I said in Go on, bore ‘em: how to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull, I had a daft conversation with a teacher when I was inspecting the ICT department. Having been shown a set of “before" and after” graphs based on students’ test results, I asked the teacher what the graphs actually showed. “Who cares?”, he said. “The line’s gone up, hasn’t it?”

Sorry: it may not always be possible to be absolutely certain what is going on or why, but should we not at least make an attempt to find out?

OK, I can tell that you’re not convinced, so let’s consider the financial side of things. I don’t know how much plastic cups’ total costs of ownership (storage space, for example) are, but providing one class with under 100 plastic cups as part of an experiment lasting a term seems to me to be a different order of magnitude than providing a whole school with plastic cups for the foreseeable future. This gives us our next rule:

Rule #7: Ask if it’s scaleable, and feasible

Let’s explore the cost side of things for  moment. I just looked up plastic cup suppliers, and came across this one, which sells red plastic cups in boxes of 50 for £5.49 including VAT. Most schools don’t pay that tax, and they’d probably obtain a bulk purchase discount as well, so let’s assume they can get the box of cups for £4.

That means a school with a population of 2,000 students will need 40 boxes of red cups, at a cost of £160. Assuming the cost of green and amber cups is the same, that’s a total of £480, and that’s not even taking into account wastage. If the school Principal told you that you couldn’t have a new laptop because they’d spent the money on plastic cups instead, what would you think? What would parents think?

That bit about being feasible has another dimension, which I can best illustrate with an example. Picture the scene: you have received, and accepted, an invitation to speak at a prestigious conference, and the Conference Organiser has called you up:

Conference Organiser: We’re delighted that you have accepted the invitation to be our opening keynote speaker. The audience will comprise 300 Headteachers from around the country, and some government employees. You’ll be given a laptop, a presenter (a remote control for the laptop) and an internet connection. Is there anything else you need?

You: Yes. Nine hundred different coloured plastic cups, and some people to help distribute them at the start and collect them in at the end.

If it won’t work for adults, don’t foist it upon students:

Rule #8: Treat kids like adults

If that’s not really possible, because of their age, say, at least don’t treat them as gibbering idiots.

But what was really going on in the classroom? Things improved when the teacher grouped the students who were finding the work hard, and went through it with them separately from the main group of kids. You don’t need different coloured plastic cups to see which students need assistance. A competent teacher will ask questions the answers to which reveal any misconceptions the students have, and will help her ascertain who gets it and who doesn’t. She will be constantly scanning the faces of her students to check if they look puzzled or blank, or whether the proverbial penny has dropped, resulting in shining eyes.

In other words, what worked in the end in the classroom being filmed was not plastic cups, but good teaching.

I cannot help but be reminded of the story of what is reported to have happened on the set of the film Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman, in the Method Acting tradition, sought to bring some realism into his performance by staying up for three nights because the character he was playing had been awake for three nights. Upon hearing this, Sir Laurence Olivier said, “Try acting, dear boy; it’s much easier.”

So I say: “Try teaching, dear boy”, which leads to my penultimate rule of engagement:

Rule #9: Focus on the teacher

Good initial training, an expectation of, and provision of, continuing professional development, time built in to the school day in which teachers can reflect and discuss. That’s what is needed, not plastic cups.

So where does this leave us? Is AfL a load of rubbish? On the contrary: the techniques recommended under the banner of AfL (giving comments rather than grades, not answering your own question after three nanoseconds, self-assessment etc) are absolutely spot on. Have a look at Inside the Black Box, by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam for a summary of the techniques without all the persiflage. To find out how to apply the techniques specifically in the context of ICT/educational technology, consider buying Information & Communication Technology: Inside the Black Box, by Mary Webb and Margaret Cox. Thus:

Rule #10: Use Assessment for Learning, but without all the gimmickry

To sum up, I think a competent teacher can achieve the kind of transformation seen in the TV programmes by applying some useful strategies combined with appropriate use of educational technology. In my opinion, devices like cups and lolly sticks serve only to get in the way, and are a potential source of distraction and disruption. Whether I am correct, or have simply turned into the cynical old bloke that I always swore, hoped and prayed I would never become, sitting mumbling in a corner of the staffroom, I leave for you to decide.

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Reader Comments (16)

I watched it also Terry and have already said on Twitter that it was like watching a Teacher Training video from something like Teacher Tv i.e. why was this particular aspect of teaching deemed to be 7pm mainstream Tv material? And you are so right in that the focus should really have been on training the teacher. But I dont think you should worry about being an old cynical fart. To me this was an opportunity to show how various technologies can be deployed to aid classroom management and enhance engagement some of which you mention. Give the kids a lolly stick with a lolly on it and a cup with some water in then use the time spent on this appropriately. Now that's proper cynicism!!
September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNIck
Like you, I watched the first part of the programme. What first struck me, I don't know about you, was just how outdated the teaching approaches in the school seemed to be.
The second thing that struck me is that having an 'expert' come in, hold up a whiteboard and say that this is the biggest breakthrough in education since the slate, is probably a sure sign that there is something very wrong with the education system.

From the approaches introduced to the school, it struck me that only two were being particularly effective. The whiteboards weren't particularly effective and the lollipop sticks were questionable. The physical exercise at the beginning of the day, which I thought seemed a good idea, seemed thwart by practical difficulties. The cups, especially combined with the pupil feedback, were successful. I think we evidenced this most strongly with the maths teacher for we saw her lessons turned from a 'teaching' session, which were carried out regardless of whether the pupils were learning or not, into a 'learning' session were struggling pupils (as indicated by their red cups) were brought together to work through the problems.

For me, it was only the use of the coloured cups and, particularly, the pupil feedback, which seemed to work from the first part of the programme. I wait to see what happens in the next part.

My wife, who is a primary teacher, watched the programme with me. Her response was that most of the things have already been done in primary schools. It will be interesting to see how secondary pupils and staff respond to primary style approaches!
September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Woods
@Nick wait a minute! are you saying I AM a cynical old fart, or that I shouldn't worry about becoming one?!
Your suggestions re lolly sticks etc very good! I wondered why it was on prime time TV too. I suppose that to media people using lolly sticks in the classroom must come across as cutting edge.
I agree with Doug when he says "that most of the things have already been done in primary schools." I have a background in primary and used very similar approaches to AfL routinely.

Surely this isn't rocket surgery ;-) folks? I'm with Terry; this is just about good teaching (and by that I mean learning) isn't it? Learners need a voice and ownership of learning, teachers need to know where the learners are at and how to best deploy resources based on that knowledge, good teachers use a range of tools (including technology) flexibly, effectively, and efficiently according to need.

Yes I used lolly sticks (making 33 for a primary class that would last a year was a fairly economical use of time), but I used them *as and when*, in my professional judgment, I felt appropriate. I used technology also such as the fruit machine or a classroom response system (voting kit). I used an analogue classroom response system also - called 'Thumbs'. Thumbs up = I get it (green) Thumbs down = I'm struggling (red) Wobbly thumb = middling (amber). Combined with eye-contact, facial expressions etc etc I reckon I had a reasonable grasp of where kids were at, next steps etc Tools to be used, as appropriate, fit for purpose etc.

What is making me feel like ranting is this idea that there might be one-size-fits-all solutions that will be the panacea the education system needs. Let's help teachers continue to improve with support, collaboration, sharing good practice, CPD etc. Let's encourage a willingness to try things, reflect, be open to change, to listen to learners, and be flexible. All qualities of good teaching/learning.

As I say, not rocket surgery.
September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDughall McCormick
@Doug I thought the same as you about what Wiliam said about those whiteboard things being the most important development in educaiton since the slate -- which is actually hundreds of years. I agree that the PE probably did a lot of good, but not enough was done to convice kids or parents IMHO. My thought when that woman was droning on about feeling let down was "why should any of the kids care?". I think they deserve a better reason for getting into school early and working out than that their teacher will feel let down and upset if they don't! But regarding the cups, weren't they just a vehicle? I mean, why do u need them to get feedback? I agree it will be interesting to see how the staff and kids will respond in the long run. My feeling is that the staff will love it and the kids will mostly hate it: teens like to be treated as young adults, not overgrown children.
@Dughall Thx for comments. Interesting to hear that using lolly sticks was actually OK: maybe I stand corrected in respect of use of time, but I can guarantee that in a couple of the (secondary) schools I taught in, the lolly sticks would have been classified as offensive weapons by the school police community officer! I like your comment about thumbs, especially, and eye contact etc: none of that was mentioned in the TV programme, which seemed to me yet another example of the painting-by-numbers approach to complex processes like teaching. I absolutely agree with you about not having a one-size fits all approach: we need a repetoire of techniques, both for information-gathering and useful intervention, and the flexibility and skill to use them.
All this ranting, Dughall, is no good for our blood pressure!
I have recorded both episodes & will watch with interest having read this post & comments. As a primary practitioner many of the ideas in The Black box were really energising when they first appeared. I'll be interested to see how they transfer to secondary & how dated they seem. Will report back! (aka theheadsoffice)
September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Skinner
Thx, Julia, look fwd to hearing what u think

I am the Director of Secondary Curriculum for an urban public school district in New England, USA. While I didn't see the show you describe in your post, this is our third year at the high school level, using Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) the assessment for learning program developed by Dylan Wiliam and Educational Testing Services (ETS). This year, we are beginning to train teachers in grades K-8 as well. In our inner city district, all our students will be the first in their families to attend post-secondary education. 90% of our students speak a language other than English at home, and the average 9th grade student enters our high schools 1-3 years below grade level. We have all the issues related to teaching students in poverty that any reader might associate with urban schools.

The KLT techniques that you question, we call them "popsicle sticks" and "Stoplighting" do work, but only if used purposefully and meaningfully by teachers. What makes KLT successful is that teachers, by grade level and/or content area, meet together monthly to share their successes and struggles using these and dozens of other strategies to meet the needs of their students. As we all know as teachers, the strategy that worked so well in the morning does not work with a different group of students in the afternoon. KLT offers a myriad of strategies all with the same intended outcome--to improve student understanding now.

KLT has five key strategies:
-Engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and learning tasks.
The popsicle sticks are an example of this. But we are also teaching teachers to develop diagnostic questions. These questions are designed to uncover student misconceptions to address on-the-spot, rather than wait for the test or quiz to see if the students learned.
-Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success
Teachers are learning and teaching each other to identify what students will learn, rather than just what activity students will complete. Students are learning to judge if they learned the intended lesson, if they just completed an assignment.
-Providing feedback that moves learners forward
In my inner-city school community, students want to know if they passed or failed. As soon as the grade is on the completed assignment, the student stops working on the task. Using comment only grading, another KLT strategy, ensures that students must revise, and revise until the work meets the appropriate standard.
-Activating students as the owners of their own learning.
-Activating students as instructional resources for one another.
These two strategies may seem obvious to your readers, but when students enter classes far below grade level, it's easier for many teachers to lecture only and for students to sit back passively and hope to not be called upon. KLT strategies help return ownership of the learning to the students, where it should be. These five strategies ensure that teachers are using evidence of student learning to adapt real-time instruction to meet students' immediate learning needs. (ETS, 2006).

As for your points about technology-I'm all for embedding technology in everything we do. After all, I'm reading your blog from half way around the world. But this program isn't about keeping a record of student responses, or using cool tools. It's about ensuring students understand what they are intended to learn today, and it's about ensuring the teacher knows if he/she can move on or reteach. I'm teaching people to use wallwisher because it is a great tool. But white boards work well too. In a math class, if every student holds up their white board, with a quick scan, the teacher can see how everyone solved the equation, and where any mistepps may have been.

In sum, KLT is not a one size fits all program. Many high school teachers have modified each of the strategies to be more age appropriate. It's unfortunate that the show you watched implied that these strategies were stock strategies like turning off the light to get students quiet. They are not, and speaking from experience, the KLT strategies and techniques if implemented correctly improve student learning dramatically.

Thanks for all your posts. I enjoy learning from you.


September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Juli
@Eric Thanks for such a detailed comment, Eric. I apologose for a delayed response, but I always prefer to respond when I've had a chance to think about it. Now, there is always a danger, of course, that the TV programme misrepresented the situation by ruthless editing, and I didn't see the whole programme, but I did not have the impression that there was any discussion about the methods used or their implementation. Indeed, I have, from a recent one day conference I attended, a pack of materials for running formative assessment workshops, which contains detailed agendas for each meeting. Glancing at the first one, I note that one of the requirements is a stopwatch, in order to allow exactly 30 seconds for one of the activities.
Now, it's nice to have all the work done for you -- but is it? I personally hate this level of micromanagement, and I think it actually is antithetical to the principles of assessment for learning. (If anyone reading this thinks I have got this completely wrong, I'm more than happy to be corrected.)
Reading through your comment, it strikes me that what has worked for your school is sound leadership, good teachers, and a willingness to experiment and talk about it. The popsickles etc may be useful to you, but I guarantee that if next week there is a world popsickle shortage you will simply switch to something else in order to achieve the same sort of thing.
I can see from what you've said that the whiteboards can be useful in a quick and dirty sort of way, if I may use such an expression. But in the TV programme I alluded to, Professor William says they are the most important technological development in education since the invention of the slate, or words to that effect. Not the smartboard, not the computer, not mobile devices, but a whiteboard that you write on with a marker pen. I'm not at all in favour of using technology for its own sake, but my reaction to that comment was to think "These teachers are seriously missing out if they actually believe that; there are much more advanced things they could be using instead."
I hope that what actually happened was that the programme makers are responsible for the impression given, of out-of-the-box fixes to complex challenges. I know that the work of Wiliam and Black was seminal, and in the training day and follow-up workshop I attended there were LOADS of great ideas from Wiliam or based on his work.
But I just think the programme emphasised the tools at the expense of the underlying principles.
I watched the initial programme of Prof Dylan William, The Classroom Experiment, with growing interest; intrigued to see how some well-known classroom innovation techniques might positively impact on student engagement and learning. Particularly impressive were the responses from certain students who prior to the innovations had not really engaged very fully with their learning; proof that it is “approaches to learning” that make the process and experience more personal to learners and that these changes in the “approach”, work.
However, having watched also the 2nd programme and now reflecting on what I have seen, I find myself feeling more and more dismayed. I’ve asked myself:
• is this just tinkering around the edges of a far wider problem? and,
• why is a programme about fairly minor change receiving such prime time viewing?
What comes across very powerfully for me is that we are still seeing a ‘class’ of young people being taught pretty much the same thing, in pretty much the same way, even when it is painfully clear that their individual learning needs are radically different.
Findings from my own experience of ‘student voice’ work have been strongly reinforced by the interviews with the young people in the programme. It is quite remarkable how they really do seem to understand their own learning needs much more acutely than so many professionals.
And yet ...
With all we now know about how, as human beings, we learn best, and with the potential provided by technology, I have to question.
• Why are we still expecting so many children and young people to achieve optimal learning when they are still organised into groups of 20/25/30 (based on the irrelevancy of the biological age), in 1 room, working in silos of knowledge and skills development, with performance level expectations from a fairly narrow band? and
• Why is there still such an emphasis on teacher led, teaching dominated, pedagogy?
John Holt, some time ago, articulated a truism that this programme illustrates quite brutally,
“The biggest enemy to learning is the talking teacher”.
At times I feel almost desperate about how slowly we are coming to accept that learners need to learn what is relevant and important to them. “Yes”, this is most strongly impacted by value decisions that we professionals, and other key stakeholders in education, make about what children and young people will need to be able to do in later life; but surely it should be not based on what are prevalent fundamentally ‘subject’ vested interests. Should it not manifest itself in a way that the students can learn it most effectively and at a speed that is suited to their individual cognitive development and constructs?
I am not suggesting that most current practice is irrelevant, rather, that is best suited to certain students most of the time and to the rest only some of the time. And yes, we are obliged to continue to innovate the existing practice, and to make its delivery the best it can be. In this respect, I applaud what Prof William is so effectively illustrating. However, for all of the innovation we have delivered, since I was a school teacher in the 80s, little has actually changed, and this had not changed hugely since I was a student in the 60s/70s. It continues to fall short of meeting the needs of individual learners. This must be because we still primarily think in terms of ‘groups’, not individuals. In the past, with the technology available and with the social and economic drivers this was adequate, at best.
I propose that it no longer is. If we fail to use what we now know and have, we continue to fail our young people to their detriment and to the detriment of the country.
When engaged in workshops that address these issues, I’m often told what an excellent education system we have in this country, and how we lead the world educationally. Maybe this was true in the C19th.
In a rapidly changing world the lessons we can learn from the data in Lord Leitch’s Report (2005), still hold true:
• A 1/3 of adults with no basic learning qualification;
• 5 million adults with no qualification at all,
• 1 in 6 adults with literacy skills below what we would expect of an 11 year old; and
• 1 in 2 adults with numeracy skills below what we would expect of an 11 year old,
These facts cannot be an endorsement of an education system that, over the previous 40-50 years, has been at all successful for the majority of its constituency, or of one that led the world. For you own benefit, compare our literacy and numeracy to that of many developing countries.
We still, have 16.3% of students for whom the education system has had little relevance and efficacy (national NEETs figures as at Aug 2010). They are twice the OECD average, and for many this really is a matter of life and death. Longitudinal research over a 10 year period with the NEETs of Leeds found that 10% of these young people died; compared to the natural mortality rate in the UK of .079% for all aged 15-60).
Professor Stephen Heppell says:
“We’ve spent most of the C20th trying to perfect C19th schools and we just about got there! But we don’t need these in the C21st!”
I would suggest that Stephen is being polite. The Classroom Experiment programme makes it clear that we are still struggling to try and reach the optimum of C19th education in far too many situations!
No less an intellect than Albert Einstein came to the conclusion that
“Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”!
And I have to ask, aren’t we still doing the same over and again?
As a teacher Einstein also said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.”
Are the conditions we are seeing in The Classroom Experiment such conditions?
So many pioneers in education globally, and in the UK, have asked this critical question and are developing some very exciting responses. I think that we should also be asking the media, where are the prime-time TV programmes about transformational, rather than just innovative changes in educational practice. Where are the nationwide illustrations of developments such as New Line Learning’s Learning Plazas, or of the exciting experimental learning spaces that are being set up around the country to provide opportunities for learners and teachers to explore totally different approaches that encompass real ‘personalised learning’ along ‘personal learning pathways’?
I would welcome the opportunity to ask those now leading education in the UK,
• Do we just need more of the same, but better – ‘innovation’? or
• Do we need to consider major and radical ‘transformation’ of all those bits that are still clearly not working?
• Are these changes important enough to all of our futures to ensure that any new school building programme is based, root and branch, on WHAT children and young people need to learn to be successful in the rapidly changing future, and
• HOW will our youth develop these skills, personal qualities and acquire relevant and up-to-date knowledge?
‘Tradition’ and ‘the past’ are only useful to most of us when they help us to face the future better equipped and able to solve the problems we face. I therefore make the plea that we all work flat out to robustly sort what we need to retain and innovate, and then transform the rest.
“What if we set aside all discussion of things as they were, as they are, and how they might become, and concentrate on what they ought to be?” De Hock
October 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoland Meredith
Thanks for responding to my post. In reading these responses, it sounds like the BBC program you are all watching offers emphasis on what teachers should be doing in classrooms. In our focus on formative assessment or Assessment For Learning, whichever term you prefer, we spend some time teaching "the what" (popsicle sticks, stoplights, abcd cards etc.), but we spend far more time focusing on the "why". Since our conversations are about why one tool is working for some kids, and why another isn't working, our overall emphasis remains on teaching and learning, and not on any lockstep implementation of a program. I don't view Keeping Learning On Track as a program to be implemented. Instead, I think of these as good instructional practices. Clearly there's a difference between what we are doing and what the BBC show is offering to the viewers.
Your point about popsicle sticks is well taken. If we don't have popsicle sticks, we do use something else. And if a teacher feels that popsicle sticks don't meet his/her style then they do use something else. Our intention is to ensure that our teachers understand the purpose of the "No hands up classroom." When teachers ask a question, the students who understand the answer raise their hands. The ones who don't get it, try to become invisible. The teacher often has to guess if everyone understands the answer or the intended lesson. In a no hands up classroom, whether via popsicle sticks or some other tool, all students must be ready to answer all the questions.
Your phrase "quick and dirty" is the perfect explanation of how we use Assessment for Learning techniques. We want teachers to use these techniques when appropriate to ensure students understand what is expected during the lesson and make instructional decisions based upon the results. Do I need to reteach, or can I move on?

Thanks for the dialogue-Eric
October 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Juli
Great post Terry! I agree with all of your "Rules" but here are the ones that hit home for me.

Rule #8: Treat Kids Like Adults
I have always tried to make this my number 1 rule as it shows respect for your students. I believe if you start off with respect, a lot of the other aspects of teaching will fall right in line.

Rule #4: Give Students Responsibilities
For years, as a classroom math teacher, I would start each class with a warm-up, sponge or whatever they are calling it these days activity. Usually, it was a math puzzle and/or problem-solving activity and as I got better I put two or three so as to differentiate instruction by leveling. They were fairly difficult and the kids loved them. Of course, only I knew the answer at first, but as soon as one student found the correct answer, he/she would become part of the "checking" team--roaming the room, answering questions and checking answers. As soon as there were a couple more "checkers," I retired from the team and let the students handle it. I could then do two jobs at once--monitor the team and get attendance and/or other bureaucratic issues out of the way. Worked great!

Finally, I had been randomly selecting students with types of your methods for years. I would roll dice, close my eyes and spear my gradebook, and yes, even use a random generator--back in the 80's!

It seems to me, and maybe I am being a bit harsh, that these programs are of primary use for teachers that don't quite have the "instinct" for great teaching so maybe they are helpful. Unfortunately, I believe these programs would severely stifle creative, instinctive teachers. Maybe it would be a better idea to have the new teachers watch the great teachers and get a front-row seat to great teaching methods!

Well done!
October 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Thomas
@Roland Thanks for such a detailed comment. I think you've raised some very interesting questions,and I think it will be interesting to see how many new academies and free schools embrace the opportunity of being relatively free from the NC to try something radically different? One thing I was reminded of when reading your comment was that old chestnut: secondary teachers teach subjects,whereas primary teachers teach children -- I think that's true on the whole.
@Eric Thanks for the follow-up comment. In my opinion, your last paragraph is the nub of the matter. When I've inspected schools I've seen teachers racing ahead because they have (they feel, or have been told) they must get through the curriculum. I can feel a new post coming on, about bus timetables, so will leave it there for now. :-)
@Jeff thanks for some great ideas, Jeff. LOve the dice rolling (how wld that work in a class of 30?). Of course, what you're advocating is that every teacher should learn from the mavericks. Would that actually work well in practice I wonder?!

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