Summarising information

This fascinating snippet from the 2009 PISA report should surely have had higher profile?

“High-performing countries are also those whose students generally know how to summarise information. Across OECD countries, the difference in reading performance between those students who know the most about which strategies are best for summarising information and those who know the least is 107 score points. And students who say that they begin the learning process by figuring out what they need to learn, then ensure that they understand what they read, figure out which concepts they have not fully grasped, try to remember the most important points in a text and look for additional clarifying information when they do not understand something they have read, tend to perform better on the PISA reading scale than those who do not.”

To put this in context, that’s about 1 whole year’s worth of academic progress! Surely a massive endorsement for AfL, graphic organisers, etc.?

ePLG – the beginning

This week I ran the planning meeting of my professional learning group. The idea was to bring together a group of teachers (in this case the teachers of 5 year 9 maths sets) and collaborate on the planning and assessment of a topic.

I structured the meeting as follows:

Introduction (5 mins)

  • What are we doing here, and how are we doing it?
  • Coordinator outlines key principles and aims. Personal introductions (if necessary).

Brainstorm (15 mins)

  • What could students learn?
  • In pairs, brainstorm ideas for the 4 key planning areas, by writing bulletpoints on a quarter of the whiteboard
    • What prior knowledge will students have?
    • What should students know/be able to do by the end?
    • What are the main difficulties and misconceptions that students are likely to encounter in this topic?
    • What connections would you expect a highly skilled student to make within this topic, and to other topics?

Prioritising (5 mins)

  • What do we want students to learn?
  • Cross out less-important points until the material matches the teaching time available.

Assessment Planning (20 mins)

  • How will we know if students have learnt? (Could be questions – maybe open-ended, work samples, videos, presentations, etc. with related rubric)
  • In pairs, come up with two or three questions or methods of assessment to match each remaining key point (10 mins), write on pieces of A4 and blu-tack them to the board. Share and discuss.

Strategy and Support (10 mins)

  • How might we approach teaching, and what will we do do if students aren’t learning?

Post-it notes on each question or point with strategy suggestions.

De-brief (5 mins)

  • Have we achieved what we wanted?
  • How did it feel?
  • How might this process be improved next time?
  • What comes next?


It was a really interesting process. We stormed through planning the four key areas, and then started a good discussion about which ideas were to be explicitly taught, which would be implicit through work, and which would be left for another day.

The tough part came when we started working out questions for the initial formative test and the final summative test. This resulted in some further discussion about what was necessary, as we decided that some of the questions were so important that we had to reinstate some of the learning obectives. We also thought about the key misconceptions with each question, and in doing so decided on extra questions for the initial formative test.

As Maths teachers we’re quite wedded to tests, but we decided that the most beneficial way of comparing the learning of students when they began the topic would be to ask them to write out worked examples of 10 key questions. We will then take samples of this work and compare and contrast the approaches taken by different students, and see how this affected their progress in the unit, and also their performance in the summative test.

We found that using a textbook was a great way to get questions for the final test, as making questions up off the top of our heads was taking too long.

When it came to thinking about strategies for teaching we drew a bit of a blank, as we had already had some discussion about it before, and I think everyone was flagging by that point. This also affected the debrief – I actually completely forgot to demonstrate the VLE/Moodle page that we would be using collaboratively. People were also a little reluctant to give immediate feedback on “how useful the process had been” or “how to improve it next time”. I think that was mainly because it was so new they didn’t have much to compare it with, so hopefully after a little time to reflect there will be more ideas.

Here’s a photo of the ‘art’ we created all over the whiteboards as we collaboratively planned our unit.

A really good first meeting. I’ll report back on how the teaching and summary meetings go. Any thoughts on how to improve this next time?

If I were the minister…

A first draft of an introductory speech my ‘dream’ minister for education would make. What do you think?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would firstly like to thank the Prime Minister for allowing me the privilege of serving you as minister for education.

What a fantastic education system we have in this country. There  are tens of thousands of dedicated professionals delivering ever-more outstanding lessons in our schools, every day. They have a passion for learning, and they enthuse their students. Children of all backgrounds, of all abilities, with an enormous range of interests and needs are having their eyes opened to the fantastic possibilities offered by science, culture, arts, technology, humanties, languages, and so much more.

We can be proud of what has been achieved so far, and I thank my predecessor for his work to make the country a better place for the young people of Britain. He and I may not always have seen eye-to-eye, but there is no doubt that he, and the entire education department, worked tirelessly to keep our education system improving.

Amongst the notable successes of the previous government were the increases in numeracy and literacy, investment in to our school buildings, better terms and conditions for teachers and a drive for innovation. However, like this country’s best schools, and best teachers, we will not be complacent. Even with fantastic efforts from so many talented professionals, there are still children who are not getting the opportunity to achieve their potential. There are still some schools where students and teachers are not enjoying the learning experience that they deserve, and there are well-meaning schemes that have cost a great deal but, sadly, delivered very little in terms of improved outcomes. We want to take the best of our education system and improve it, and we will look long and hard at every scheme and every piece of bureaucracy to ensure it delivers effectively, and with good value for our taxpayers.

I want to engage with passionate educators up and down the country and create a vision of education that everyone can believe in and work towards. In the past, government has not always treated the education profession with the respect it deserves, and has pre-empted every policy announcement with a barrage of criticism of everything that has gone before. I will not do that. I do not, and shall not ever, subscribed to the view that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I want to hear the best ideas about how to take good systems, and make them better. Innovation, based on quality research, will be a central feature of this department’s work.

I never want teachers, unions, or indeed my own department, to suffer from a siege mentality. If constructive dialogue breaks down, and trench warfare ensues, nobody wins. Nobody has turned around a struggling school by encouraging leaders to publicly criticise the staff, nor by allowing teachers to attack their own leadership teams, and the same is true of the national education system. I will not play to the media with crisis stories, nor indulge in mudslinging. Respect and collaboration are key principles that my department will observe at all times.

The best schools know that they will improve most effectively by carefully analysing the information they have about students and staff. They know that one or two numbers can never give you the full picture about a student, but they know that good data is vital to shine a light on what is really happening. I intend to take the same approach nationally. We will collect data, analyse it carefully, and use it together with observations, discussions and professional judgements. Every school will be held up to the highest standards, and we will make careful comparisons locally, nationally, and internationally. However, no school will ever be judged to be failing on any single measure again. Education is complex, and we always recognise that.

I will work hard to provide vision and leadership, and ensure every school in the country has the capacity and ability to improve itself. Gone are the days where central government handed down strategies and schemes from on high and expected every teacher to function in the same way. I want schools filled with collaborative and innovative teams who critically review their own work and use the result of the best in education research to improve their practice. I want every stakeholder in education, be they parent, student, teacher, or leader, to truly understand their responsibility and power to improve the learning of every student in this country, and to work together to achieve it.

There is so much to do, and I have so much to learn. Like the best teachers, I will begin by checking my own understanding. Like the best schools, I will be gathering opinions from everyone. Like the best student, I will promise to work hard, to keep trying even when the going get’s tough, and to treat my peers with respect.

I am excited to begin, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself to you. The next chapter begins now.

Cheesy, and perhaps a little West-Wing-esque, but hopefully gets my point across. What do you think – could a minister really take this approach or is this wishful thinking?

German Education Reform

Many thanks to Alex Bellars (@bellaale) who pointed me to the most interest German national education/curriculum survey conducted in German in March, where everyone was invited to give their opinions on the state of German education. I downloaded the responses summary and using some rough-and-ready Google Translation along with my own almost-forgotten GCSE German, here are the key findings. Do let me know if I’ve mis-translated anything.

  1. A good education was seen as highly important by the vast majority of respondents, and they felt that reform was necessary to respond to the challenges of the 21st century and changing demographics
  2. The main priority for investment (for 70% of respondents) should be schools. The second priority should be early-childhood education. Teacher quality was seen as strongly linked to children’s future success.
  3. 80% of respondents rated the German government’s willingness to conduct reform as “low” or “very low”. The pessimism increased with respondent’s age and level education. In contrast the majority trusted teachers to be able to change, although it was felt dedicated teachers needed more incentives.
  4. The central task of the education system should be to create upward social mobility. Strikingly this was felt by all respondents regardless of educational background or income. Notably a third of Turkish immigrants were in favour of specifically promoting of migrant workers, whereas the rest of respondents were not.
  5. Two-thirds of respondents would accept higher taxes in order to improve education, rising to 80% support among Turkish Immigrants. This was just as true for those with low- or medium-attaining educational backgrounds. Most respondents expected nursery and daycare to be free, although there was support for income-dependent tuition fees.
  6. The vast majority of respondents were in favour of compulsory nursery school. The most popular compulsory start-age was three years old. Most respondents wanted to delay transition to secondary education, with older respondents in favour of longer delays.
  7. 80% of respondents were in favour of full-day education, with very few supporting half-day schooling. Teachers and students tended to prefer optional full-day schooling, with parents preferring compulsory full-day schooling.
  8. 90% of respondents were in favour of standardising exams, and moving away from federalised education to a more national structure. The great majority viewed competition between states as unhelpful, regardless of educational background or age.
  9. Around 90% of respondents did not believe that inclusive education (mixing special needs with mainstream) was beneficial for children. This was particularly true of respondents who were students, or who were Turkish migrants. The summary report notes that Germany has obligations under international treaties to push for inclusion.
  10. Only just over 50% of respondents were in favour of targeting resources at schools with particular challenges, but there was little consensus on this issue.

For me the key features here are:

  • the relatively high trust in teachers – would this be the case in the UK or USA?
  • the willingness to accept greater taxation (by all segments of society) in order to improve education, and consequently social mobility
  • the enthusiasm for moving to a national ‘standardised’ education system from a federal one.

A fascinating study. It would be wonderful if such a survey was carried out in the UK!