Half term: some interesting articles and links

Twitter has provided me with a huge amount of food for thought this week. I thought I’d share some of those articles, links and tweets here:

and finally a bit of fun:

Questions for Evan Davis on Education

Do you have questions you would like to pose to Evan Davis about education? I shall be interviewing him over the next week or so and would like to get your ideas about what you’d like to ask.

Evan is currently presenting a new show on BBC,  Made in Britain which accompanies the excellent book of the same name. He is a presenter on Radio 4’s Today show, BBC TV’s Dragon’s Den, as well as Radio 4’s The Bottom Line. Until 2008 he was the BBC’s chief Economics editor (see his blog).

One of his key points in his book is that, as a nation, we can be extremely proud of our universities which are among our most successful ‘exports’. In fact Evan stresses the importance of the knowledge economy and of ensuring that we are all able to gain the skills to enable us to move in to high-skill and higher-value industries. I shall be asking him what lessons he feels there are for our school system in ensuring this continues to happen.

You may wish to read a previous, Open University interview with Evan which include some of his thoughts about education and enterprise.

Please post your question ideas, or tweet them to me @informed_edu.

The power of Twitter

Last night I posed a question on twitter:

@informed_edu: Anyone care to share some good tips for keeping kids on task when they’re doing work from a textbook/worksheet? #ukedchat

I was absolutely blown away with the responses:

@datadiva: how about incorporating meta-reflection during the task. Set up a timer to go off at random intervals. When stds hear chime they can doc what they were doing at time. Off-task? On? If off – what were they doing? If on – what was process? #ukedchat. you can even work in behavior over time graphs (http://bit.ly/itVBBa) I often use them in conjunction w/ mata-cognition work

@paulshakesby: look up Fred Jones – limit setting, working the crowd, responsibility training. Simple and very effective behavior system

@springrose12: Information gap wrk:one group does one part of the sheet, the other works the rest of the part and share the work. #ukedchat

@Mr_D_Cheng: on a sliding scale when textbook revising with my yr 10’s

@tj007: what are their excuses 4 being off task? Is the bk/w.s failing to engage them? What was the lead up like – did it spark intrst are they off task because they don’t want to fail if they try? can they be made to feel confident b4 task? #ukedchat

@teachingofsci: don’t let them use twitter? 🙂 more seriously, interim deadlines, stopwatch on the board? kids can score themselves 1-3 for effort/focus and A-C for understanding (I add A+ for ‘I could teaching this’) #ukedchat

@cocoapony: how about wrking in teams with 1 role as ‘director’/chair 2 keep on track – revolv the role 4each w/sheet or Q2Q?

@javidmahdavi: have you ever considered converting worksheets to interactive ones in something like smartboard notebook?

@eduKatescom: countdown timer on smartboard gives sense of urgency! #ukedchat

@ArronFowler: I have been using time as a tool. Frequent deadlines from 30 sec to 5mins tasks. Kids respond well. The harder the better.

@jenmardunc: Letting them listen to music on headphones helps MANY kids stay focused!

Some amazing suggestions, and I went and looked up Fred Jones’ book (and ordered it on Amazon). One further suggestion sparked a really interesting debate:

@sevim77: #ukedchat don’t use textbooks! Unless essential they can be boring and switch students off!

@informed_edu: Agreed, textbooks are never perfect, but a reasonable compromise when you don’t have time to create resources from scratch?

@janshs: Big Q is how to make them interesting? Maybe use as part of a carousel of activities, or as source material #ukedchat

@sevim77: maybe used as sources to get students to create their own resources?

@janshs: ahhhh now we are talking #ukedchat … collaborative learning???

@sevim77: collaborative learning that also ticks boxes for differentiation, and AFL if students’ level

@informed_edu: Nice! How about taking Textbook questions and collaboratively deciding on the order of difficulty, with reasons.

Inspired by this conversation, I asked my year 9 GCSE Physics class to take a text book double-spread and turn the boringly low-level factual-recall questions in to high-level challenging questions. They came up with some brilliant ideas! For example:

“Given the choice of replacing your single-glazed windows with double-glazing, or changing the single pane of glass to double its U-value, which would you prefer, and why?”

“Put the following insulation choices in order of effectiveness, and explain your reasoning: Loft insulation, Cavity wall insulation, Aluminium foil radiator backing, Double-glazed windows.”

I’ve also been trying another idea I read on Twitter last year (still trying to find the reference) which is getting students to discuss questions or summarise the lesson in pairs or small groups and then asking students to describe what their partner/rest of the group said. It really does seem to focus them so much better.

I’m looking forward to trying some of the metacognition ideas – particularly @datadiva‘s idea about getting the students to reflect on what they’re doing and how well focussed they are. I’m also going to try and get students to reflect more on their work (following @teachingofsci‘s suggestion). I’ve tried doing this at A-level for students rating their own effort but I’m going to use it more widely.

Teaching is so much more fun when you have a stream of interesting ideas and a whole crowd of supportive people on tap. I’m endlessly impressed with the power of Twitter.



Tests and Factories

@Thanks2Teachers: #Teachers: As long as our schools are geared to THE TEST, we’ll be factory workers turning out standardized products. RESIST!

The above tweet has been doing the rounds all day. I just don’t get it, and I don’t agree with it. Schools have always ask students to sit tests, we’ve always had standardised (yes I’m British, we spell it with an ‘s’) public exams, and yet, whaddaya know, every student who emerges from school is a unique individual.

Yes I KNOW there are problems with the way tests are administered and used, read on.

The big standardised test argument is irritating because both sides are arguing cross-purposes.

Argument 1: “We must introduce standardised tests to ruthlessly exposes our education system’s strengths and weaknesses, to discover and promote teaching talent, and remove ineffective practice/practitioners”

  • True because: without a common standard assessment you cannot possibly make comparisons between different institutions. At the very least this needs to be moderated professional judgement with sampled common assessment. Otherwise people can, and will, hide behind well-meaning ineffective practice. A good school or teacher will generally produce the better test scores (although the reverse isn’t necessarily true)
  • False because: you cannot possibly use one single tool to enforce accountability, highlight good practice, allocate funding, and judge teaching ability. This will, obviously, lead to narrow teaching, lower standards, and low morale. One data point cannot make a complete judgement, no matter how much you want to believe in it.

Argument 2: “Standardised tests don’t measure learning, they are harming out students, and they do not show good teaching”

  • True because: in order to standardise the assessment it has to be relatively shallow, it can lead to narrowing of the curriculum, good test scores don’t always indicate good teachers, and bad test scores don’t always indicate poor teachers.
  • False because: if you teach a student well (i.e. deep understanding), this will almost certainly be reflected in their test scores. Also life is full of tests and assessments, students need to know how to deal with them – this is a help, not a hinderance. If a school/district/student is repeatedly getting  poor scores it indicates that support is needed – this is also useful. Finally, good teachers do tend to get good test scores. Well-meaning but less effective teachers, however, may not.

People who are calling for standardised testing genuinely want to find out where the system is failing students so that they can be helped. People who are opposing standardised testing genuinely don’t want inappropriate and demoralizing use of narrow statistics to judge a broad education. Stop shouting at each other (and definitely don’t sling mud)

So why not have both?

  1. Use standardised tests as one diagnostic tool, backed up with randomly sampled assessments/interviews/observations. Give teacher the ability to award their students a moderated, professionally-judged grade, and give this equal weighting with the test.
  2. Look at a large number of factors, including attendance, behaviour, etc., to identify areas requiring support.
  3. Don’t judge teacher effectiveness using only this same testing system. Use peer-observation, student voice surveys, portfolio’s of evidence, and a wide array of assessment data, standardised and otherwise, current and historical.

I’m still developing these ideas in my head, and I’m open to suggestion. However, I suspect that I shall continue to be angry if I read

@joe_bower: “Tests and grades don’t wreck learning” is the equivalent of saying “Guns don’t kill people”.”,

as well as

@ShapeyFiend‎ Easy way to have best education in europe: fire the worst 10pc andteachers assistants. Class size doest matter if you’ve decent teachers.”

Both are, clearly, absolute nonsense.

American Educational Ad Hominem

Thanks to @OldAndrewUK I learned the meaning of “Ad hominem” the other day:

“an attempt to link the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise” (Wikipedia)

Thanks to Twitter, I see more and more of these every day. Take the USA education debate today:

“I find it disturbing that this makes sense to me: Ravitch Billed for Taxes Despite Refusing Pay – http://nyti.ms/fwNx4f

“Bill Gates funds the education debate. Billionaire Agenda. Follow the Money. – http://t.co/xyCBr2G via @readability

This is shameful mudslinging. Anyone with even the slightest balance of opinion will know that both Diane Ravitch and Bill Gates are passionate about educating America’s children, as are Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, etc. The Democratic and Republican parties are full of genuine, dedicated people who want to make the world a better place. The teaching unions are full of wonderful individuals with a vocation, and the companies investing in schools really want to make a difference.

Both sides are casting accusations and abuse, and then assuming that everything the other side suggests is intent on destruction and not debate.

Does anyone seriously think that vicious, personal, nasty attacks will open the debate up and win hearts and minds? Are the leaders on both sides stepping in to quash this nonsense? Not that I’ve noticed.

Sadly these character assassinations are cheered by both sides. They have stopped debating policy, they are undermining each other. In the process, they are undermining education itself. People will lose trust in both sides, opinions will become entrenched and nobody will be the winner, certainly not the kids.

I am, frankly, disgusted by the level it has descended to. The sensible voices are all but drowned out. I truly fear for the UK’s education system should this appalling behaviour take root here.

Go on, I dare someone to tell me:

“Yeah but they started it first, we’re the good guys here.”