littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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Competition or Co-operation?

Last night, I had a dream.

Doesn’t that make you shudder at the start of a blog? But don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a detailed description of my weird and wonderful dreams. I don’t really have those. This is just what triggered my current musings.

In this dream I was in a strange place; some kind of academic institution I think. (My dreams often include a return to places like this. I think it signals a not very hidden desire to learn something new.) Still, I digress. The noticeable feature of the dream was that I was welcomed and everybody tried to help me find my way and were supportive of what I was doing. This is a good dream. When I was teaching, and to be fair, in previous jobs though to a lesser extent, my dreams were similar in location but very different in tone. I found situations and people frustrating and obstructive, I had a goal, a destination and I was constantly being prevented from getting there in various ways; thwarted at every turn. I assume this is because it was what was constantly happening in real life. I knew what I wanted to do and what was needed, but was prevented from doing it by circumstance (and to be honest often by individuals) I fought against this, and succeeded to some extent for several years but was eventually beaten into submission when a combination of circumstances at home and at work meant I had no more energy to fight.

I’m generally an optimistic kind of person. I don’t give up easily and although I actually try to expect the worst because that way you’re less likely to be disappointed, in fact I don’t do that. I still have a secret core that believes things will turn out for the best. I can find a positive in bad things that have happened and regard setbacks as an opportunity to develop rather than as an end.

But…

Just now I’m struggling to do that. There have been blogs (such as this from Sue Cowley which caused a flurry of comments both pro & con) and comments (for example this conversation ) again recently about the macho language now being used, especially noticeable in education.  (I’ve also just come across this which is making a similar point.)

But it’s not just the language that’s becoming hard and ultimately competitive. It’s actions. Look at the way exams are now graded “to prevent grade inflation”. We’re heading back to norm referencing. Not only in A levels and GCSEs (as far as I can tell) but also in SATs results. I think the fact that “pass marks” are not being published until papers are in is a hint there. ( I suspect this is what Michael Gove was really talking about when he made the all schools can be above average remark) The actual quote from the education select committee

Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?

Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.

Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?

Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.

What he wanted was for all schools to compete to be in the right hand side of the bell curve. And Ofsted had already been doing this for years by only classifying schools as *Good* if they were above average. This is all well and good if schools, teachers and pupils are not then castigated for not being good. And, ultimately, it means that you can only improve at someone else’s expense.

Today, this was again illustrated beautifully by our own dear SMW. First he criticised a local authority being the “worst performing region in the country“. Well, if you rank regions, schools, children, some will inevitably be the worst, whatever the overall standard. Next he claimed children are nor making enough progress after primary school (Odd since the government is currently claiming it’s primary schools who aren’t doing well enough and are hiking up the expected levels) and is reasoning that because of this we should re-introduce KS3 tests.

Last year, 68% of non-selective secondary school pupils who achieved a level 5 or above (which is significantly above average) in English and maths at the end of primary school failed to attain either an A* or A in these subjects at GCSE; 27% failed to achieve the minimum expected progress, a grade B.

Now, I don’t know the details of this, but I do know that to avoid grade inflation GCSE grades are pegged Jack Marwood knows much more and if he calls foul, I trust him.

The part that really worries me now it that this is not just in education, or even just in the workplace. It’s everywhere. The far right narrative which is currently in vogue seems to want to rank everything and everybody then specifically praise those who succeed at the expense of others.

Does everything need to be about competition rather than co-operation? Do we have to divide schools, the country, the world into them and us? Does your success have to come at someone else’s expense? Is co-operation a dirty word?


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Do you explain, or just tell?

I got annoyed today. I get annoyed quite often really. There is a pattern to the things that annoy me. It’s acts of selfishness or thoughtlessness for which I cannot imagine any mitigation.

  • Cars that park on double yellow lines and cause long queues of traffic. As far as I can tell, usually so someone can go in a shop without the inconvenience of walking ten metres from somewhere it is safe and legal to park.
  • Finding someone has bunged a bag of rubbish in your bin leaving not enough room for the  two full sacks you need to put in (actually what triggered this blog).
  • Noisy smelly barbecues that mean you cannot leave your windows open or your washing out on warm Summer evenings (fingers crossed eh?).

If there is a good reason for inconveniencing me, I can live with it.

  • An elderly mother recovering from a broken leg needed to call in to buy some wool.
  • You were clearing out your cupboards and thought I was away for the week so you could use the space in my bin.
  • Sorry. No excuse for barbecues but you should at least warn neighbours!

What I’m building up to here is a plea for thoughtfulness and a bit of consideration, obviously, life would be smoother if we were all a bit nicer, but also, if you are going to do something that is potentially annoying, tell the person you may annoy why you are doing it. Don’t assume it wont bother them. Don’t assume it doesn’t matter.

And if you’re a teacher, explain rules, especially those that seem initially pointless to the students. They won’t all be convinced, but there will be some, who were initially resentful who will have second thoughts and cooperate rather than sullenly comply.

I know there are many teachers who feel no desire to “justify” themselves to students. They believe fact that something is a rule and the teacher is in charge is enough. I have some sympathy with that desire. It would make life so much easier. Maybe my problem is that I identify too much with the kids. I can remember getting cross at pointless annoying rules. But I still think cooperation is preferable to sullen resentment. Just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.


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To SAT or not to SAT?

Given its prominence in the news and on social media this week, (is that a fronted adverbial btw?) I’ve been thinking about SATs, exams in general, boycotts and children “striking”. I’ve gone round and round in circles and the best I can come up with is “It’s complicated”. For one thing our view will be inevitably coloured by our own experience and that of our children.  If we, or they, sailed through with no ill effects, it’s hard to imagine what it might be like for others who may have had an entirely different experience or had similar experiences but reacted in an entirely different way. It’s emotional and consequently really hard to look at things like this objectively

I’m breaking it down into several questions.

  1. Are tests in general good or bad? – I’d say neutral. Frequent tests (Americans call them quizzes which sounds less threatening don’t you think) help reinforce what you’ve learnt and show you what you haven’t. If they’re a regular part of learning and don’t carry huge significance I can’t see they’d do harm. You just need to make sure kids don’t use them to bully those who do exceptionally well or poorly.
  2. Are externally set and marked tests at key points in a child’s learning needed? – Possibly. It kind of depends on whether or not you trust teachers to assess accurately and fairly and that in turn depends on whether or not teachers are put under undue pressure which might lead them to manipulate the results. I’ve been under that kind of pressure and resisted. But it made me ill and led me to leaving the profession so this is obviously a big factor. I think we need to decide what these tests are for. GCSEs, and in some places still the 11+ are high stakes exams that affect the student directly. They determine progression routes and they have a stake in them. SATs are to measure the schools and teachers. I’m not convinced they do it well. Most? Many high schools re-test children when they arrive (or even on taster visits) as they don’t really trust the SATs results anyway.
  3. Do schools handle the SATs well? – Obviously many don’t. We hear stories of weeks or months of drilling in Literacy and Numeracy in year 6, or even before. We hear of the narrowing of the curriculum where Art, music, humanities are barely covered and of multiple practice papers being completed. Does it need to be like this? No. But I can see why schools do it when under pressure. Looking at some of the papers it seems as if they are designed to catch kids out rather than to assess what they know. I used to teach IT to 16yo which was assessed in part by a multiple choice test. The first time I completed one of them I barely reached a pass nark. You had to understand what they meant by the questions and what was required for thge answer so I had to teach test technique if I wanted my students to pass. It wasn’t enough to know your stuff, you had to know how to do the test too. I know there are some schools out there that teach a broad and balanced curriculum and still get good results. I understand the argument that if you deliver the curriculum fully and well that the children will do well in the assessments anyway. I also understand why many schools feel unable to do this, especially when there is a virtual sword of Damocles hanging over them with the thread being the results of their year six children.(And thinking about this, I’d not be especially upset if I thought that any heads and teachers who suffer because a year got poor results were all bad teachers/heads but I’m far from convinced that’s the case)
  4. Do the SATs test the right things? – This is where I really start to struggle. Somewhere in the loft I have a few of my primary school exercise books. I’ll look them out one day, but I’m fairly sure we didn’t cover some of the things now covered by the KS2 National Curriculum, especially the Spelling & Grammar element. Now, I went to school in the 60s, took the 11+ and went to Grammar School. I took Latin O level so I was at school in what I suspect Gove and I suppose Morgan and Gibb think of as the golden age of education. Tests on a regular basis, tables, class ranking, corporal punishment but definitely not grammar to anything like this extent. And as Michael Rosen is currently telling us, supported by people I would consider to be genuine experts such as David Crystal, much of what is being tested is not especially good grammar and may well be damaging rather than improving children’s writing.
  5.  Oh and finally. Are children unreasonably stressed by this? – Lots of discussion today (I’m looking at you @TomBennett71) about how children wouldn’t be stressed if parents and teachers weren’t stressing them. Not sure that’s really the case. Children pick up on tension whether we try to hide itr or not and some teachers are so stressed by the whole affair that they can’t help but let it seep out, though I grant you that some don’t seem to try very hard. I wasn’t stressed by my 11+ and my kids (now in their 20s) weren’t stressed by SATs. But we all did well and were expected to do well with no pressure. I’ve worked, as a TA with kids who got very stressed and some who just didn’t care. I suspect it’s down to basic character as much as anything.

 

So. What’s my overall conclusion? It’s complicated. Tests aren’t bad, maybe accountability tests aren’t bad but the content, how we are using the results and the subsequent narrowing of the curriculum is bad but understandable under the circumstances.

Solution? Who knows? I doubt I can be convinced that the current content of the SpaG or the Writing requirements at KS1 and especially KS2 are sensible or needed. I think the way heads and teachers livelihoods can depend on how well children do in these tests is unfair and dangerous. Rationalise the content, remove the threat to teachers/heads and it may settle down. But yes. Really look at the content. I think that is what has really prompted the current actions by parents.

And please ignore any SpaG errors, I’ve not proof read or revised.


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Rush Hour Reading

Not sure if this will come out right but here goes.

I was discussing reading & phonics with someone recently & she said that English orthography was complicated and that was why we had to start teaching it so early. This struck me as rather odd. I’m reluctant, extremely reluctant to get into an argument about phonics, I find them tiring and pointless but I’m going to be brave and throw this idea out anyway. I’ll use an analogy, almost a story, (nod to Sue Cowley).

You have a new job. You start work in the morning at 9. You work out your route and set off at 8:30. But it’s rush hour and you don’t arrive at work until 9:10. You’re a conscientious type, so the next morning, you set off 10 minutes earlier to compensate, but the route is busy and you still arrive at 9:10. Next morning, you try a different route, a better one, pointed out by a friend… 9:10. Okay, you’ll need to set off earlier, you set of at 8:15, you arrive at 9:08…8:10 – 9.07…8:00 – 9:05…7:50 – 9:03…7:40 – 9.03…7:30 – 9:02…7:20 – 9:01…7:15 – 9:00!!!🙌👼👍
You’re happy, you dance around the office. You’ve arrived. Shane your journey takes an hour and ¾ rather than the half hour you expected and you’re frankly such of driving, but you’re on time.

A colleague asks why you’re so happy and you explain how hard you’ve worked to drive this complicated route to arrive on time.

“Didn’t you know mate, were on flexitime? ”

The next day you set off at 9:00, you arrive at 9:25. Your drive was quiet and non& stressful. Maybe you still enjoy driving after all.


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Nuance

I can’t remember what set me off on this train of thought but I was musing this morning on our tendency to veer from one extreme to the other. This happens in many walks of life but is somehow more obvious in Education.

The life cycle seems to happen like this.

  1. Research is done (may take any form & can be reputable & serious, or not)
  2. A commentator or journalist finds this and writes a piece, simplifying it for the audience.
  3. This snowballs as mainstream newspapers and magazines find it
  4. Some teachers find this and start to use it on a small scale
  5. Some heads/managers/governors happen across this. They like the look of it. They look for training on this
  6. ...Meanwhile…back at the ranch…someone has spotted a money-making opportunity & set up training courses
  7. Courses are booked, taken and teachers go back and cascade the knowledge
  8. Management look at this. It fits nicely into the “Results must improve. We need to do something. This is something. We’ll do this” scenario
  9. They implement the idea
  10. Some teachers love  it but…
  11. Not all teachers, so not all teachers do it
  12. It is made compulsory
  13. The teachers who don’t like it do it now but mostly just pay lip service (VAK notes on lesson plans?)
  14. Someone goes back to the original research and discovers it is non-repeatable/flawed/only applicable in certain circumstances.
  15. They blog/write articles/set up rival training courses.
  16. The idea is completely discredited and abandoned.

https://i1.wp.com/www.dhunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/stupid-idea.jpg

And remember, at any given time schools may be anywhere in this process. The school I worked at until recently only discovered Learning Styles a couple of years ago while others have been through the whole process and come out the other side.

Somewhere in all this there are small nuggets of workable practice that get lost. Take for example Brain Gym/breaks (are they related) for example. It probably is useful to stop periodically when we are working hard on mental tasks and do a bit of exercise. But it became fetishised and discredited and we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Or learning styles. Still good to remind us that people do find it easier to learn in some ways than others and is a useful reminder to vary our approach but that is all. Pointless to label parts of a lesson with learning styles on a lesson plan. (I just wrote VAK in every section) Think of the hours that have been wasted either attempting to comply with rules about this and with discrediting it.

Much of the problem seems to be down to our tendency to oversimplify complicated research. Bow, I’m as keen on simplifying as the next person. I like things to be explained to me in words I can understand without a dictionary to hand. But we overdo this. We oversimplify to the point of uselessness. And we bounce around from one extreme to the other shouting “Group work”, “No Direct instruction” creating conflict and false dichotomies.

Teachers are busy, teachers are weary. We sometimes take the line of least resistance when faced with demands. I know there are leaders out there who don’t do this, but many do. External pressure from government and Ofsted will not help with this. It’s a good thing that teachers are setting up their own CPD and research hubs. Maybe this flip flopping with ideas will slow down. Some sneer at it, but education is complicated, it is nuanced and we need to examine ideas and implement them carefully with consideration.


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Is Patriarchy throwing a final tantrum?

There is a general adage in childcare manuals (see pg 12 here pdf) that if you take steps to correct bad behaviour, things will get worse before they get better. This seems especially noticeable if it is a behaviour they have been previously getting away with. You can imagine the mental workings on this.

“But they let me do this yesterday, why won’t they let me do it today?”

“That’s not fair. I like doing it.”

“They don’t mean it do they? They love me. Why won’t they let me do what I want?”

So. They repeat the behaviour. And you carry on with whatever form of discipline you’ve chosen. If the behaviour persists, you may step up your discipline a notch. You may move from 5 minutes time out to sending to their room. (Not my approach but a popular one)

Sometimes this appears to work. Behaviour settles, you relax on the discipline and things seem to be progressing just fine.

Then They go to school, or make a new friend and they discover that their friend appears to be allowed to do the thing you have successfully stopped them from doing. So they begin a campaign to return to their previous, preferred state where they could demand toys or hit their little sister, or whatever. And you repeat your original reaction, But now, they’re older, and bigger and they have their new friend egging them on. It’s harder this time round, and it isn’t helped by their friend’s parent telling you that this behaviour doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s just fine, children need to stand up for themselves in this hurly-burly world.

Ultimately, if you believe in a world where children (not all children) do not go around taking anything they want and hitting other children they do not like, you need to persist. Sometimes in the face of criticism from other parents.

So. Where am I going with this?

Just now, women seem to be fighting many of the battles that I thought we had won ages ago and part of me wonders if it is just that men (not all men), or patriarchy throwing their renewed tantrums to try to regain what they believe they have lost. They have been forced to accept equality in so many ways but they are still fighting back in a different way. For women to be equal we must become like them, because that is how you become successful. I honestly thought we had gone through all of this, as I said, years ago. I remember discussions and articles about how having women in business and in charge would change the narrative. I thought it was happening but somehow we are being dragged back to this.

Yes, women can be tough. But we shouldn’t need to be tough in the way that has been defined in the past by men. I’m not an expert on feminism or history but I want to be allowed to be who I want to be. And I want men to have that option too.

I don’t want to see life solely as a competition and like it or not, for historical reasons we do see competition as masculine and cooperation as feminine. And even if you reject those labels, in an evolutionary sense, it makes sense. We need to embrace both aspects to be successful as a human community.

This blog was prompted by Twitter discussions and by this blog and its follow-up from @sue_cowley


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We’re all Different

Very short post in response to discussions on Twitter & reports from .

  • Children are all different
  • Schools are all different
  • Classes are all different
  • Teachers are all different

What works for one teacher in one school in one class might not work for another teacher with the same class or the same teacher with a different class. And, importantly, what works for a senior teacher may not work for someone newer, or of a different gender or personality.

I’ve blogged before about this but seem not to have got my point across. I don’t especially object to the current swing towards more traditional methods of teaching & direct instruction. I realise that some teachers are more comfortable with delivering like this and some students (myself included) are happy with this way of being taught.

What I do think is important is not to dictate a single method of delivery in all circumstances. It removes the ability to focus on what works for you in a given school/class in a particular situation.

I left teaching a few years ago under a cloud. I was deemed to be ineffective, although my results were absolutely fine when compared to the national picture when teaching a course new to me and way above when I had been teaching another course for several years. Like many before me, I jumped before I was pushed.One of the things that upset them (& by them I really mean my Head of Department) was that I didn’t do things like they did. I wanted to treat students the way I had wanted to be (& mostly was) treated as a student. We paid lip service to the idea that we should take an interest in them as people but in reality that was superficial, on the level of “Which team do you support?”.

Looking back after several years away I’m beginning to gain a little perspective on the whole affair. I’m beginning to accept that I wasn’t a crap teacher, I was honest & I worked hard for the benefit of my students…. definitely the students rather than the establishment I think. What I haven’t yet regained is any trust in my own judgement. Before I left, after sick leave and while under the cloud of performance management/monitoring (I can’t remember what they called it, that time is now hazy), I reached a point where I just wouldn’t make any decision on the grounds that whatever I decided, I would be told I was wrong. That persists, and I get the impression, with the current ways of measuring schools and teachers that many others may well be doing the same. If we insist on children being taught in one single fixed way (and the fact that the method dictated keeps changing ought to be enough to make us wary), we are stifling the average teacher’s ability to make judgements and decisions and education, as a whole, will be the poorer for it.

Mavericks will always exist, and not all of them will be like SMW. I’m grateful they do. I know of some of them. They’re braver than I am. I wish now I’d stayed and fought, but at the time, I didn’t have their strength. I’m grateful they exist.  I’d list some but I’ve got to go out now. I’ll add later. But they’re important, we need to listen to them. Don’t swallow “We must all do this because this is the one true way” It rarely is!

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