Archive for June, 2013

There are certain responsibilities which fall to you when you become a teacher.

Other people’s children’s welfare becomes your responsibility.

Agonising over the placement of the apostrophes and whether to write become or becomes in that previous sentence! As the welfare is singular, so should the verb be? But is welfare a noun that can be quantified at all in terms of number?

We also acquire a congenital dread of Ofsted, suspicion of Sir Michael Wilshaw and repugnance at the thought and image and voice of Michael Gove. Admittedly, the latter is symptomatic of being a fully evolved member of the human race rather than necessarily just being a teacher.

So when Ofsted came into our rural coastal school, I was already arming myself with vitriolic, bilious and defensive adjectives with which to blog this weekend. I was prepared to be grilled, interrogated and probed – although not in an alien abduction way, there are limits to what I’m prepared to do for an Outstanding!

I was poised to leap to the defence of my Department and to fight our corner against politically motivated judgmental bigots.

And instead I’m reaching towards vocabulary like personable, fair and constructive. What has happened to the world? Is the sky about to tumble about our ears?

Yes, clearly, there was a huge amount of nerves and stress and rather limited family life for the 48 hours of the inspection. But the actual process was…

Okay.

It seems anathema to say it but, I quite enjoyed the process. Enjoyed. That may not be the right word. Relished, perhaps. Rose to? Maybe.

I did ask for (well, I asked robustly. the word demanded has been bandied about somewhat unfairly. A gentleman never demands, he asks robustly) an hour’s one-to-one interview with the English Inspector.

I was asked if 15 minutes would do; I said no.

Robustly.

As a new Head of English, with massive plans for next year, I wanted to be judged against them rather than the outgoing Head of Department’s decisions.

Results, Data, Progress and Pupil Premium were obviously large parts of the Ofsted brief. What were our headline figures? What was our response to last year’s GCSE fiasco? Were we being pro-active or resigned to being at the vagaries of GCSE (politically motivated?) grade boundary variation. I, in fact, had a range of reasons behind our headline figures last year and an even wider range of responses to them in place in the short, middle and long terms.

The Inspectors were responsive to both structural changes (things like iGCSE, English and Language/Literature entries, early entry and exam board choices) and teaching and learning changes (see previous posts for my plans for a skills-led Programme of Study as well as changes to our feedback and assessment).

There was a big focus on Pupil Premium: those students who attract extra funding because they have been eligible for free school meals within six years. They are therefore deemed socio-economically vulnerable.

What I actually liked was that they obviously had the data and wanted me to know and understand it. Colour coded spreadsheets and transitional matrices are, at the end of a day, just another text and as open to interpretation as Of Mice and Men or Composed Upon Westminster Bridge! I like to think I’m competent to understand them. I guess, they wanted to be talked through the data to see that we weren’t simply collating a variety of spreadsheets in a folder entitled Ofsted but we were using them to drive forward strategic planning.

But what the inspectors really wanted was to see that I knew the stories behind the names and data. They wanted to see that there was a reason why Pupil A wasn’t achieving progress and intervention had been put in place to facilitate their making progress; that there were a host of reasons which genuinely did limit Pupil B despite all the interventions; that Pupil C had progressed to a point where she was able to access her next steps even if that didn’t equate to 3 levels of progress.

I liked that. I teach children, not data. I was very much relieved to see that the Inspectors shared that focus.

It is possible that this post is merely the result of a freakish combination of the only decent and humane inspectors available to Ofsted. And I suspect that other conversations may have been more prickly but I can only respond to the conversations I had.

Which were genuinely positive and constructive!

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This will be a teeny tiny post but I found this absolutely gorgeous photograph of Rita Hayworth:

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As a comparison to Curley’s wife, it bears a range of uses:

  • an analysis of her body language exquisitely echoes Curley’s wife’s body language in Chapter 2;
  • the sensuality of her half-closed eyes, half open lips is a parallel to Curley’s wife’s sensuality;
  • an analysis of small details such as the cigarette can encourage students to identify how the image of class and high society – with hints (more than hints) of phallic symbolism – has become in the twenty-first century perhaps almost taboo – a range of interpretations based on different cultures’ perceptions;
  • her dress and heavy make-up bear similarities to Curley’s wife’s red lips, heavily made up face and peacock-feathers all of which suggests a reaching towards sophistication which is artificial and a mask and does not reflect the truly lonely and damaged creature lurking inside Curley’s wife;
  • as a H0llywood actress, Hayworth – or actresses like her – would have been the role-model that might have inspired the pre-marital Curley’s wife to dream of being in the “pitchers”;
  • the image captures the glamour (in its more faery connotations) and appearance of sophistication propagated by Hollywood which would have appealed because of the extreme poverty and harshness of life on the ranch;
  • the girls in my top set went even further comparing the patriarchy of Hollywood and the patriarchy of the farm, suggesting that the sensuality and sexuality of both the image and of Curley’s wife are imposed rather than natural;
  • the direction of her gaze through the camera to the viewer was taken to suggest a desperation for attention that echoes Curley’s wife’s need for attention;
  • her body position, whilst undoubtedly sensual and sexual, is also artificial and unnatural, suggesting that she and Curley’s wife may both be uncomfortable with the role ascribed to them.

One unexpected side effect: exploring the possibility of the cigarette being a phallic symbol has so appalled everyone in the class that they have declared they will never be able to smoke.

No bad thing!

Okay.

This is scaring me, now.

I don’t mean scaring in the sense that children enjoy ‘being scared’ by stories and films. I don’t mean scaring in that delicious hide-behind-the-sofa Doctor-Who style.

I mean fully and totally clenchingly scared!

I want to – no, in my head, I have – turned my entire Programme of Study on its head. This puts the decision to swap from OCR to AQA examination boards on a level with, perhaps choosing between Cadbury’s chocolate and Galaxy. Being now permanently appointed, having a clutch of retirees and new appointments, I am rebuilding our curriculum from the foundations upwards.

And I mean from the foundations!

The curriculum I inherited – and, for my transition ‘Acting’ year haven’t really been happy with but equally, for reasons of laziness primarily, haven’t tackled – is I think a pretty traditional one.

We read books and write in response to them.

We analyse language for purposes and write techniques.

We report a single grade to parents.

We have been – and, in fairness to my school so has every other school I have ever worked in – almost wholly Literature focused, content driven and linear in structure.

So what am I changing to? Language focus. Skills driven. Cyclical and elliptical structure.

Head. Turned. Upon.

At the heart of this will be something called Covey tables, available courtesy of the PiXL club and named after Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey tables – at least in my understanding of them – are at their heart a marking tool.

covey ao4(iii)

It is possible to list key skills that my students will be assessed on and I have ranked those skills along the top of the spreadsheet. They are drawn from the OCR markscheme for Controlled Assessments. In this case, they focus on AO4(iii) the sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and paragraphing. I planned on experimenting with this first because (as noted in the previous post) the changes to the KS2 curriculum and KS4 curriculum are massively raising the status of these skills. To be reporting to parents, students and SLT that a certain student may be “Level 4b” actually tells them nothing about whether they can create sentences, use paragraphs, vary vocabulary….

As can be seen from the example, teachers need to simply grade from 0-2 for each skill to represent their being no evidence of it, occasional evidence and consistent evidence. Through basic formulae and vlookups, these scores can then be converted into a GCSE grade or KS3 level.

Should I be using KS3 APP Assessment Foci for Years 7-9?

I don’t see why.I am being tested at KS4, students are being examined at KS4. What possible advantage is there in tweaking the descriptors and language of assessment between Key Stages? I am prepared to report in the 4c, 4b, 4a, 5c ladder of the KS3 curriculum (or 4.2, 4.5, 4.8, 5.2 for the sake of the mathematics required by the spreadsheet) but why tinker with the language of assessment?

How do I see these Covey charts being used?

In a word (or three) daily, openly and engagingly.

A two week introductory Scheme of Learning will start by assessing prior skill and 1s entered as a result. It is the first piece of work and therefore by definition, there can be no evidence of consistency. Doing this in the first lessons back in September will mean that the quantity of marking is going to be limited (I am really pushing for regular feedback of shorter focused tasks: having achieved a level 5 in your first half page, do I really need to read another 5 pages of the same quality of writing?!) Once initial testing is done, two weeks of teaching will lead to a second round of tests. PiXL language might describe this as diagnosing, treating and testing? After the second test, the Covey table will be updated: 0s will become 1s; 1s will become 2s. A level can then be reported on. As our reporting cycle requires a report produced in October, this will fit perfectly!

And what do we have as a teacher? A partially completed Covey chart from which we can analyse who in each class can consistently demonstrate certain skills (and, therefore, train others) and who needs practise before their skill can be relied upon. It can be projected onto the board. The next time a student forgets a capital letter or a full stop or loses a chance to deploy a colon in anger, their score can be reduced in front of them! Along with a challenge to correct their writing by the end of the lesson. Students using correct apostrophes for the first time can see their 1 being inputted.

Use for discussion with SLT? Invaluable!
A role in identifying Intervention candidates? Incalculable!
Its place in selecting focussed 30 minute skills’ revision rather than wide ranging generic revision classes? Immense!
Parents’ Evening tool? Potent!

Further Covey tables could be (will be) created for the specific AOs: I think that creating a table of this nature for every level of every skill in every AO on one sheet would be far too cumbersome. And finally, an overview sheet could use formulae and vloookups to simply pull the final grades together for each AO and then average them into an overall grade. Weightings can then be applied as well if necessary.

covey overview

The onus is on teaching staff to keep each of these Coveys up-to-date: without up-to-date data, this will fall apart as I envisage the Covey chart being used as both a summative tracking database and as a formative interactive teaching tool. And, it will be an onus for at least some of my staff: another chore that would probably fall to the bottom of their to-do lists.

So what can I do to ease other burdens as I impose this one? Well, let’s think:

  • marking: the Covey sheet is marking! Mailmerge should allow us to create stickers or labels easily in which a grade is given to the child along with a list of skills which justify that level and other skill required for the next one and this could be generated weekly – although fortnightly fits with the rhythm of our curriculum more naturally;
  • planning: if I were to write Schemes of Learning focused exclusively on specific sets of skills – why should a Learning Objective make reference to anything other than these skills which are what they’re being assessed on? – then I both keep control introducing this very new framework and take one other burden from my team.

In fact, all I am asking my Department to do is to deliver (with verve and enthusiasm) my lessons and Schemes of Learning and to differentiate them according to the demands of their own classes.

So, what will this create? An integrated Programme of Study over five years with an integrated and unflinching focus on progress, skills and achievement? A single thread of skills informing Assessment for Learning, Planning, Schemes of Learning and Reporting? A rigorous, accountable and open system of assessment – firming up what may be one of our weaker skill set at Key Stage 3? A consistent marking policy?

Cripes!

And is it a massive burden on me to write Schemes of Learning across all year groups? Well, if it’s the right thing to do, for the sake of the children, that shouldn’t be a bar! And the benefits in terms of reducing marking will apply to me as much as to anyone else. And all I would be doing is sharing and directing others to use the Schemes of Learning which I would be creating for my own teaching any way!

Yes, still scared!

But the more I consider this, the more right it seems!

I have to be trying to teach children to read, write, communicate and (despite its removal from the new KS4 qualification) speak and read. To teach them to answer the set question on a set text is simply not good enough!

So, now Mr Gove seeks to recreate the GCSE specification. Again.

Now there are many things I just don’t get about Michael Gove. How he holds down a job; how anyone else manages to work with him; how no-one has discovered that he is, in fact, an alien probe sent to infiltrate us; how on earth he got a job in education when he appears to denigrate and despise both pupils and teachers.

However, more specifically, how his proposals for GCSE reform make any kind of sense at all.

Firstly, the headline that the media focused on that students will undertake

detailed study of a range of high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial whole texts, which must include:
 at least one play by Shakespeare
 a selection of representative Romantic poetry
 at least one nineteenth-century novel
 a selection of poetry since 1850
 British fiction or drama since the First World War.

I see nothing inherently objectionable in this, to be fair to Mr Gove. There are some brilliant texts available within those criteria. The nineteenth century novel is, perhaps, a tad daunting and I fear there may be a sales run on A Christmas Carol! But there’s an awful lot of literature of equal weight, interest and value missing from the list! I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what options are made available to us.

What the DfE have also produced, however, includes Assessment Objectives and weightings.

These are worth a read for all Heads of English because there is a significant change here!

Let’s take Language first. This is the list of future AOs.

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and a list if the current AOs, drawn from the OCR specification.

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Firstly, speaking and listening is shunted out entirely. How do students, people, adults, professionals communicate in the majority of the time? By speaking? And by listening? Surely by removing this from the qualification, you devalue and denigrate the most critical communication skill that we have and you run the risk of de-skulking a generation of children in oral communication skills.

Now, before anyone complains, yes I know that Spoken Language will remain as a compulsory element of the GCSE – although note the absence of listening from its new title! – because the proposal states

While it is compulsory for students to demonstrate the skills in AO4 in spoken language it will not count towards the overall grade awarded.

It will not count but is compulsory. I’m sorry, but that is a fudge, a sop.

What might be the logic behind this? I suspect it is because lots of students – and perhaps mainly boys – do well in this unit. Anecdotally, how many parents evenings have I had when I’ve explained that Little Johnny is articulate and engaging verbally but cannot put his thoughts coherently into writing? How many databases show C grade written work complemented by B grade oral work?

So he removes it?

He removes the one area where many children excel and receive the validation that they can achieve in English.

How? What? Why? It is incomprehensible to me.

Especially as the iGCSE which the DfE has confirmed to me will be accredited at least until 2015 and rumour suggests into 2016 as well (thereby overlapping the no-speaking-and-listening, 100% terminal exam GCSE) does include Speaking and Listening at 20% weighting and Writing Coursework at 40%.

Is it any wonder that CIE experienced a 300% increase in entries this year?

If we look at writing, the score for AO4(iii), the sentence structures, punctuation and grammar. Currently it accounts for 33% of the writing grade, which comprises 35% of the overall grade. Therefore AO4(iii) comprise 11.55% of the overall final grade.

The equivalent Assessment Objective in the new GCSE is worth 40% overall of which half derives from sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and spelling. That raises the weight attached to that skill from 11.55% overall to 20%, nearly doubling it.

How will schools respond?

There is a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test at KS2 now but I don’t know how many Secondaries would rely on that?

I am thinking of introducing a two week grammar unit full of games and fun activities across the board at the start of the September term and repeating it every single September to reinforce and develop students’ skills as well as demonstrate progress. This would also upskill my staff in grammar and provide them with a range of short snappy fun grammar activities that would be ideal as starters throughout the year.

And AO1 includes some very low-order skills on Bloom’s taxonomy: retrieve information; summarise… These lower order skills simply do not appear on the current AO list: “selecting material appropriate to purpose” is qualitatively different and more challenging than “retrieve information”.

There is also the introduction of the skill of synthesise: to be able to “evaluate … and synthesise [information] for specific purposes”. Another explicitly new skill and, here, at the top if Bloom’s taxonomy! It is very close to the iGCSE Directed Writing component (or as I want to rephrase it, Text Transformation) where students read a travelogue (for example) and then imagine they are the writer and write a letter home persuading a relative to visit the are using the attitudes and views and information of the original article.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I like this skill! Actually, I like it a lot! But it is a higher order skill and, if it is combined with a Draconian approach to grammar and sentence structures and divorced from Speaking and Listening, it could price a real challenge to achieve.

Turning to Literature, the proposed Assessment Objectives are

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and the current equivalents are

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The new AO1, to read for comprehension is again a very low order skill! Low enough not to be currently tested at all! To describe features of a text currently would attract some (very few) marks in Language but here could attract up to 20% of the final grade in Literature.

The new AO2 basically comprises all the current AOs together and is only worth 50%, 20% of which must derive from unseen texts. Now I do like that: it means we have to teach students how to read literary texts rather than how to read this book which is great! That content-driven focus has been the worst part of the current Literature course. But, students will need a wide range of reading across genres and contexts to be able to do so. I suspect this unseen element will focus on poetry for exactly that reason of timing.

But AO3 is sneaky: 30% of marks will be made available for writing – presumably essays – in a literary manner. 30%.

Again, how schools react to that will be interesting. I’m thinking that, again, an explicit essay writing unit, repeated throughout the course, explicitly teaching essays as a persuasive text could become embedded in my Department.

Anyway, the links to these documents are below:
Language;
Literature.

One question for you though, both these DfE documents capitalise English but not language or literature. Surely it should be! It is the name of the course, the name of the examination, the name of the qualification. It is a proper noun, isn’t it?

And finally, for all fans of Michael Gove, some delightful pictures:

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