Friday, 6 December 2013

An outstanding lesson using mobile learning?

Recently I was asked / was volunteered to lead something called a "lesson observation for real" in Coventry. This is essentially a lesson taught in the round in front of anything up to 100 colleagues and, crucially, an OFSTED registered Inspector. The rationale behind it lies not in the inspection of the lesson for a grade, but the sharing of the inspector's thought processes when observing the lesson, and illuminates the (at times unfathomable) thinking behind it all. As a teacher, I think it's useful to be able to hear that explained with regards to a lesson I can watch live, although I'm not sure that as the person conducting the lesson I was aware of much more than the slight niff of me crapping myself throughout! Not a nice image to leave this first paragraph on.

Hopefully you've followed me through to this second paragraph. You'll be pleased to know that, if you have, the worst of the offensive language is over at any rate. Preparing for the lesson was a bit of a nightmare, especially as the closer we got to the event, the more people I knew told me they were coming to see it. As Billy Connolly once said, it's like being forced to sing in front of your aunties! My brief was simple: The previous lesson observations for real run in Coventry (there are at least two or three a year) had tended to focus on KS3 and KS4 classes. This time they wanted to see some KS5 teaching, and it had been suggested that it would be good to see some practical use of mobile technology as part of teaching and learning. As half of my timetable is KS5 and I have been leading our school's BYOD roll-out so far, that was me pretty much dropped in the sh*t and "volunteered" (there's that niff again...)". I had to start thinking...

So, if I were creating a perfect lesson using mobile learning what would it involve? Well, of course the first thing it would have to do is focus on the learning, not the apps. I would think about learning and visible progress or at least visible problem-solving, and frame those into learning outcomes. For me, it would probably involve SOLO levels as a clear way of demarcating progress from one level of skill to the next, which means it would need a baseline. I also tend to think my best lessons would allow the students to select their tasks (according to SOLO levels), and set their own learning objectives in doing so. It's also important for me to give them freedom in their methods of presenting their learning to me and to the class, as that seems to engage them much more. I don't think that just because students get to post-16 study they are any less likely to be disengaged by poorly conceived tasks and activities.

Once I've got that idea of the elements I want to include in the lesson, that's when I'd start to think about apps and the technology.

Another couple of key considerations were how to demonstrate progress and learning. Don't get me wrong: I'm fully aware of the OFSTED dictat which stipulates that they must look for evidence of "progress over time", not progress within a twenty minute segment of a lesson. But the fact remains that students who have had a lesson in which there has been no learning or challenge are not likely to make progress over time either. As such I wanted to include a presentation of the students' work at the end of the lesson for myself and the rest of the class to see, and I wanted to punctuate the lesson with good hinge questions which interrogated what they were doing, and how well they were doing it.

So this is what I came up with...

The starter activity was a Socrative quiz: Five questions, each of which would tell me their ability to work at a certain SOLO level. I could then analyse the results very quickly, see what levels they were working at, and direct them towards tasks at that SOLO level. (By the way, if any of you have not come across SOLO Taxonomy as a pedagogy before, check this out, and then get yourself involved in the SOLO Taxonomy network).

I should say at this point that on the back of my task sheets was the summary (left) of how I felt the SOLO levels equated (roughly) to the sorts of grades the might get in the exam. The students are all aware of their "working at" grades, and the grades they themselves have targeted, and could then refer to this summary as a way of seeing how far they had made progress not only in relation to the difficulty of the tasks, but also in relation to what they wanted to ultimately achieve by way of grade.

If students were struggling with definitions for even the most basic analytical terms and techniques, they would do the Uni-structural activity: They would be given a list of key subject terminology relevant to the lesson which they had to be able to define and remember by the end of the first twenty minutes. Using Quizlet, a great little flashcard creation app, they were asked to look up these terms, write the definitions for themselves on the back of the electronic flashcard, and then use the 'Test" facility within the app to see how many they could get correct.

If they got over 80% of the answers correct twice in a row, I'd be pretty certain they had learnt the terms, and move them swiftly on to the tasks at the next level. (The fact that this app is self-marking is an easy AfL win as far as I'm concerned)

The following activity involved the students showing me that they could recognise a variety of the techniques they'd learnt in the first activity in practical examples, to take their knowledge beyond the abstract. Using one of two apps (they could choose whichever they felt most comfortable with, Thinglink or Explain Everything), the students were sent a still image from the film we were analysing, which was also an AURA* which could activate the scene itself on Youtube straight to their devices (I could have done this with a shared QR code too, but most of the students went for the Aura). They had to use their key terms to label the techniques used in the still, and then add others used in the scene itself which might not be evident in a still image (use of editing, soundtrack and diegetic sound etc). The task was peer marked with overview from me, making sure that the students' ideas were correct, and questioning them individually to test the solidity of their knowledge. While from the lesson plan you'd have thought there was very little teacher involvement in the lesson at all apart from setting up the activities, this is where I think the beauty of SOLO lies. It frees up the teacher to test every individual and make these individual interventions where necessary. Even in a 30 minute lesson last night, I managed to spend some good time with each student answering questions, clearing up misconceptions, questioning and guiding students individually if they were having difficulties. That level of differentiation is hard to do when you're teaching a whole class I think.

Towards the top of the class, the students were working more in pairs, bashing ideas off each other in response to a task which asked them not only to look at the techniques used in the scene and their connotations, but relate them directly to the intellectual, emotional or visceral reactions they might cause in audiences. In a nutshell, the students had to work out why the techniques were used by the director, and whether they worked on all sorts of different audiences. This then allowed me to add additional hinge questions about why they felt certain audience members would react one way and other audiences would react another way. The students embedded the scene clip from Youtube into Explain Everything, labelled the techniques and connotations, and then created an audio commentary on what was happening in the scene, and what they were personally feeling, thinking etc, and then wrote down the key audience effects, and worked out the key techniques used to generate them. They could then create a summary annotation from their thoughts, and send it to me for marking via email (or export it as a movie). I think if the lesson had gone on longer, this would have been a longer task to give time for a deeper level of thinking, and once I'd checked the projects they'd produced, I would have them exported as movies and put on our Youtube channel so as to teach other students further down the SOLO scale. I accept that they could simply have taught this verbally as a presentation in front of the class without the need for tech, but the fact that this "lesson" would have been curated under our online resources is a powerful augmentation of the task which makes coming back to the material at a later date for revision purposes easier for students.

The final activity on the SOLO scale was given much more time to complete, as it involved thinking about things at a much more profound level. Students were asked to recreate the effect of the Schindler's List scene using different techniques of their own. They could cast it differently, use different camera shots, sounds and edits, and even change the setting and contents of the scene. The task relied on students knowing what Spielberg was trying to achieve in the scene in the first place, relating this back to their prior knowledge on how to create emotional effects in viewers, and using previous work on different filmic techniques to create a new unique piece of their own. Think about that task for a second and ask yourself how easy it would have been for you to do yourself. I think I would have found it difficult, and it's my subject area! But by the end of it, the students who had attempted it were thoroughly immersed in the creative task, and you could see they had really been thinking about it. (As the questions started coming from the audience after the session, she pulled me aside and asked if she could carry on with the task!!)

Here was an activity where the tech did more than simply assist the task, it transformed it. The students could approach the task one of two ways, either by taking stills from Schindler's List itself, and narrating their ideas over it using an app called Tellagami (they hate presenting in person, so this app gives them the chance to disguise themselves. It's very quick to set up a character, and gives them plenty of time for thinking the problem through, though I have to watch that they aren't getting over-distracted by dressing their character up nicely!). This then acts as a presentation for other students, which would be given as the plenary in the lesson to show others a complex response to a higher level task, and again, is archivable on the Youtube channel.

The alternative approach to this task was to show how they would have done it rather than offering a verbal commentary, using a storyboard app called Cinemek. The app allows students to take photographs of themselves and their classmates recreating a scene, and annotating movements, dialogue (they can write as a script or record as audio if they want to perform it), camera movements and edits in such a way that it can all be strung together as one scene at the end. It's a really great app I use constantly because it gets film-makers thinking on a much more technical level about how they show a scene rather than tell a story, but it can be used for a whole number of sequencing and commentating functions in other subjects. In this case, none of the students during the observation used it because frankly, in front of a bunch of other teachers, I think they were embarrassed to be taking pictures of themselves in costumes and theatrical poses! That said, it's certainly an option I would use in other creative and "normal" lessons taking place in my own environment (rather than the gladiator arena of public scrutiny!).

The half hour lesson gave me plenty of scope for asking questions, for individual interventions, and moving students forwards, but in a full hour's lesson, I would have ended with the students showing their work to me, or at the top end, to the rest of the class, becoming the "experts in their field" by way of a plenary. I would have rounded off with a repeat of the same Socrative quiz as they came in with, slightly modified to make them think a little more. If they've made progress, I should be getting more complex answers to the questions they were initially reasonably insecure about, and an ability to answer the more complex questions at a higher SOLO level.

After the session the students and I took part in an interesting Q&A discussion about what the teachers and the HMI had seen. It was clear that several of the onlookers had concerns that the learning they had seen had not been "traditional", and many were anxious that there had not been a clear end goal for the whole class. I think my students were brilliant in answering many of these questions, as they made it clear that this model of learning allows them to learn at their level and their (albeit challenging) pace. There were perhaps concerns about how "visible" the learning was, but it was all there on the students' iPads. There was a definite sense of engagement from every student, but where, I was asked, was the progress after 20 minutes? A question which comes from having it ingrained in us that we must demonstrate progress in 20 minute chunks, I suspect. Fortunately, the HMI was fully supportive, and pointed to the fact that we are looking at lessons as an indicator of challenge and progress for all, but only as one factor in judging the key criteria, which is whether or not students made progress "over time". My students could show how these types of lessons have clearly made them think much more deeply, and could show people examples of their GoogleDocs essays, with my comments, which demonstrated this progress. The key to showing progress in SOLO is to show students improving their skills to a point where they can attempt more difficult and profound thinking tasks, and as far as the HMI was concerned, the movement of students from one task to the next, after careful checking by the teacher, was clear evidence of progress. Huzzah!
Copyright 2005 by Randy Galsbergen

Now I shall wait for the nervous tension to subside, and get back to my normal life... Maybe.

By the way, I should also at this point like to publicly thank my colleagues who encouraged me to do this, and supported me with their kind words. Most importantly, I want to thank the members of my Year 12 and Year 13 Film Studies classes for their help in being guinea pigs for this session: They were truly brilliant, magnificent ambassadors for the school and for our style of learning. My sincerest gratitude. Cakes on the way...

* If you want to see how Aurasma works for yourself, simply download the free app (Android link here), find fpsmediateacher in the search section and follow, and then hover the aura target over this picture: If you've done it right, it should turn into a purple swirl, play a weird video quickly, and if you tap on that weird video, it will take you to the link for the scene on Youtube. Simples.

Addendum: I understand that the video of the lesson may be made publicly available in a few days time. I'm not sure this is a great idea from my point of view (I don't think I got my hair right for a start, and the suit/tie combo I'm told was not up to scratch!), but if anyone is interested, please let me know and I will see if I can get a link to put on the blog.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Creating a feedback loop with students: Written formative assessment made easy

Copyright 2009 Jeffrey Weston

One of the key improvements I've been wanting to make to my teaching and learning this year has been to put a system in place of improved formative written feedback within my KS4 and KS5 classes. My feedback has always been decent, but I have a tendency to over-mark, and to get little action from students as a result of my efforts, which can be very frustrating. In addition, I hate having spent a load of time on marking which consequently gets lost by the students, or tucked away in a folder never to be referred to again!

This year, as those of you who follow my blog will know, I've been trying to exploit the potential of mobile technology to improve a whole raft of areas of my teaching. But before you stop reading because you have no access to this kind of tech in your schools, the solution I've found to the marking issue is simple, and doesn't require anything more than the computers most schools and students have already: GoogleDocs.

There are several key advantages to using electronic cloud-based media for your work portfolios, regardless of whether or not your school has iPads, Mobile technology etc. Try some of these for size...

1) Students just need a gmail address (free) to get their own Drive. Drive is like a huge hard disk in the sky. You can store anything on it, and it will be there any time and anywhere you can access the Internet. If you use the Chrome browser - again free, it will be at the top of the page every time you open it and sign in.

2) There are no more excuses for "forgetting" homework: It's always there, online and accessible.

3) Students can no longer get away with saying they have made huge alterations to drafts when they've barely touched them. At the top of their documents, you can see the date they were last modified, and you can even see previous revisions: Anything that's pink is new.


4) Another key advantage is that there are no compatibility issues between versions of software, such as when Kevin can't access his homework because he has a more up-to-date version of Word at home!

5) Similarly, there are no issues with losing work: Every keystroke is saved.

But the main advantage is the ability to save all your work and organise it into folders, and then share it with anyone else who has a gmail address, for assessment by a teacher or a peer. This is how it works in my classroom...

Students create the essay in Documents, or a spreadsheet, or presentation.

Students share it with the teacher and other students, and can specify whether or not they want the document to be editable, commentable or simply viewable to each individual. The teacher or partner receives an email telling them a document has been shared with them, with a link which takes you straight to the document.

Personally I tend to organise my Drive into folders, and put shared work into a folder I set up for each individual student, that way I know all of their work is in one place. Once it's in there, I start reading. 

Leaving questions and comments
My next job is to leave comments on sections which could be improved. This could vary in content depending on the student. I can simply highlight or correct errors in the comment (sp denotes a spelling mistake, P a punctuation error, Phrasing a grammar error etc), or highlight something which needs to be re-written, or I can ask questions to extend the student's thinking. This then engages the student to improve a particular section, or to engage in debate with me about what I mean, allowing me to draw out deeper understanding over the period of the conversation (this conversation can happen over time or live, as one of the features of Google Docs is the ability to see when other people are contributing to the document in real time - Great for writing collaborative pieces!). If the student thinks they have got it, they can mark my comment as resolved, but I can go back to that section any time and re-open the comment thread if I feel they haven't quite got it.

Leaving formative feedback summaries

Finally, at the start of the piece, I will leave formative feedback: A maximum of three things which deserve praise (What Went Well), and two key areas to improve (Even Better If). This I have found focuses my marking on the most important aspects which will help the student to get to the next level. 

Recently, a couple of additional features have suggested themselves to me. The first is simply to highlight areas of good practice, so that the students can see examples of what they are doing well (you can choose any colour - I use green, below) . This also helps if you ask them to share a piece of work with other students as a model.

Highlighting elements of good practice
The comments function is also a nice way to get better annotations on essays you can then send to moderators for coursework. You have a couple of choices:

1) Print directly from GoogleDocs: The essays will print out without any of your formative comments, which you can then annotate by hand;

Annotated coursework for the moderator
2) Make a second copy of the document and add your support comments at the side, and then "Download as" a Word document, which keeps all of your comments alongside the essay, ready for the moderator to read.

And there you have it. An easy way to show progress over time, to evidence marking, but more importantly, to enter into a meaningful formative dialogue with students so that they improve with every piece.


For easy tutorials on how to use GoogleDrive, please check out our department Youtube Channel.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Leadership secondment: a great experience

Those of you who have been following my blog over the last few months will know/have surmised/been told/have no idea whatsoever that I was seconded to our leadership team for the past two terms. I can honestly say it probably came at the worst possible time for me, with a colleague who had just left the department and not been replaced, having to take on their exam classes, dealing with some serious personal issues of a couple of colleagues and trying to be a decent father and husband (the last two have been more or less accepted as optional by my family for all but the month of August each year, but that doesn't mean I stop trying, or at the very least feeling guilty about failing!). By the end of the process, however, I would say that it was one of the most worthwhile professional things I have done in the last few years.

The reasons for this might be divided into two: The worth lies in what I achieved (which is open to debate) and what I experienced. The latter I think is the most important, especially given the paucity of my achievements. I'm sticking with it as the most important thing at any rate. So what did I experience?

1. The opportunity to organise a whole-school project

Anyone who has read the non-leadership-y blogs of mine will know that the other element I've been captivated by this year is the potential for mobile technology to transform learning. Because of what I'd been doing in the classroom, other colleagues and leadership were getting interested in what I was doing (or wanting to know how I could justify all the expensive iPads at least). Having discussed the potential of the iPads, and the way they were transforming the teaching and learning in my classroom, it was clear that this was a way forward which could really benefit the school, but as I've written elsewhere, we were in no financial position to afford a 1:1 iPad programme. The compromise, which actually turned out to be far less of a compromise than I would have thought, was BYOD.

The scope of the project itself was huge: It consisted of getting SLT and teachers on board, getting technicians on board and working out how to get the network ready, getting student involvement, getting Digital Leaders trained, and trying to manoeuvre a lot of different elements into place simultaneously which gave me a sense of playing twelve-dimensional tetris permanently for seven months. It's arguable that there is no better training for Assistant Headship than exactly this! The whole project is now an integral part of our next three year focus in school, on the personalisation of learning, so I will genuinely be able to say that I have had an impact on teaching and learning across the school which, by the time the project is fully rolled out, will have affected every single student's learning. When you're a middle leader trying to take that next step up the career ladder, this is often the missing link, the whole-school dimension, where candidates come up short.

2. The opportunity to lead CPD

I have rarely worked in a school where there has been such a relentless focus on high-quality CPD, and where the majority of it has been provided by our in-house experts. The BYOD project gave me the chance to lead some of the individualised training our school runs for its staff in order to develop them all as far as we can, and also offered me a chance to view the principles and logistics behind that training programme. For my part, I was able to deliver CPD on how teachers can make use of mobile technology in their teaching and learning, to provide high quality assessment for learning opportunities, and to give students a huge amount of choice in how they learn, and how they present their learning. The CPD I delivered also gave my CPD co-ordinator a good idea of how advanced these practices were, and she in turn gave me the opportunity to deliver similar training to other teachers at TeachMeet Brum (1 and 2) and TeachMeet Cov, as well as at the Coventry Teaching and Learning Partnership. These consequently provided me with networking opportunities with other far-sighted teachers, middle and senior leaders and exposed me more importantly to doubts and questions about what I was introducing which were both sincere and legitimate. By the time I'd gone home to reflect on those questions and obstacles, the planned whole-school initiative was beginning to become much more water-tight, and much less likely to fail. That kind of high-level scrutiny and collaboration has been really useful in formulating my ideas, and also in giving me the confidence that the ideas themselves are worth carrying out from the point of view of enhancing teaching and learning, rather than being just another "initiative". My best moment was when a friend who is high up in the IT industry told me (after a half hour grilling me about our BYOD plans) that he couldn't find a flaw or a gap in them. High praise indeed. For the first time in my career I don't feel as defensive, and I don't see criticism as a negative, but as an opportunity for reflection and growth. Again, a real benefit to my career, no matter which direction it heads in from now.

3. The opportunity to observe a high performing leadership team

The chance to see how a high performing team operates, and what characterises them, was another key learning development for me this year. I got the opportunity to see how this team was shaped by strategic thinking and planning, long-term plans, conviction that your plan will do the job and get the best results, constant checking of the data, digging for the detail and the stories behind it, a focus on excellence rather than initiatives, a daily togetherness and opportunity to talk about operational matters, weekly meetings which were purposeful, focused and always about how to get the best for our students.
Copyright owner: Randy Glasbergen
I got to see that, while middle leaders and below often think of SLT as purely results-focused managers, they were actually focused now not just on the results, but also on the adults they wanted our students to become: There was review of the curriculum experiences of the students, their extra-curricular experiences, and the out-of-school opportunities we offer them. We spent time looking at different curriculum models such as the IB, the Middle Years Programme etc, and thinking about how closely the experiences they offered matched our aspirations for our children. Oddly enough, the current turmoil within our educational system served me well, as I got to see a team focus on the basics of the educational experience, and prioritise the things which really matter. I came to see that outstanding curriculum, teaching and learning, student experiences etc are never the result of accident or chance.

3. The opportunity to contribute

Within this context, I also had the chance to contribute to the above debates and see whether or not my own ideas stand up to scrutiny at such a high level. I think that's probably all I need to say on that section. They weren't laugh at. To my face, anyway. From my point of view, big win.

4. The opportunity to see how high-performing teams are forged

One of the most significant aspects of the secondment for me was seeing how high-performing teams are built and exploited to get the best out of each person. Like any good classroom, the team were divided differently for different tasks and projects, sometimes clearly in light of what they could bring to the project from their own expertise, but at other times to develop more latent skills which each member of the team perhaps needed to work on to become a more effective and rounded leader. There was a constant theme of support, and wanting to maximise the talents within the team, but also a feeling that they were constantly being asked to move forward, and become even better, even more balanced as individuals. What did I learn about myself within this environment? Well, apparently I've got some decent ideas. I have a focus on systems and strategy which will serve me well, but I also have a good eye on people, and hopefully won't ever put the systems above those people delivering them. Within a high performing leadership team, I held my own, hopefully, and would consider I had a shot at most AHT jobs. Having said that, you can probably see through the number of grammatical qualifiers and self-deprecations in the last few paragraphs that I haven't quite shaken off the demons of my own self-doubt. What I did get to see was that this isn't an entirely negative flaw, and that it also makes me a reflective person, which will again serve me well for the future as I try to grow professionally.

One interesting exercise we undertook as a whole team was a ColourWorks exercise, run by a company (ColourWorks, surprisingly) which asked us to answer a series of random and somewhat irritating questions and then presented us with a bunch of results about our leadership style. Considering how meaningless the exercise felt at the time I was doing it, I have to say that the results were stunningly accurate and insightful. I have  20+ page document at home about me and my leadership style from which neither I, nor any of my family, colleagues or friends have been able to fault more than about three statements. Interestingly, I am less gregarious in leadership than I like to think, and more reflective and logical. I am not pushy, or fiercely driven, and I always value consensus and people. As a result, I think I might be cut out for leadership up to certain levels, but not Headship. I am a good team player, and I can always help others improve their own ideas further, but I'm not necessarily a top leader. Perhaps it's a question of happiness or personal priorities: I find myself not driven enough by ambition to want to disrupt a work life balance which brings me great happiness and satisfaction as well as challenge. I'm not looking to be in a rut, I'm not wanting to coast: I genuinely want to be the best teacher and leader I can be, and to make a difference to as many students as possible. But I think at the very top you need a certain amount more self-belief and, let's face it, cojones, to take on those challenges and assume responsibility for everyone under you. One thing that does occur to me, however, is that someone like me, who doesn't allow things to get in the way of my own happiness, also understands how important this happiness and sense of personal satisfaction are for staff well-being as a whole, and that is an excellent attribute to have on any leadership team.

5. The opportunity to see where middle leaders fit in

As a middle leader I understand my function within the school much better now, and what opportunities I have to be able to help the leadership team by speaking up on matters whose impact I am better placed to understand than they perhaps are. This has also given me far more confidence to express those views, and I've noticed the same confidence emerging in others who have also had the same chance to undertake a secondment as I have. My bond with these people has now become much stronger as a result, and I can see that one of the points of offering secondments to middle leaders is to build this capacity for growth, self-discovery, development, and confidence. Similarly, from the leadership team's point of view, seconding middle leaders allows LT to gauge how broad or parochial the views of school issues are to those middle leaders, as well as how practical, feasible and strategic they are, so that when these middle leaders are consulted on matters affecting the whole school, the leadership have a good deal more faith in the feedback they get if they know the middle leaders in question can see things from both sides of the fence.

So in conclusion... 
  • I enjoyed the experience thoroughly
  • I enjoyed the challenges, and really enjoyed the whole-school responsibilities
  • I learnt an immense amount about how schools function, about how leadership works, and about myself and my own style of leadership
  • I learnt that leadership teams have real people in them too! And I learnt how to curb my natural tendency to bow in deference to superiors
  • I would recommend this to anyone, even if it's just to see what lies on "the other side of the fence"
  • If I hadn't been doing this on my full time-table, I think I would conclude that I might be able to manage a leadership job!
And finally, I would say I have learnt this, which I would like to pass on to all potential leaders, of the present or of the future:

Leadership without clearly defined core values, and aims which are consistent with these values, is nothing. Leadership without integrity is nothing. Leadership without reflection and questioning is nothing. Leadership without clear, consistent, transparent communication is nothing. 
There's a reason we are given twice as many ears as mouths, but once you're done using the ears, make sure that what you say is true, committed and strong.

Oh, and if any of you are thinking I could easily have describe Michael Gove here, go back and re-read the ears thing.

Now, who's going to give that job...?

Saturday, 20 July 2013

BYOD in schools - Part 5: What we need from Digital Leaders

So last week we finally interviewed our first set of digital leaders. They will have a huge role in the roll-out of our whole-school BYOD scheme (SMART Learning©) as and when it happens. Specifically, we are expecting them to support our students and our staff as we experiment with using digital devices to enhance teaching and learning across the school. We want teachers to be confident about this process, and we want the Digital Leaders to act as their safety net and inspiration, having explored digital teaching techniques, apps, websites, and ironed out any potential technical obstacles which often put teachers off experimenting with newer technologies. Which is quite a big ask for any 13-14 year old.

Our initial rationale for introducing a BYOD scheme was based around the type of students we have at Finham Park. They are generally motivated, achieve well, looking to be well-taught, and looking to succeed. However, we have a lot of students at the top end whose strategy is to "succeed through obedience": "Tell me what I need to do, and I'll do it" style of thing. It sounds ideal, but it encourages people to coast rather than to think for themselves at a more profound, inquisitive level, and we really wanted these students to break through the glass ceiling and start a life-long journey of discovery and self-motivated learning. These were our key aims:

- Increase student motivation
- Stop students relying on teachers
- Promote independence and inquiry
- Allow for personalisation
- Get students ready for the demands of the future workplace

So what exactly are we looking for in our Digital Leaders? How will they contribute towards these SMART learning aims? Some of the key qualities we need from them are:

* An understanding of the needs of students and, more importantly, scared reticent adults!

Innovation - Departments which are linked to Digital Leaders want to explore innovative teaching and learning strategies, but they often don't know where to start. It's important to remember that, if you're reading this and thinking you know exactly where to start in this quest, then you're probably in a minority of 10% of the teaching profession who are currently connected, be it via Twitter, Google Plus or blog-reading. For the rest who really want to try something new but don't know where to start, the innovation and inspiration have to come from the Digital Leaders.

One of the interesting questions we asked them at interview was this: You are asked to bring in your own tablet or smartphone to school in order to assist with your learning, but your parents refuse to let you. How would you convince them that there is a good educational rationale for allowing you to use your devices in school? I think the best student leaders we interviewed were able to understand and articulate how far-reaching this change to our normal educational landscape might be, and saw what a game-changer BYOD potentially is. Implicitly, they also understand the significance of their role in this context. They know that they will need to lead the way in this revolution, and think outside of the box. Already we've been surprised by the quality of some of their ideas for educational technology solutions, including writing bespoke apps for departments, so we're confident we've made good appointments.

Problem-solving and lateral thinking - Another area which often puts teachers off trying new technologies is the fear of the technologies going wrong in front of an entire class, and chaos ensuing! We have to train these student leaders to be able to deal with the simple but frequent technical problems which might impede progress, and hopefully give the teachers the confidence to try new things knowing that there will always be a safety net for them. Digital Leaders will be the superheros to the rescue! As Scott Adams has wisely said, the students who learn to master the new technologies which will dominate our society in the future will eventually become the alpha males and females of the future, on an evolutionary level.

Already the training we're offering is based around problem-solving, and our students seem to be eager to show their problem-solving abilities. Our tech wizard has asked if any of them fancy coming in over the summer to learn to put a computer together for themselves, and they were well up for it. It's that level of inquisitiveness which will stimulate their problem-solving abilities further.

Good communication skills - Having the confidence to deal with teachers and other students is probably the most important skill our Digital Leaders will need. Being able to ascertain what someone wants when they're to exactly sure themselves is hard. It involves really perceptive questions, clear understanding and excellent listening skills. In many ways, it requires them to understand that they are putting their skills forward as a service to others, but that others define what the parameters of that service are, and that takes a level of both confidence and humility at the same time, paradoxically.

Patience and enthusiasm - In spades. Enthusiasm will be the torch that lights the way for our staff and students. They already want to know how they can be better at what they do, and they will look to anyone who can show them great ideas. But once the enthusiasm and the great ideas are there, the Digital Leaders will also need the patience to be able to explain them to a variety of different people who will understand them in a variety of different ways, and at different speeds. Essentially, the Digital Leaders will be developing the subtle skills teachers use every day. And at their age, that will be an impressive feat!

E-safety awareness - Finally, this is one area which any school wishing to go down a BYOD/iPad/1:1 route will need to tackle. We are letting students access the devices with which they connect to the world, any time, anywhere. While we will always treat attempts to use social media in appropriately in class as behaviour issues rather than technology issues, we need to be aware that students will nevertheless quite naturally be accessing social media around school at other times, and we need to educate students about the problems this might create for them. Frankly, I'm not sure teachers are the best people to do this, for a number of reasons:
- They are not the digital natives that the students are.
- They are not necessarily listened to when they take on a "moralising" tone on any issue.
- And more often than not, their own knowledge of e-safety issues is far from adequate. 
I know people who are otherwise extremely professional, but when it comes to their social media presence, seem to have very little awareness of the reach of their comments, and the potential to cause offence. As such, we are reliant on our Digital Leaders to help train the rest of our students and indeed our staff, to ensure that we operate in a community that takes full advantage of the enormous benefits of social media, without leaving ourselves vulnerable to its pitfalls. The DLs have already offered to lead staff training, to take assemblies and PHSE sessions on Internet safety, and we think they'll do a far better job of it than we will.

There is also a sense of competition between the new Digital Leaders, which when they are in their pairs and teams has been very good natured, but also made them try to be as helpful as possible. They really are trying to push themselves individually and as a team, and that tells us that we've made some good appointments for the future.

We have now attached them DLs in groups of four or five to the three core departments for next term. Already they have contacted the Subject Leaders, and been given areas to research over the summer, so that by the time we come back in September, they will be ready with their latest ideas on teaching and learning.

And we are SO looking forward to this journey...

For this summer, on our BYOD journey, it's over and it, but we'll be blogging more as the scheme develops next term. Until then, if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The DL Team (@FPS_DL).


Saturday, 22 June 2013

What's wrong with education policy debate

I am not prone to ranting. People who know me will tell you I'm neither confrontational nor particularly hard-line. I like to compromise, and find common ground. So this blog may seem out of the blue, and will eventually turn extremely controversial. You read on at your own risk.

I have several problems with current educational policy, but before you start accusing me of party politics, I would say that the political interference in education by Left or Right is equally bad, and that we ought to aspire to educational aims which are based on future-proof principles, and not constantly vacillating back and forth at the whim of the latest cabinet minister who wants to "make his mark" and stake his claim as the next Prime Minister. Seriously, is that a good basis upon which to decide the future of hundreds and thousands of children?

Current education policy does, however, seem to me to take the biscuit. It often seems formulated on the basis of very little evidence, which is in turn often flawed (remember the farcical uncovering of the "poor historical knowledge of modern youth" which was based on surveys for Premier Inn and the Sea Cadets?). Nevertheless, if a conclusion can be turned into a mantra and repeated frequently enough, and exaggerated further by the press who are looking to arrest their declining relevance in society (i.e. sales), it becomes the truth, does it not? This, in my opinion, is no way to conduct a debate about the nation's education.

To illustrate my point, let's turn the tables a little... What if we as teachers behaved in the same way as the education debate is being conducted?

What if we... told our students just to make one point in an essay, repeat the same point ad nauseam, and put it in capitals to make it more convincing and OBVIOUSLY true?
Copyright: Jim
No, we tell them to evidence everything: Point, evidence, evaluate. We tell them to look for potential counter-arguments so they can see both sides, and then to evaluate for themselves what they think the answer might be. Memorisation of facts is not nearly as powerful as the ability to analyse those facts, take them apart, and find out the truth. Unfortunately, in the current climate, the truth, and the evidence which might prove it, and the nuances of the debates, are all simply collateral damage in the quest to gain political capital. What grab the headlines are not the measured nuanced debates of professionals, but the daily kickings from the Secretary of State and Michael Wilshaw which appeal to the confirmation bias of the 40 plus generation who read these things and nod sagely about how much better it was in their day (Was it really, by the way?).

What if we... started telling the whole class off when the naughty child at the back starts making too much noise? And then went out into the playground and started telling every who will listen that everyone was just as bad as that naughty child? Which of us has not been told that this is the first thing you never do in teaching? And yet the journalistic tendencies of making sweeping generalisations from those at the top is remarkable. I'd contend it's not appropriate for education, though. And one of the ways in which citizens would know that is if they had been trained in media criticism, such as is the case in Media Studies, and taught not to accept things at face value. Oh, but it's one of the subjects Michael Gove wants rid of. I wonder why? The journalist is someone who knows a lot of things superficially, and then claims the mantle of the expert. But the very nature of journalism is that it flies from one subject to the next so quickly that 1) it does not develop true expertise, and 2) it looks at things from the skewed perspective of what will sell/scare/interest/amaze the reader rather than reveal what is necessarily true. And these are just the good journalists. As we all know, there are plenty more in the industry who are hacks who will be far less thorough in researching a story, and simply find a couple of provocatively different views from which to formulate a story, and then let rhetoric do the rest. Did you notice I did that myself at the start of the last sentence? Clever and subtle, isn't it? This is how Gove and Wilshaw are winning the battle of the media day by day, and unless teachers fight fire with fire, and can convince the news media that there is a genuinely interesting story to be had in the misuse of statistics and in the manipulation of data for political and commercial ends within education, then we may well be doomed to lose the debate.

Clearly education must be failing: It says so in the papers. Despite the fact that OFSTED's latest data  on inspections puts around 70% of schools as Good or Outstanding (not all under the new framework, to be fair). We have a major problem in education: Again it says so in the papers. Every day. Last week we were (collectively, all of us, remember?) responsible for failing pupil premium students, the higher achieving students. Oh, and we were responsible for the rise of the EDL. The problem has been identified, and repeated again and again, so it must be the problem to focus upon. Privatisation of education has been identified as a key solution, as well as making everything harder. That will automatically tell us how to do our jobs better.

Let's look at this situation in a little more detail. A perceived problem has been identified, repeated forcefully and often: People who disagree have been demonised (anyone else an "enemy of promise"?), and we have been told that these enemies threaten our very future. This sounds almost exactly like the way newspapers create a moral panic, and for exactly the same reason, to inspire the feeling of trust in a protector who is looking out for us. You can see where any sense of nuanced debate is being lost here. As for the solutions, clearly privatised schools would not fail: Private companies never fail. And harder exams will obviously inevitably lead to better outcomes, despite the fact that teachers are not being told how to get their students to achieve these higher levels of attainment.
Indeed, if you think about it, how can we possibly get future students to be cleverer when half the profession are a product of the declining educational standards of the last twenty years?

What if we... scared the hell out of our students about their future, and then told them to do everything we say and that will get them home safe and sound? Like sheep.

So here's the controversial bit. Having worked incredibly hard for years to raise my own game as well as that of my students, the last year has coincidentally seen me think seriously about quitting this great profession several times. The egotist in me asks why on earth I should let politicians force me out of a profession I love and am, as an outstanding teacher apparently, quite good at. But then I started thinking of the other people who've probably had similar thoughts.

What if we, as a profession, quit en masse?

Not going on strike. That makes us easy targets to demonise. Governments are great at getting the public to turn against anyone who inconveniences them. But actually quit. Said "We are not prepared to participate in an education system which we believe damages the future of your children, and decreases the life chances of a significant number of them. Find someone else to teach what you want taught."

So far, I've had a variety of gut negative reactions to that suggestion, including my wife's. Gove isn't forcing me to quit a profession I love, goes the line. Except you love the ideal of the profession, not, very often, its actual current substance. We teach despite the fact that we don't like the direction. But then I would argue we are more or less complicit, or at the very least placing ourselves at the mercy of the whims of each Secretary of State. We have long talked about the depoliticisation of education, and even Mr Gove himself has alluded to this as a noble aim of his. But do any of us seriously believe he has that intention?

So I go back to my point. Quit. What would happen?

First, if Heads and teachers quit together, we could not be blamed for holding the nation to ransom. The Secretary of State can simply replace us. In a year, when new teachers have been trained. Oh, and since most PGCE courses have been replaced by in-school training, who is going to do that training? And who's going to do the appointing? I seem to remember the Khmer Rouge getting rid of all Cambodian teachers because they were bourgeois professionals who undermined the Marxist revolution. The effect was catastrophic. Parents are not going to like the fact that their children have nowhere to go. But we aren't withholding our labour: We quit. Perhaps parents after the initial anger directed towards those who have inconvenienced them, would want to know why teachers would actually be prepared to leave their jobs because of the Secretary of State's policies? Maybe then we'd have slightly more informed debate on the subject, and the public would demand our reinstatement?

Maybe I'm an idealist.

But I'd rather be an idealist than a collaborator who fears there is no other option. There always is. And the vast majority of answers I've had about this, while intelligently rationalised, have always been reactions of personal fear.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

10 Ways to use a Youtube channel in education

Youtube: The ultimate distraction (apart from Twitter, but that's for grown-ups, right?).

A marmite resource which teachers either love or hate. Personally, I love it. Marmite me up all day long, if you will. It provides a never-ending source of educational videos, inspiration, challenge, provocation and kittens launching themselves at erratic torch-beams wielded by sadistic owners waiting for their cat to splat into a wall and bag them £500 from "You've Been Framed". What's not to like?

Apart from the cats bit, that's why I started our own Finham Park Media Youtube channel. It's been building up gradually over the last few months, the longer I've been on my journey to explore how iPads and BYOD technologies can be used to enhance my own teaching and learning practice (previously blogged about here and here, so forgive me if I don't go over old ground). I've found it an invaluable companion to this journey, so I thought I would share the countless opportunities Youtube offers educationalists in this blog*. In the form of a list. So you can count them. Ahem...

1. The simplest way to use Youtube is as a place of stimulus and discussion for class topics. A video URL can easily be set as research, to provoke debate, to extend thinking for more able students or to help explain something more simply for those having trouble getting to grips with a new concept. Once the students watch the video you've shared, the comments section below allows for the debate to occur. If you "Favourite" the video, it will appear in your channel, and you can then direct students to your channel, and supervise and moderate what they're saying, especially if you have set this as a homework task.

2. I love using Youtube as a place for flipped learning videos too: I create a very simple video, say a tutorial on a concept I'm teaching, an app or piece of software I need students to be able to use, or instructions for hardware such as cameras, particularly useful for subjects like ICT, Media, Photography, DT, Music etc (example here). A Youtube channel allows you to curate all of your videos in one easily-accessed place for your students.
  1. Video tutorial
    I then set it as homework for students to watch and take notes on, so that they come to the lesson knowing how to do what I've been describing, or as a minimum, having questions they want clarifying. The ability to review the videos as often as they like allows the students not to feel they have to move at the same middle-ground pace as the rest of the class, and personalises the learning a little more. Allowing questions right from the start of the lesson also allows me to differentiate from the start, allowing those who know what they're doing to get right on, while I can spend time helping those who had questions. I should say at this point that I am aware there has been much criticism of the Khan Academy approach to flipped learning, about the boring videos and inaccuracies, 
    but these criticisms mostly miss the point, which is the principle that if you create a video of information you've already taught in class, it can not only be accessed any time to refresh the students' memories, but it can also be done slightly differently to differentiate, be that to stretch the most able, or to assist the less. The great thing about having these videos on your own channel is that you can arrange them into playlists on the same subjects, and have the playlist order follow the same logical order that students should tackle them in, gradually getting harder. the students are improving their skills with every video, but tackling each new topic at their own pace, once they fell they have mastered the preceding step.
3. I tend to use flipped video lessons in conjunction with Ted-Ed, a brilliant resource in itself which I've described elsewhere. It allows you to take any TED or Youtube video and create quizzes based on the videos which students can undertake as the test of how well they have done their homework, and be used as the basis for differentiation from the start of the class. The test immediately shows who has not done the homework, who has done it but needs more input, and who should be moved on straight away. The quizzes can be done different ways, in class, using different software, or even paper if you're into that sort of thing, but the TED-Ed quiz facility has a few nice features (such as hints about where in the video the answer lies if students struggle, and a self-marking facility) which add to the variety of your teaching.
4.  The same principle applies to teachers. I use my Youtube channel to help other teachers with app tutorials to help them work out how to make best use of certain apps to improve their teaching and learning. Again, all of these are arranged into playlists, by topic, to make them hopefully easier to find. I learnt a lot from other teachers who have put tutorials on Youtube (@eyebeams was one particular early inspiration), and a Youtube channel for me just felt like an easy way to share things I was showing teachers in my own school. 

5. However, new media technologies take us way beyond simply finding things other clever people have done, and this is where your own Youtube channel comes into its own. For a start, if your students create their own video work (on phones, iPads, at home, on PCs etc), it is the place to store it for later referral, for assessment (remember, you can comment on their work from there). The process of uploading is incredibly easy once you have the video file, or even more automatic from certain apps which are already linked to Youtube.

6. This also acts as a public showcase for your students' work, which is a huge incentive for them. You need their permission to share this work publicly (you can upload things to Youtube but keep them private, or stipulate that only people in your classes can see them), but if they and the people they filmed are happy with it, you can then open the channel up to more public eyes and exposure. This knowledge that anyone could come across their work can really sharpen their focus and inspire students to produce over and above their usual class efforts.

7. Not only that, but if your students are serious about their work, the channel acts as a networking opportunity for your students, to allow others to see what they have done, and allow them to talk about and discuss their work with industry professionals. It might even get them noticed by someone really important, but even if they're don't get signed for their first multi-million dollar film deal, the channel opens up the way for discussions with people who can help them to improve their practice. In one recent example, a friend of mine who works on video effects saw the work of a student and started a conversation with them about how they could get better, and different techniques they could use. hey presto, the student's next piece was even better. Feedback from an expert certainly carries more weight than mine does (apparently!).

8. The discussion and comments sections for videos also allow an opportunity for extended peer feedback: By sharing the links with other schools, you allow your students to put their work before a broader audience of their peers, and a broader range of criticism. This acts the same way as the way other colleagues share their class blogs between schools, and with the same positive effect in my experience.

9. Additionally, I think having your own channels allows you to share your students' work with other teaching professionals, providing an opportunity for moderation. Anyone who finds themselves in my position of working in a small department without a budget to send you to those costly moderation meetings will appreciate the ability to share your links with other professionals and get their opinion on the marks you're giving, or how the work could be improved, especially if you're feeling a bit too close to the work to be objective.

10. Finally, there is a great deal to be said for how far a Youtube channel gets you noticed as a school. Ours has attracted attention from all over the place, and when people from around the country discuss the work of Finham Park students, many of them have seen it on our Youtube channels, so our school's reputation is enhanced.

One final word on Youtube. Many schools block it, despite the fact that it is the most extensive resources of video material the world has ever seen. For me, that's all horribly wrong. The fact that students could access inappropriate material via Youtube is not a reason to ban it. After all, no school banned the Internet, despite the rumour that at one stage it consisted of 90% pornography (This may be apocryphal and impossible to prove, but you have to admit it's persuasive and emotive: Everything we need from a "Gove-fact"!) Essentially, it should not be for technicians or bureaucrats to decide what your students can and can't access. It should be for the teacher. If the teacher doesn't feel confident that students will stay on task and use learning-related sites they have stipulated, then they shouldn't take a risk in using it. On the other hand, if you feel you trust your students, or that you have the ability to manage behaviour (it is the behaviour which you are criticising after all, not the technology), then use it. As far as I am concerned, what students can access should be a matter of teaching and learning, not decided by technicians. They are there to serve the teaching and learning community after all, and that's a powerful argument to take to leadership teams to get them to unblock these sites.

*If you are about to skip the rest of this blog o the basis that Youtube is blocked in your school, I suggest starting at the LAST paragraph

Sunday, 2 June 2013

BYOD In Schools - Part 4: Student Engagement

This year has seen our school begin the process of implementing a Bring Your Own Device Strategy (BYOD) across the whole school, notionally led by me, which is somewhat worrying. Fortunately my erstwhile co-leader @Gripweed1 has made up for my many deficiencies in the process, and we enter the final half-term of the year, 6 months after starting, having successfully negotiated the first stage of the process. I've blogged about the different parts of Stage One before, but a quick recap may save you trawling through all that:

We started by mapping out the route we would take, looking into other schools which had gone down similar or alternative roads, and identifying areas of planning and infrastructure issues we had to address first before moving forward. We then began involving students with @Gripweed1 leading a highly successful Safer Internet Day, where students were consulted about the rights and responsibilities of them being able to use their own devices in school as a learning tool. Their input was critical in allowing us to develop a BYOD policy, and the intention is to have students review this annually as part of our PHSE programme, to ensure it remains up-to-date and fit for purpose. While our focus shifted on to a small group of "dangerous teachers" who were conducting class trials with the students, we realised that the students were going to be the key to the success or failure of the whole process, and it is this student engagement I want to address today.

So far, we have engaged different sections of the student community at different levels. All were involved in the development of the Acceptable Use Policy, and several classes across different year groups have been involved in exploring the technologies through trials. Now we're looking at the issue of digital leaders, and the contributions they might make to moving the process forward. There is a great deal of talk across the Twittersphere about digital leadership: Some of it is little more than a nod towards it, as I've seen in several schools where student leaders are more or less teachers' assistants. However, there are many other schools where it is clear that students are genuinely leading not just other students, but also the teaching and learning process through mobile technology, and here they seem to be driving the idea forward almost more effectively than if the process were top-down. Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist)'s work at Clevedon in the South-West is a case in point, and we have learnt a great deal from his generously shared expertise.

Our initial discussions for the roles of digital leaders looked at a variety of potential roles Digital Leaders could undertake. These ranged from having

  • FROG champions who would train students and teachers in the use of our FROG VLE
  • Technical support leaders who would almost be apprentice technicians 
  • E-Safety Specialists whose job would be to advise and monitor e-safety across the school
  • Device Specialists whose job would be to look at the way certain device workflows could be translated to other devices without causing problems 
  • We even then started thinking about having specialists in different types of software as these need considerable training too, for example Adobe specialists, Microsoft Specialists, Android Specialists etc

You can see that the lists eventually became far too cumbersome to be workable! We were ourselves in danger of losing sight of "the main thing" and turning our digital leaders into glorified Techies, so we changed our focus back to Teaching and Learning, and this proved far more fruitful. All aspects of the role can now be clearly related back to leading, enhancing or supporting teaching and learning, and we have also looked at how digital leaders can be used to smooth the transition of students coming up from primary schools so that they are confident and ready to meet the challenges of secondary. Equally, we would like Digital Leaders to be able to use their experiences to gain accredited qualifications which would help them further a career in this sector if they so wished, and we are currently exploring the sorts of qualifications on offer.

This is what we came up with in the end...

Digital Leadership at Finham Park

Job description

Digital leaders will...

Be able to support teaching and learning through SMART Learning
Be able to support the use of mobile devices by teachers and students
Be able to support and develop the use of VLE
Be able to assist specific departments with the acquisition of teaching and learning resources (apps, websites, software)

Be able to develop outreach programmes
Be able to liaise with primary schools to promote digital transition
Be able to manage the digital leaders' social media presence
Be able to work with collaborative networks in order promote and share best practice

Be able to support the development of e-safety training across the school
Lead assemblies to whole school on e-safety
Lead lessons to students in e-safety
Lead whole staff training on e-safety
Be able to promote the use of digital technology at whole-school events (e.g. Genius bars at Year 7 parental events)

Be able to offer basic technical support to teachers and departments
Checking computer power, peripherals, sound, mice and keyboards
Helping teachers to use iPads with AppleTV
Clearing a printer jam
Checking toner and paper
Projectors and connections
Problem diagnosis?
Management of school computer screens, uploads and podcasts
Preparation of machine images through FOG
Device usage (ipads and other devices, especially help for staff)

Person Specification

Digital Leaders should...

Be dedicated to this single area of student leadership (there are many other areas of student leadership around the school, but we feel this role is so big it will be time-consuming)
Be a positive role model to other students
Have an interest in developing digital technology skills further
Be responsible users of technology
Be keen to learn to work with other people involved in the creation of a digital environment
Show tenacity and commitment
Be able to demonstrate prior digital skills
Have a clear understanding of safe and responsible social media use
Be willing to foster leadership skills

Our second draft of a job description has yet to be approved, so I put it out here for discussion: Have we missed anything? Can you help us to tweak it further? If I've learnt anything from blogging and tweeting, it's that no idea I've ever had couldn't be improved by somebody out there, so we very much welcome any input here via the comments section below.

The class trials will report back at the end of the year, and hopefully we will have enough evidence that mobile technology can have a tangible impact on teaching and learning to move the project forward across the whole school. At this point, the role of the digital leaders will become crucial in the process, and it is more than likely that they will be leading teachers as much as students. This gets us to a stage I think many schools and SLTs are nervous about, namely where the students' expertise begins to overtake that of the staff. I can empathise with this to an extent, although I have to say that mobile technology is one key area where, if teachers don't learn to step outside of their "sage on the stage" role, we won't move forward very fast. As an old t'ai chi teacher of mine once told his students, "if I don't train you with the aspiration of becoming better than me, who then will I learn from?"

Only if we can get over this psychological obstacle in how we see our role will we truly begin to create a collaborative learning environment, where teachers and students move each other forward.