Mimanifesto – Jaye’s weblog

Archive for March 2008

Another busy week. Its amazing just how quickly time flies by. Its only three weeks since I had my knee operation but already I’m right back into the swing of things, and as ever, there’s always so much to do in school. We had two more really good lessons using GLOW in biology. The S3 class are really working the system like consummate pro’s. They have been working on GLOW now since January and have completed one of their standard grade modules using GLOW for one third of the teaching time. Well into their revision, many of them are using their GLOW group tools to help them at home. we had another good lesson using ‘meet’ and its great to see some real collaboration taking place as pupils flit between each others whiteboards to see how their classmates are doing the work set,  commenting and messaging each other. Now that they are used to working with this particular element of GLOW I want to extend their horizons a little by bringing in some external participants to work with them. Perhaps some biologists from the Teacher Training Institutions ? Interestingly, formative assessment results from these pupils using GLOW during this part of their course has shown attainment gains well above those noted in previous modules undertaken. Its going to be interesting evaluating their attainment against similar classes who have not used GLOW for the same work….

My small group of parents are also getting to grips with GLOW. I am showing them how to use it with their youngsters as a way of helping them with their Biology work at home. The parents have been really amazed at the different resorces I have made available in a special GLOW group set up just for them. I am hoping that they will continue to use it at home and that it will encourage them to take a real interest in their children’s progress. The aim of the project is to use computer assisted learning to increase the amount of parental involvement in school work. The pupils selected were identified as needing additional support to raise their attainment. We felt that if we could involve parents/carers in this, then the effects might be both more long-lasting and cross-curricular, as the working together at home might spread to other subjects. Its early days, but initial feedback is encouraging.

I’ve also been busy working on the arrangements for my study visit to Finland next month (big thanks to LTS for the dosh for this !). I’m looking forward to meeting the pupils and teachers in the Helsinki schools who are also using ICT within their subject lessons, as well as the university academics researching this area of teaching and learning. I’m also planning to meet the school district administrators looking after ICT, as well as some student teachers in training.

I have a meeting this week with someone from Glasgow University (my old ‘alma mater’) who has spent some years researching the use of computers in education for both learning and peer- asessment and I’ve been invited to a couple of conferences (one local and one national) next month to share good practice on using GLOW in teaching and learning. It would also be good to get some more collaboration between staff and authorities on the go -some irons in the fire there as well.

 There are tremendous opportunities at the moment for teachers to really influence educational practice and innovation. Busy times indeed. And exciting !

The recent lesson I taught from home using GLOW meet really got me thinking. Of course, the pupils enjoyed the ‘novelty’ factor and were engaged throughout the 50 minutes or so, but on a more serious note, I feel I achieved just as much if not more in that lesson than I would if I had taught it in person. This might sound a little crazy, but the focus on the learning objectives, the detailed planning involved in delivering the content into GLOW for the pupils, and the ability for pupils to share work via their whiteboards in GLOW meet and for me to be able to check their learning progress the same way, as well as privately messaging those few who were struggling all added up to result in an amazingly good lesson. AiFL and peer assessment, and the collaborative and independent aims of ACfE all addressed and more to the point effective in the way they were meant to be – improving the teaching and learning. Differentiation was a dream – more able kids tackled extra and more challenging work I had set for them allowing me to concentrate my input in an extremely targeted fashion towards the pupils who needed help, as well as interacting with the more able students on their advanced work programme.

 This lesson really allowed me to sharpen up my   planning to involve all the elements I feel are important, particularly peer-assessment and collaboration, and proper differentiation of content to take into account the individual learning differences and abilities of the pupils in the class.

Budget constraints during the next session will force us all in schools to be ‘extremely efficient’ with timetabling, as my own Head Teacher phrased it recently. Perhaps its time for an e-learning programme in South Lanarkshire. This might allow more students to take courses by combining with others in different schools. I’m thinking here of Advanced Higher in particular. My own subjects of Biology and Psychology could benefit from this approach. Advanced Higher Biology could be taught this way, with practical work carefully scheduled at certain times. Tutorials could be easily arranged using GLOW Meet, often on an individual basis and ‘out of hours’ as necessary to allow real flexibility to suit the different schools and students involved and maximum efficiency of a teacher’s timetabled commitment. Of course the students would need to be trained to use GLOW but for today’s ‘digital natives’ this has so far not been a problem. I think the more mature S6 pupils would really take to this approach and the interactive elements within the platform ( both audio and video communication in real-time) facilitate a very personal as well as collaborative learning experience for the students involved.

So come on then….opinions please. And for any SLC types lurking on this weblog – maybe its time to trial this e-learning approach using GLOW. Perhaps a way to put a brave face and different spin on budget cuts in education, or perhaps a 21st century approach to education efficiency and resource maximisation…

Prejudice against gays and lesbians is rife in schools because teachers are unwilling to face up to it. As we congratulate ourselves on the completion of another hard terms work, perhaps we can spare a thought for some of the things we didn’t learn at our teacher education institutions – real issues of equality and discrimination. For while multicultural and anti-racist educational themes are given their rightful place in the training college curriculum, and in school policies, other minorities represented among both staff and pupils are ignored or, at best, brushed under the carpet. I am referring to those of us who identify as gay and lesbian (some 11 per cent of the population, if the figures from the campaign group Stonewall are accurate), and have to deal with the rampant heterosexism that still permeates Scottish schools today. While we now have legislation to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, why is it that education has failed to move with the times? A brief look at any of the textbooks in use in today’s classrooms will present a picture of every family, of every relationship, and even of every individual, as avowedly heterosexual, with barely a mention of the alternatives (and that’s just the good books). If anyone said something like this to the disabled or aged or folks of ethnic origin, they’d be strung up by the metaphoric thumbnails . . . and rightly so. Why then in the 21st century with an equality agenda very much on the march, do we still run shy of recognising and indeed celebrating diversity in sexuality in Scottish schools? Clause 2A still casts a shadow over much of our teaching, even after its repeal, championed by a courageous Wendy Alexander. In fact, this grubby excuse for legislation never prevented teachers from discussing sexuality in classrooms. It placed a duty on local authorities to prevent the promotion of homosexuality as a “pretended family relationship”.

Well, it’s certainly not a pretended family for me and my partner, my children, and the many single-sex family units across the country. So promote it as an actual family relationship that is just as valid as any church or state-sanctioned marriage. Where’s the problem? In schools – that’s where many of the prejudices in today’s society are learned and encouraged.

While we rightly clamp down on racist bullying, where are the initiatives to deal with homophobia in the playground and, for that matter, in the staffroom? I have lost count of the times I have heard slang words for gays and lesbians being used as insults and I am fed up with having my relationship reduced to the status of breaktime cat-calling.

So what do we do? Well, the “healthy respect” project needs to be rolled out nationwide for a start. This encourages dialogue about all types of sexual relationships and gives non-judgmental advice to young people about their sexual health.  Greater Glasgow Health Board published the results of a research project which looked at the needs of young gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Glasgow. Among other things, the survey found that most did not think their school was welcoming, with 41 per cent of young women and 57 per cent of young men saying they had experienced harassment and discrimination. One young man commented: “I can get called a poof and the teachers won’t do anything, but if I’m called like a Paki , they will do something obviously.”

As teachers, we can play a bigger part. The Scottish Executive leaflet advising parents states that all pupils will have had the chance to discuss issues surrounding awareness of sexual orientation by the time they reach senior school. So let us seize the moment and ensure that relationships are presented in a balanced and equal manner.

Point out the imbalance when you come across it in textbooks and course materials. And please, please, remember that the young people we teach, even if they do not identify as gay or lesbian, will have mums and dads, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins, friends, and friends of family who do identify this way.

And as for that member of staff sitting next to you, well we don’t all wear big signs you know.

Finally, that survey discovered something else. Young gay and lesbian people are between six and 11 times more likely to attempt suicide. This is an area where a teacher’s skills, compassion, care and respect can make a real difference to young people’s lives.
You know it makes sense.

Sitting here away from my classroom with my (very) sore and swollen leg propped up on pillows, I’ve been reflecting on much of my classroom practice, as well as feeling rather sorry for myself. Its not nice to be told that you need a knee replacement at the grand old age of 43. It got me thinking about change which is necessary, and change for the sake of change. Much of what we have to do in education it seems to me, is change for the sake of change. New initiatives come and go and we are expected to change our classroom practice to fit in with the new fashion. Most of these changes come without any form of quantitative evidence to back them up. The exceptions to this are few and far between. For me, AiFL was one of those exceptions. It came as the result of some focused classroom research which yielded clear evidence of a change, improvement in attainment as a result of changes made to the teaching. This is good classroom research to my mind, and it has stuck with me at the back of my mind throughout my teaching career to date.

I have now got to the point where I am doing educational research, and my starting point has been to examine the so-called innovations in education and more importantly, the quantitative evidence which backs up he research. And guess what; I struggle to find any, apart from AiFL. Curriculum for excellence is a set of very laudable aims,  and the evidence to support it is there but its qualitative. We will not see the quantitative figures, the raising in attainment, for many years. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in ACfE wholeheartedly. I think the four capacities are just the way we need to be teaching our kids. They have to have skills and the ability to use them in a 21st century Scotland. Education must be holistic or it is just a process of imparting specialist knowledge in isolated chunks. And maybe that’s why it may be harder to evaluate ACfE in terms of raising attainment. Perhaps wider measures will be needed, such as socio-economic indicators like employment rates, NEET figures year on year, and so on.

My reading over the past year or so has been focused on raising attainment through the use of ICT in the classroom. I’m actually staggered by the amount of money that’s been spent in the UK over the past 10 years on ICT without any measurement of its impact on attainment. Surely this funding should be tied to quantifiable measures of success ? The introduction of GLOW into Scottish schools is a case in point. Why, oh why has its roll-out not been accompanied by targets for raising attainment ? why have HMIe not included their thoughts and intentions on GLOW in their latest ICT report? Why is it being left to LA’s an schools to introduce GLOW without any cohesive authority-wide targets for usage related to attainment ? I feel we may have missed the boat which could have changed the face of Scottish education for the better. Don Ledingham, the East Lothian education supremo, writing in his blog refers to the old saying ‘evolution not revolution’ and how it might need to be reversed. I wholeheartedly agree. Its time for a digital revolution in our schools which no-one must be allowed to shy away from. All the old excuses must be brushed aside by training. All of our teachers sign up to the GTCS SFR every year when renewing their registration, and these standards are quite clear on ICT skills. Its a good starting point as these standards are enough to enable anyone to use GLOW effectively in the classroom with some CPD-tweaking. The problem here is clearly a lack of will, or dare I say it, a lack of professionalism on the part of many teachers who are burying their heads in the sand.

I want to address the lack of quantitative research on the effect of ICT on attainment. Those of us who use ICT know the benefits to teaching and learning. We know it improves results. Now is the time to show this. I have been unable to find any research papers making this link. They all concentrate on opinions and perceptions. If you know any, please let me know. I am going to measure the effect of using ICT as a structured planned part of teaching a subject on attainment using a secondary school year group and statistical analysis of their attainment before and after the project. Hopefully this will be published later this year as we have already commenced work. And hopefully it will give a clearer picture of the benefits (or not) of using ICT in our classrooms regularly and in a planned fashion as a part of each secondary school course. So often we dip into these initiatives like ICT for a while then go back to our previous ways- a ‘digital’ holiday if you like. I think its about time we put the holiday photos away and use research to help us start the revolution and become a ‘digital nation’. Full time.

I’m sitting here at the moment with my leg up on pillows having just got out of hospital. I’ve had some more work done on my knee, which really needs replacing. The surgeons are trying to buy a little more time by doing a proceedure called ‘microfracture’ in which they rough up the surface of the bone in order to stimulate cartilidge regeneration. However, it only sometimes works so we’ll just have to wait and see…

It does mean that I’m off work for a week or so. Plenty of time to catch up with long-neglected stuff. I have the introduction and lit review to do for the research project I’m doing for the GTCS teacher researcher programme on embedding ICT into secondary subject curricula. I’ve also just had approval from LT Scotland for a study visit to Finland, so I need to start planning that as well. I’m  going to teach one of my classes at school through GLOW meet using a web-cam and mic later this week from home. That should be interesting ! possibilities for remote teaching are vast – sick pupils, small course numbers, shortage of staff….the list goes on. This ‘sick leave’ is actually turning into more of a ‘study leave’ situation, though of my own making, I must admit. I’m a very bad patient and struggle to sit around doing nothing. The knee, however is serious and I need to try to give it a chance to heal. Daytime telly is so crap – apart from Jeremy Kyle which as a psychology teacher I find fascinating.

So – rest of the day in bed, then onto the sofa with the pillows, research papers, and web-cam !

March 2008
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