Assessment, Observations, Workload

Do less, but better

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Just over a year ago, I took a bold step into the world of twitter and blogging.  Whilst most of my forays have just been the random musings that the strap line of my blog promises, one or two have shown me the power that social media can have.
Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a pleading blog as an assessment leader in crisis, floundering in the newly “created” world of assessment without levels.  From that blog, I received words of wisdom from many good people.  Crucially though,  Michael Tidd put me in touch with some wonderful people at the White Horse Federation in Swindon, who helped me on my way with my assessment journey. 
Fast forward a short while, and a trial system was in place, and then rolled out across the whole school in September.  There have been times when I have felt quite smug about the fact that, as a school, we more or less know what we are doing.  However,  for the most part, I have still had one or two niggling doubts about what we do, especially when we have made changes mid-year or even mid-term.
No secret was ever made of the fact that this system was developing as we went along – staff, children, parents and governors have all been kept informed of what we are doing.  However, I have always known that the system wasn’t completely perfect for us.  Not least because it was designed by the White Horse Federation to suit their needs, and we were/are using it alongside a few minimal functions of Target Tracker (purely for the purposes of looking at groups of children, as it links to SIMS).  I am eternally grateful for the support the WHF have given, and continue to give, and I know that they too have made changes to the system as time has gone on.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Assessment Without Levels conference at Cheltenham Racecourse, where some wonderful speakers provided me with a huge amount of food for thought.   Not least Jamie Pembroke and Michael Tidd (who, I am not ashamed to admit, I was very excited to finally get to meet at last!), whose key message was: do less, but better.  Jamie has always been a firm (and vocal!) believer in not using assessment systems if they don’t work for you.  He is, of course, completely right, but the only way to find something that completely fits your assessment system is to build it yourself. I don’t want to spend more money and time learning about a different system that still doesn’t quite fit our needs.  But sadly, my web/app designing skills don’t quite meet the desired level (I was excited a couple of years ago when I managed to get an Excel spreadsheet to change colour depending on the numbers put in!). If I’m honest,  our needs for a tracking system are going to change anyway.  I’m not completely sure how yet; when listening to Michael and Mary Myatt yesterday, I knew exactly what we were going to do and how.   24 hours on, and that clarity has faded a little, but I still have ideas.
As a school, we assess too much.  I knew that from the outset, but I thought it better to do too much and cut back, rather than not enough and add to people’s workload later on.  I know we aren’t in the business of popularity contests,  but taking away work rather than adding more is always going to score brownie points! Staff have got to grips with the way we are planning and assessing, and they are doing it well.  The children know what they can do and where they need to go next.  The parents  (hopefully) know where to look to find out how their child is getting on and what they can do to help.  I’m not going to change any of that, just streamline the record keeping somehow.  
I’m not back to square one, nowhere near it, because this year, I have a very sound starting point, thanks to the WHF.  And, a year on, I have the confidence in my ability to develop this, something that I lacked massively last year.  I also have the confidence to talk to Ofsted about what we do: my favourite phrase of yesterday was “I’m sorry, we don’t do that here.  What would you like to know?”  I can’t wait to try that one out when our inevitable HMI visitor comes knocking on the door.
So, for the time being, we carry on doing the bloody good job that were are doing  already . But conversations will be had, plans will be made, and hopefully,  in the not too distant future, we will be doing less,  and even better.

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Curriculum, Learnpad, Technology

Sharing experiences – the BETT Show

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The #BETT2016 team from LearnPad

Us teachers are a cynical lot. But we are a friendly lot too.

 

I met a fair few teachers over the last few days at the Bett Show, representing LearnPad and talking to them about my experiences. We are always wary of sales people, wary of people just pointing out what they want you to hear, so being able to talk to potential customers as an impartial teacher was really refreshing.

My role was to share my experiences in school, talk about a few lesson ideas and, what I was particularly surprised about, to share the negatives with customers. To be fair to the good people at LearnPad, I didn’t really have any negatives to share, but of course customers always came with a list of concerns.  Understandable, as they were possibly about to invest sizeable chunks of their budgets in the products, and I really enjoyed the fact that I could help to alleviate their concerns by telling them about the support I have received, both from the Technical Support team and from trainers such as Hannah.  I could share a range of lesson ideas, from simple ones using inbuilt tools like Annotate for those who were a little tech wary, to more complex ideas combining apps like Animate and Movie Maker.  Some just listened to the ideas and asked questions, but others came back with new ideas that I have pinched for the classroom! Whatever their view though, the teachers were all grateful to have the opportunity to talk to other teachers and hear what we had to say.  In fact, many of those I spoke to were in exactly the same situation that our school was in not so long ago: a handful of iPads, lots of old and deteriorating laptops and an ever increasing need to make a decision about what route to go down when spending their budgets.  To me, it seemed that technical advice from the experts, practical advice from experienced teachers and packs of free Wonka bar pencils was a winning combination, and so people left the stand smiling!

I consider myself to be a very confident LearnPad user, but I too learned a huge amount while I was away. Before the stand opened and during quieter times, I had the opportunity to explore new products too – I am going back into school tomorrow with a huge wishlist!  I was really excited to be able to tell people about the new ClassBoard app (available from the app store and Google Play), which is available to any school, and is a secure forum for schools to share pictures and work with their parents via their tablets and smart phones.  The first thing I did yesterday evening (during my “evening off!”) was to register my school and add a few demo posts, so I can take it to show the other staff.  It’s a great way to be able to keep parents informed and engage them in everyday life – something which we are always keen to do! Showing photos and work straight from the LearnPads via the ClassCloud is also a great incentive for those more reluctant users to get them out and use them – they have a whole new audience to share their work with.

I also spent a HUGE amount of time playing on the new Murus board – a whiteboard unlike any I’ve seen before.  There was a massive amount of interest in the board – not least from me – as it looks incredible and the idea of using SNAPS on it (simple apps) made it really easy to use.  I couldn’t talk to teachers about how I’d used it, as it’s a brand new product, but as the two days went on, I had more and more lesson ideas to show people.  Some of us on the stand made it our mission to try and put different lessons onto the board each time we demonstrated it, so between us, we built up quite a bank of ideas!  The LearnPad team regularly asked us what else we wanted on the board – as we played with it, we came up with an idea or two which the team took away.  I loved the fact that our opinions were valued so much – ultimately, we are the users and the consumers, so what us teachers have to say about a product really matters. Again, some of the teachers we spoke to came back to us with lesson ideas of their own… more to add to the bank in my head!

Having time to share ideas with others is really valuable, and is something we just don’t do enough of. When I agreed to go to the Bett Show, I had no idea what I was signing up for.  It was a terrifying prospect.  But it was a valuable experience in so many ways – meeting lovely people (both customers and people on the team), sharing great ideas, discovering fantastic new products and, last but not least, a huge boost to my confidence. Yes, the two days were exhausting, but two days that I am so glad I was a part of.

Curriculum

Exploring our history

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We are only 4 days into a new topic on “Invaders”, looking at the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and already it is clear that the children are loving it. They were amazed by the soldiers, columns and mosaics that had mysteriously appeared in the classroom, desperate to read the non-fiction books in our brand new book area, and thought our opening text of “Vesuvius Poovius” by Kes Gray and Chris Mould  was hilarious (thanks to Jo Payne for recommending it!). Thanks to the Key Stage History resources (which I wrote about this time last year), I have a really interesting and exciting plan in place to teach the children the skills to find lots of facts, and activities to help them to use their new found skills.  We have a trip to Gloucester City Museum planned, which is full of information about local history, and it was this trip that led me to a new idea.

This year, I would love the children to carry out their own research project about the Roman and Anglo-Saxon history of Gloucester, spanning a period of a few weeks. I spent today reading and re-reading “Children’s History of Gloucester” by Cindy Jefferies, and I was fascinated.  If I got so hooked from reading one book, then I am sure the children would be just as interested.  However, my problem is this: many of the children in my class are not focussed enough to be able to sit at a computer or a tablet for a few lessons and be able to find and retrieve the information – the lure of other websites would just be too great, as would the opportunity to sit and chat or mess around.  We have lots of non-fiction books in school, but of course, they don’t focus on local history.  I have already contacted the Gloucestershire Local History Association for some advice (and possibly talks from their speakers), but beyond that, I’m floundering a little.  There are lots of sites of interest in the local area, from the remains of the City Walls (which we will visit), to Emperor Nerva’s statue, from the remains of St Oswald’s priory to the splendour of Gloucester Cathedral and all of the Anglo-Saxon residents within it.  Sadly though, I know a whistle stop tour of these sites would be a). impractical to arrange, and b). a real challenge for my children.  I do, however, feel an optional half term homework task coming on here…

If any readers have any advice for me, having carried out similar projects of their own, be it dos and don’ts, organisations or publications to use, then please do contact me. I have every confidence that the children will be able to produce something amazing through this project, and something that they will remember for years to come, if only I can work out how to do it.