China > curiosity, culture and challenge

China – a visit thanks to Access China UK and the Nottingham Confucius Institute and Nottingham City Council

An amazing experience, which would have been incredible and fantastic but was made even moreso or as we teacher’s say “EBI” ( even better if) for the fact I went with 9 great Nottingham City colleagues and we had a wonderful Chinese guide and interpreter,  all of whom added the value to make it totally amazing.

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Feifei our interpreter at the Ningbo library

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The Ningbo 10 (ignore the man on the right he wasn’t with us!)

 

 

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You cannot go up the Pearl of Shanghai and look over the biggest City in the world (population 24 million) and not think – this is where the future of the world will be centred and so we need a plan, not a Brexit neither an educational plan but a proper plan.

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China is a long way away – 5750 miles to be precise or exactly 24 hours from me leaving a hotel in Shanghai to arriving at my front door in Nottingham. But it’s also a long distance away culturally and we so enjoyed discovering just touching upon something of its culture.

It’s a country of the highest population 1.4 billion –roughly 24 times the population of the UK and yet the 4th biggest by area which means a lot and I mean a lot of tower block apartments offices and hotels. Shanghai is the biggest City in the world. (24.2 million). We travelled to Ningbo about 4 hours away, including crossing a bridge of 16km to Ningbo, a City the size of London. It’s busy on the roads but those on cycles, motorcycles or even walking seem to just move at random and hey the cars stop and we saw no accidents. Green spaces are precious.

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Red amber green >GO GO GO

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Bicycle check, mobile check, helmet -what? Few cares in the world, hoping everyone else will stop.

We enjoyed wonderful cuisine – not like westernised Chinese food. We ate like royalty with exquisite food brought out for us, vegetable dishes, meat, noodles, all kinds of tastes, flavours and textures but not too much rice, rice comes at the end and you are not really expected to eat it. Oh and we used chopsticks all the time. Meals were very sociable, no distractions and plenty of conversations, and no rush, no TV, little wifi. That’s less cultural and more….common sense.

 

 

We were very well looked after by our guides, interpreters and hosts, who took us to the most interesting of places from tourist spots, to restaurants and of course to ensuring we travelled to time. In China one is never late. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, informative and generous, as were the hotels we stayed in and all the colleagues we met. And there was a thing – I asked one teacher what she hoped for her pupils “to give them every opportunity to learn”. QED the commonality of the vocation.

The culture is well documented but we were shown honour, respect, admiration and treated with huge kindness and generosity by our hosts. I was delighted to be part of a team that did exactly the same for one another on the trip especially when ‘stuff’ happened and they looked out to encourage, share and support even though we hardly knew each other beforehand. Representing different sectors the conversations gave us all further insight and arguably the best of CPD (one early years, two Primary heads one Primary adviser, four middle leaders from Secondary, one partnership lead and me from the LA). Such enthusiasm to ensure “this works” for our children.

 

To be a tourist and see the bund and river at Shanghai as well as to go up to the 263m Pearl of Shanghai were something but also wandering the tourist shops and trying to bargain was fun. A privilege to visit the oldest library in China (Ningbo) founded in 1561 and be welcomed as honoured guests was special. More special for us educators as we value our school library or local library and we value lifelong learning. Nevertheless our visit enabled us to consider just how ignorant we were of Chinese history and culture and the potential in the Far East.

 

What did we miss ? – very little, we had tea, it tasted different but we were ‘tasting’ China. We did not have access to facebook, twitter or google and we had withdrawal but we chatted and we asked questions and discussed education and other matters and we enjoyed the company, well until we hit wifi in a hotel then we caught up on messages via a message/chat system called wechat. We missed traffic jams, we missed litter, we did actually miss a few hours of sleep somewhere along the way. You know something else? We didn’t miss pupils, even English pupils, at that even Nottingham City pupils because we stopped at a service station in this vast country and met 10 pupils from one of our local primary schools – having an incredible time – though perhaps a little tired ( much like us) they were full of the experience.

And so to education and some things I have learned and of course I may be wrong that the whole system looks like this but here are my ponderings :

• Families really value education. Politicians value education. Children value their education. Teachers are highly respected (highest in the world according to this survey). This is a deeply cultural matter and about ethos, respect for schools, for teachers and for learning. We met teachers (sure a small sample but the message overwhelms) full of enthusiasm and diligence, we saw little disruption, and amongst pupils a willingness to work hard and and try your best. There is the extreme high pressures involved in the Gaokao exam but setting that to one side the atmosphere in schools was overwhelmingly positive

Proper resource follows the commitment – beautiful buildings; pride in showing us round. I saw huge sportshall ( possibly 4 full size basketball courts and on the floor above about 30 ping pong tables ( I even played the Principal). Their lecture theatre seated 500. We did not hear any complaint about lack of funding – of course that may be for other reasons, However the conversations reflected on their pride in schools and I was glad to be with a group of Nottingham heads and teachers also proud of their schools. Pay not be better ( not sure really about buying power etc) but most of us would trade a bit for having a culture and pride and a community which hugely respect teachers given consideration and of course good behaviours. [Although my own view is that a vast majority of parents do respect us in the UK – just some politicians and the press don’t always and look where they sit in terms of trust and respect.]

 

• Teachers teach large groups of 40, and whilst they had nice staff areas to work in, with space to share and discuss, to plan they too felt pressures. It maybe around (only) 3 hours a day at the front but they have no technicians or TAs or other adults in classes. Oh and those evenings when pupils are back in school for several hours studying and doing homework, guess who supervises. Heads and teachers take pride in pupils and in their learning. We heard about two schools at the Bureau sharing speeches and we shared about our two, and common features – pride in the opportunities we offer, in the children’s achievements and the aims and ethos in every school and that included to help our children be global citizens. I asked how the head got his children to work hard – “I don’t have to do anything” he said. Just think what all that means for attendance, punctuality behaviour, background disruption, offering opportunities…..

 

• I loved the creativity I saw, in particular pride in traditions, but also in creating new traditions. IMG_2883We saw some amazing artwork, incredible calligraphy, beautiful ceramics, others saw sport and music to an amazing standard. We met artists in residence and I was invited to play a computer at a board game, a computer that literally picked up pieces in response to my move and you guessed it – the programme and the hardware created by ….a pupil from scratch.

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a CRT – a what?

 

I also had a discussion with a Chemistry teacher – he had created something but our interpreter didn’t know the words, we had a small hand held device that translated and he said it was a ‘CRT’ and I said ‘oh a Cathode Ray Tube’ and we whooped! I mentioned Thomson, electrons, Crookes and we needed no interpreter –  science can be such a powerful language in itself but check out these facilities:

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• Willingness to stay and learn and take every opportunity including boarding, yes boarding for the weekdays because half an hour journey home was “too far”. Long days without TV, without Facebook, without mobile devices and perhaps without immediate family because, they all believe in the benefits from social activity and learning. So we saw some pupils who did more hours of homework in a two days than some of our pupils would do in school in a day. Of course there are concerns about resilience and pressure too.

Hospitality and generosity – we took gifts with us for our school and Bureau colleagues and received many back but sometimes individual  pupils wanted to give us something they had done, some  clearly stayed up to make gifts for their visitors.

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MrMcNeill with a beautiful painting made especially for him

I was privileged to pass as one of my gifts the music of Sheku Kanneh Mason ( an ex pupil at my old school) who also kindly wrote me a personal message for the schools which I had translated – that went down really well. ( thank you Sheku). But oh, we had fun – trying out our mandarin, working out currency, bartering, wondering where we were heading when taken by taxi to a school, getting trapped in hotel door (me trying to metaphorically to “open doors”) – looking out for each other and smiling our way through.

 

 

 

• Education bureau officials welcomed our vision for future work with them, they are interested in what we are doing and especially how we measure impact. How we know our City wide plans and also our school plans are being effective, as well as our regulator (ofsted) view. They are keen to foster further links Ningbo > Nottingham and Nottingham > Ningbo. we have lots of ideas from championing exchanges and learning mandarin through to just a better basic understanding of China and our own Chinese community. To be honest they struggled to understand how our system works if it means a local area does not have any control of schools. Welcome to my world!

It is quite an amazement that across the world they are interesting in learning from us.

 

 

 

IMG_3356My colleagues are now busy working out how to manage exchanges, to plan visits with children and to welcome children here to Nottingham. We are looking at how we can work together across the distances and cultures but with an internet and with colleagues here and our own traditions – Nottingham has a University campus in Ningbo which we visited and so there is much to consider and challenge and much remains to be curious about. For me I am committing to try and open more doors with friends in Ningbo – and not these doors.

Happy New School Year – new beginnings

In a way it doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW week or a NEW term or a NEW year – or all three in one!

Schools start the new term with INSET and those slightly odd first days of admin and assemblies, but they will nevertheless ring out with their ‘year group assemblies’ and classrooms and numbers of teachers saying “It’s a new start“.

HP mark bkIt is so good we can give a fresh new clean start, some children really need this, probably some adults need it too. There is something special about the first page of the new book, the new uniform, the new shoes. Almost all the new year 7 will have had  a photograph taken at home before they came to school in their new uniform at their new school. Its a new world as well as a new beginning.’

Even staff love their clean, new mark book, new planner and new diary. I wonder when do they become those old tattered friends filled with details of lives? Whilst I appreciate what ICT can do for us, opening a new ‘Word document’ just does not have the same effect. As for my new exercise book – does writing on any page get better than that crisp new page at the front after writing “your name and subject”? In my career two pupils when asked to do this have actually written ‘your name’ and one pupil wrote ‘Fred Bloggs‘ after I actually said don’t write your name’ but write your name for example Fred Bloggs – hey ho I’m such a poor communicator.

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Of course it isn’t really a brand new start, unless you are Y7 or a brand new shiny teacher, but it is a new year. It is a chance to start afresh, staff have had a break, and the rhythm of school brings us full circle with a new intake and the school year has rewound to the start once again. I worked outside of education a short while and talking with friends it does not happen so clearly elsewhere, people holiday at different times and the ‘new’ does not happen. I know that some blog readers will not be believers but there is an echo of the church calendar. When a church gathers on a Sunday it’s the first day of the week, and some time is spent reflecting on the last week, seeking forgiveness before looking to the new opportunities in the week ahead. There is no doubt we need to reflect in school. My first teacher planners which I genuinely treasure are hand written with the left column my plan and the right hand column my reflection. A reminder how I sat with my ‘old’ planner to see what had gone well and what had gone badly, to do more of the former and none of the latter. Following the story of my lessons I can see (and still recall) sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t BUT it was vital in that important aspect: ‘ how can I improve?’

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A new journey starts here

Back to the new term, new opportunities, new ideas to try and and meanwhile forget the rotten, bad bits of the past, to an extent putting that behind us. This is also a time when we tend to think a little about what is really important to us as we begin a new year, you probably heard some of it in the head’s ‘Welcome Back‘ speech. Pupils often need a new start, and not always at the start of the new school year, a little bridge back into their school community and a new opportunity, probably not too many if the action plans don’t work but forgiveness might be important for some. They too will embrace the challenge of the new year, maybe the new school for Y7 or the new Y10 curriculum they had a say in choosing for themselves, or a very big shiny new Y12 confidently or with a big dose of trepidation starting those A levels ( hey it’s a big jump this new year). Fear and joy, it is just so exciting, well and scarey. Pupils need support and bags of encouragement – some secretly want to take part in the school play this year, learn a new instrument, take up a new sport, or even make new friends or just make amends. Parent and teachers can help them – or hinder them.

contemplationI always found the first full ‘normal’ week back quite hard, I’m not sure what the next class would bring into the room, I got a bit sick of the sound of my voice, the holiday had no bells and now they ring the lesson start and end. Nevertheless it is the start, it’s the beginning of an exciting new journey. Welcome back to the new term and being in the challenges and opportunities of teaching and learning.

And some questions for you to think about in the nouvou world:

Q1 When we and our pupils are so busy how do we find time to reflect?

Q2 I made my Y12 write themselves a letter about how their revision and Y 12 mock exams went immediately after they were over in the summer. We then opened them this week and reflected. What activities do you use to help pupils (and staff) reflect, in the busy routines?

Q3 Is there a limit to how many times can we give a new beginning before we say that really is enough?


and a bit more thinking about the mundus novus in Church schools:

Genesis 1:1     In the beginning …

2 Corinthians 5:17:    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Hebrews 8:13     By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Ephesians 4:24    and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

What next after post 16? What August brings!

First Thursday in August, big day for 17/18 year olds their families and teachers. A Level and Btec results out and some decisions about the steps after school or college. Here is a bit of advice from my 20 years as a head of sixth form

Don’t muddle up two pieces of news: Results and Next Steps

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1 Well done on your results, even if you wished you had worked harder or had more luck, you have your results. Celebrate the success, even if, or especially if you found it hard and persevered, you got them.

2 The more complicated bit is what you do next and for that I think there are three likely outcomes:

a) You got your dream

contemplationAfter all the UCAS stuff or maybe the searching for the right apprenticeship or even the  world of employment, your grades opens that door of opportunity. Still some advice for you: if you are continuing in education you’ll need to carry on with more and improved versions of what got you to here. Ok you might be and should be excited about University or leaving home or having autonomy and independence. More thoughts about the opportunities of student life than the messy sinks of student accommodation. However you are off to study and so whatever you’ve been doing you’ll need to step it up. More reading, more organisation, more independent learning, more work and probably less feedback and support than school or college gave you. The latter matters, you need to be more of your own judge and set your own standards. I recall a good friend excitedly awaiting her first feedback on an essay which got a β+ ( that’s beta plus) and she asked her supervisor what that meant. ‘Well’ he said ‘its not as good as an α- ( alpha minus) but better than a β.’ She asked what she needed to do to improve he took the essay back and said ‘maybe work on the English’. For a young lady with full marks in AS modules for English she realised at that point she had to work out what learning meant in this new world. Vital to success here is to img_0962read, read, read and to discuss the standard of work with peers and those on your course but a bit older. Heck and start now, yes now, find a book or two on that dreaded reading list and….start…reading. My own two daughters got fed up with me saying “you are reading for a degree in” Of course the new world offers wonderful opportunities but the priority one is your learning because….that gets you to the next step….( but lets leave that for now).

Meanwhile if its apprenticeships or employment, get the details right..know when and where to start, what to wear and find out about expectations. Be prepared to throw yourself in, be polite, listen, ask questions if uncertain and speak to those who work close to you to ensure you do everything you can to get off to a good start too. Put all your energy in for the early days, be fresh and optimistic and make sure you learn what you have to do and do it with skill, if necessary with the same inge=redients of hard work, perseverance and being part of a team.

b) You just miss your dream but get a healthy second

This is a bit tough, maybe you knew the first choice was a bit over ambitious and you are ok with second choice, maybe the HEI offers an alternative. However maybe you never thought second choice would become your next step. Make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for here. Did you visit the institution, was it a positive choice or one to get the form filled and get a sixth form tutor off your back? Well you can and should still celebrate those results BUT think carefully now. img_0951Think, research and write a few advantages and disadvantages down and talk, talk talk. Talk to peers, talk to family, talk to teachers or talk with local careers officers ( Futures in Nottingham) even talk to the Institution. Oh and I realise you hate talking , this isn’t email, text, whats app territory this is picking a person to speak to…rest assured it will help, people like to help! img_0959Take a bit of time but clearing can be mad and busy and you will feel pressurised. Remember you are off to study for 3 or 4 years, you will be doing lots and lots of ( *subject X*). Remember all the research you did for choice one, do it now to ensure you are making a good decision. If you are doing all this to please great Aunt Ethel and who keeps ringing to ask what you are doing next, just stop, tell her and yourself it’s not that easy and simple. Never make the decision to appease family or friends – they won’t be sat there as you wonder why on earth you ended up studying sand castle building at the University of Little Piddle in the Paddocks. If necessary visit the place, that is vast if you have not already visited, yes that’s right, even if you have a holiday job get some time off, surely you won’t sign up for big expense, big commitment and your next 3 years without doing that, surely! That’s like signing for a big mortgage on a house without seeing the property because you are staying home to watch “Cash in the attic”.

As one Dean of admissions told me ” I fear some students spend more time researching their post exam holiday in Ibiza than they do their future degree.” and the next day I was pulled out of a lesson by an urgent request from two A Level students arguing about which flat, in which island in greece….you couldn’t make it up. A student who had a B in my subject (Chemistry) and an E in Maths and ICT, was refused his first choice of computing but offered Chemistry at the same University…”should I take it Mr Dexter?” Me “Do you want to study Chemistry for 3 years or still try to do software design?” Steve ” I honestly don’t really like Chemistry Sir”. QED. PS He now works in the creative IT industry.

Much the same applies to apprenticeships or employment…do your research especially if it’s a late change of plan. Be realistic, some apprenticeships are more competitive that HE places, get on that internet and get answers and do your research too.

c) You miss both plan A and B

It’s not the end of the world, not at all, it may feel like it but plenty of people have been exactly where you are just now. Ok so hold tight, first of all well one on those results, and you might need a good reflection on them. There shouldn’t really be any surprises, your teachers and you should have known quite closely how you were doing. You might have been very optimistic and thought you would do better but this is reality now.

Should I retake?

Rarely works in my view. It might if you had a critical incident, a family crisis coming up to exams, a health issue which is resolved etc But the reality is that you are looking at doing a year of study that you struggled with for various reasons and staring at doing it again, with few peers and maybe not a full timetable. Evidence would suggest retreading isn’t as effective as moving on.  imageYou might even think about doing one subject again in the summer without attending school or College…don’t. It’s also a very competitive market in some areas, so if your offer was AAA for a competitive course and you got BBB, don’t assume that if you redo the offer of AAA still stands. You need to talk to the HEI urgently. Reflect on the situation this last two years on your learning, be honest, talk with staff and family and make a plan.

Should I take a gap year?

Some students think this option, especially made in a rush, allows for time to decide. How much time do you want? A year?img_3103 Planned gap years with mixtures of work experience, earning money, travel, new experiences can all be helpful, though as above they need thinking about. Don’t deceive yourself, the gap year isn’t  one big holiday, its work, new people new experiences, lots of challenge. I really like gap years, I think students get more out of their University experience and are a little wiser, I worked as a lab technician in a gap year so I am a fan. However don’t think you can ring a local company and get a job for six months, or ring the Raleigh Trust and build a health centre in Mongolia…you can but it needs planning and often fund-raising too – it’s all about commitment. If you are serious then find people ( from your school or college or community) who have done the very project. And if you are serious, well you had started some plans anyway, hadn’t you?. Lastly think if you are deciding to reapply, just how that works if you are abroad, not just interviews but that research, how will it be done?

So you are saying I’m stuck?

Not at all, you have qualifications, maybe A Levels or Btecs or GCSEs. You now need a rethink and support. Think if you really want to study and continue education, more of the last two years, or do you want a change, an apprenticeship or employment or a different sort of degree? There is plenty of choice, arguably too much so get the pen and paper out and do those exercises school or College made you do. What are you good at, what do you like doing, what are your skills, what do you NOT want to do? now talk to family, friends and professionals: teachers, tutors or take those notes to a careers meeting. Be patient and try to get it right but you are allowed to change your mind. Apparently around 40% of undergraduates try to change course and many drop out, so you are in good company.

So it’s a challenging and busy time – getting ready to leave home will be frenetic with activity and fitting it in amongst farewells is fun but keep a focus and priority. Unsure if you are doing the right thing, talk ( sorry not email/text but TALK). Uncertain about options seek professional help – HE staff, Careers staff, possibly your own teachers and family and friends.

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My best wishes whoever you are reader, and grab every opportunity by the horns, as sometimes they feel a bit like that but that too is your destiny.

 

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Wednesday period 5 – Homework, trying to make it work better.

As a classroom teacher for a generation, I’ve always set homework, doable, purposeful homework. As a chemistry teacher my favourites involve some experiments at home ( testing pH etc) but I do like research too – it’s what we chemists do of course. Many a pupil having loved to ‘find out’ – they either tell you so or else their work is the proof. But frankly there is a lot of bread and butter homework too: finish this, annotate that, read up here, a test on that…..

Homework itself covers a multitude of activity and areas, the debate over primary pupils doing homework is likely to be different to those in key stage 4, so let’s try and be pragmatic. As a teacher I think there are lots of reasons for setting homework and they have to outweigh the hassle of ensuring its always done. My top reasons are to do with widening interest, bringing more enthusiasm and passion for my subject, getting a clearer understanding and testing that understanding and my worst reason is ‘following a school policy’. However as a senior leader I think it has to be articulated carefully to parents and children as to what they have this homework to do and a duty to make sure there is not too much, its active and manageable and support offered where necessary.img_3648

Our main reasons for setting homework are:

  • To establish good habits and in due time to help create independent learners amongst our students.
  • To complete activities and work that aren’t covered in a lesson or are carefully designed by teachers to enhance learning.
  • Because we think children can expand their horizons with some learning activities done outside the classroom.
  • There isn’t enough time in school (25 hours) to do everything and we like to offer as broad a range of curriculum as possible. So there really isn’t enough time
  • Homework works – it helps to deliver success.
  • The government and Ofsted seem to think it’s a good idea and actually so did our pupils too!Academic research concludes: “homework contributes to achievement at secondary level and the effect is stronger amongst older pupils”.
  • it might just help build self-respect and some resilience

So during the 2015-16 academic year we carried out some simple and definitely non-scientific research into an important aspect of our school life homework. this at a time when some schools declared NO HOMEWORK

imageWe began by asking our pupils a series of questions – we did make an important assumption that our community of parents, pupils and teachers see a value in homework so this wasn’t about forgetting or abandoning homework. It was more to pinpoint any stressful areas for each group and see what improvements we might make.

Understanding the importance pupils attached to doing homework was pleasing to read and we were even more encouraged by the number of responses and the ‘common sense’ shown by everyone. A few pupils managed to contradict themselves but the general message was ‘homework routines are about right’.

picjumbo.com_HNCK3576The following action points came from the pupils:

  1. Please set homework early in the lesson and not in a rush at the end.
  2. Please set realistic deadlines–sometimes all our teachers set homework with short deadlines.
  3. When we have two teachers in a subject (e.g. in Geography or in most sixth form lessons) please don’t overload us.
  4. Make it clear how we can get help in your subject.
  5. If teachers can do so, please balance harder homework tasks with easier ones and longer tasks with shorter ones.

We discussed these with teachers and most are achievable and manageable. However, for different subjects there are different issues for example, number 4 above, some pupils found it difficult to log onto a site in a subject, but some just found the content difficult, so they each need a different type of ‘help’. We were pleased to see there wasn’t very much moaning about ‘worthless activities’ which showed pupils value their homework and our teachers avoid time-wasting undertakings. We were proud that our pupils approached homework (and the survey) in such a mature manner.

Parental responses were high: 59% Y7; 70% Y8; 64% Y9; 71% Y10; 25% Y11; 17% Y12&13. We expected the sixth form and parents of older students to give a different response as their private study work is completely understood to be intimate with their work in lessons and a huge factor in any success in those very demanding post 16 lessons or in order to aim higher with success at GCSE.

imageThe following action points came from parents.

  1. Please could teachers spend some time explaining how to revise and study your subject?
  2. Can teachers avoid ‘research’ which is just a general “use the internet.” If possible give some specific websites to work from.
  3. If teachers know useful books or other resources please tell pupils about them.
  4. When there are two teachers in a subject (say in Geography or in most Sixth Form lessons), please do not overload the students. Communicate with colleagues if you share a class.
  5. Be realistic about the amount of time a homework task might take.
  6. Try not to overload pupils with too much holiday homework.
  7. Please try to turn around homework/give feedback fairly quickly but at least in a reasonable time.

Once again we think these are all manageable and we are pleased so many parents are involved checking books or checking diaries and of course giving support and help on occasions. Most homework is communicated to our parents via a child’s contact book even if that says“science homework–see exercise book”. We understand sometimes as a school we seem to say homework isn’t complete and that a parent may not know what it is the child hasn’t completed. Occasionally parents ask us to email the work. In very exceptional circumstances we might consider that but it is quite onerous and we are in danger of the pupil being left out. It is the pupil who needs to be clear and if he or she is struggling we should attend to those reasons which might range from confusions through lack of understanding to…laziness. There are several ways we think parents can  help:

  • encourage a good attitude to learning the value in doing some further study beyond school lessons
  • helping with routines to do homework, a space at home or a time and of course a look over books and an interest in the work being done
  • support the work – don’t do it for them but for example if a pupil is stuck often it is follow up work from what was done in the lesson have a look over the material a few pages earlier in exercise and text books
  • help pupils to see homework enhances what they did in the lesson.

Finally, in our survey/research we put these points to staff and had about 80% response:

  1. They agreed there could be inconsistency across subjects about how much homework is set (e.g a subject seeing pupils once a week might not be able to set homework every week).
  2. There is a workload issue – we try to turn work around in a reasonable time but it can be a challenge at certain periods e.g. If a teacher has other classes who are preparing for exams, or when we are writing reports. We don’t want to ‘not set’ work.
  3. A lot of teacher time goes on chasing up homework – often it’s the same pupils and often despite sanctions.
  4. There is extra help available during lessons or lunchtime and after school–quite a lot of pupils don’t take up the opportunity.
  5. Homework often looks like it’s been left to the last-minute and is rushed.
  6. Some of our pupils need to see their homework as important, shown by:
    • Handing it in on time.
    • Understanding there is less help if we are chasing you, more help if you try to more progress that way too. No one was ever shouted at for not understanding.
    • Not being rushed.
    • Being properly completed – including being well presented.
    • Not being just copied and pasted from the internet.

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We will be trying to make sure teachers explain clearly what to do if pupils are stuck with homework. We have a homework club after school each day Monday to Thursday from 3.30 to 4.30 with staff and Sixth formers supervising,there are even refreshments. This club operates for Y7/Y8/Y9. For other years there is a similar arrangement  but students work on their own and in silence using the facilities in the School library. Again research shows attendance at school based study support is associated with positive effects.

Overall, it was good to see a general confirmation of the processes we use and a common understanding of the value (and snags) with homework. A big thank you to everyone who contributed.

….and for the few cycnics check out this story of the boy who did homework by the light of a local McDonalds in Cebu the Philipines_84190737_daniel

Some Questions

Q1 How does your school encourage pupils to engage in homework?

Q2 Are there other benefits to setting homework and are there other annoyances?

Q3 What other ways might we help young people become lifelong learners?

Why be a PGCE Student Teacher?

By Chris Hall @chrishall1204

 

contemplationWhy would you want to do a PGCE? It is often a question that gets put to me by many of my family and friends, as well as people I’ve just met, on an almost daily basis. Many people see the headlines in the newspapers and the media portrayal of the teaching career is one which may scare many potential student teachers out of teacher training. So why should people consider it?

Tutors and Mentors

Over the course of the PGCE you will assigned a university tutor who is responsible for the ‘university side’ of the course, such as delivering lectures, seminars and marking assignments. These wonderful individuals are experienced teachers in their own right and are there to support you over the year. The university tutors will also have the opportunity to come in and observe you at various points throughout the year and see the progress you have made since the previous observation.

During the time at school, a ‘mentor’ will be your point of contact at the school and will observe your lessons and from that, help you improve as a teacher. Approximately two thirds of your time spent on the PGCE course, will be within school and intertwined between these periods will be days spent at university which give you the opportunity to reflect upon your progress and practice as well as share ideas with your peers and experienced tutors. It’s safe to say the personal and professional skills you develop over the year is phenomenal!

Peers

imageAs touched upon earlier, other student teachers will play an important role in your year! The friendships and professional relationships you develop with each other is another exciting element to the course, and by supporting and helping each other, the time spent on the PGCE course will go by even faster, on a course in which the weeks already fly by! Another advantage of developing lasting friendships on the course is the sharing of good resources between each other. This will not only help build up a ‘bank of resources’ which you will find useful for your NQT year, but also help to reduce the time spent on creating resources, helping to create a better working-life balance.

The Children

The main reason why people decide to take on a career in teaching is to make a difference to the next and future generations and have the opportunity to share your passion for a subject which you love (and hopefully they students will love too!). It is safe to say that not one day of teacher training has been the same with each day offering a different combination of challenges and rewards. Some of the words students come out with are enough to make roll on the floor laughing out loud and the relationships you build with the students will ultimately determine how involved you get during your school placements.

Surviving

It feels a shame to have to mention ‘survival’ on a post which is littered with positive aspects about doing a PGCE but I feel it should be done, and may give some prospective teacher trainers a few tips!

  1. Leave work at work – try to get into a habit of leaving the majority of your work at school. As a PGCE student you will be on 60-70% of an NQT timetable. This will result in you having an hour or two a day at school as well as time after school in which you can mark, plan or maybe observe a few other teachers. Get a routine, a timetable if you will of work you need to do and make sure it is manageable!image
  2. Don’t try and re-create the world! As a PGCE you are bursting with ideas about how all your lessons are going to be revolutionary in the world of teaching, however, outstanding lessons take a long time to plan and resource and the fact of the matter is you will burn out rather quickly if you have other roles to do on top of that, so as I touched upon earlier, use your peers to come up with resources together, swap them, and make your life (and your friends) lives easier!

I am writing this blog for John after the last day of my PGCE course, and write it with both sadness and excitement! It has been an emotional, tiring and rewarding year in which I have come out the other end a better teacher and a much more resilient person!

So why do a PGCE course? Because there is no other job quite like teaching!

Tuesday period 7 -The importance of being earnest about Subject Knowledge.

This week I had the privilege of speaking to the PGCE mentors at Nottingham University about subject knowledge. We were trying to think about the importance of subject knowledge when training teachers compared to all the other pedagogical an

d classroom management that goes on in helping shiny new teacher trainees as they learn the craft of the classroom. The stuff that inevitably has to go on – behaviour management, question technique etc made me think about the importance of subject knowledge in learning to be a teacherimage. You need a big erudite quote talking to a load of PGCE mentors at a prestigious University so I went for a Cloughie quote. “Players lose you games not tactics. There is so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at Dominoes.” This made me think because Clough’s point really is that there are all sorts of people with opinions and views telling him how to run his team but actually it is players that win games. As a head teacher I am acutely aware we get all sorts of advice, guidance and “this is how to” BUT  it is teachers that make a difference.

  • teachers not systems
  • teachers not policies
  • enthusiastic, inspiring and knowledgeable teachers.

Policies and systems are important but no one decides to become a teacher because of policies and systems, they decide to become a teacher because they were inspired by a teacher or by a subject or both; they love children and now they have a subject they wish to share. My audience were present as PGCE mentors because of a deep desire to help the next generation of teachers, to create more teachers and we head teachers like to find inspiring knowledgeable shiny new teachers.

Some Subject Knowledge Myths

Graduates know everything about their subject when they graduate as though the things they didn’t quite understand when they went into finals having got their 2:1 or even 1st somehow mysteriously drop into the brain. The 30% you got away without knowing is now “in the brain” Well it sure isn’t! After graduation I did one year of reseach and in my first day of lab work used  a chemical (Benzoyl Chloride for those interested] which was described as a powerful lachrymator, but me and my arrogance not wanting to check  at what lachrymator meant just assumed it was the word that meant you went to the toilet a lot. so I took care not to drink or taste it [not difficult] having completed my experiment threw my solution down a sink to find a whole lab of chemists with tears streaming down their faces having to leave the room and as we were evacuated me being totally embarrassed. No the gaps of knowledge are not filled in!

Graduates knowledge automatically updates as the world discovers more about that subject new gaps occur. Or maybe some part of history you have to teach wasn’t covered in HE. Or suddenly as an English teacher you have to understand the new 19th century novel thanks to Mr Gove designing the spec. This can be seen as nuisance or you can have the attitude of my brilliant English staff and see it as a chance to read stuff you haven’t read before.

IMG_2928The school curriculum, the school content never changes hey have in my subject I can tell you a topic like Solubility has come and gone and came back it. The Born Haber cycle was in then out then back in a new form then gone and I’ve not checked the new specs!

 

 

Some Subject Knowledge Truths

Graduates know more about their subject than school students. We hope that’s true after 3 years and £27,000 and all of us should be able to keep ahead on knowledge

Graduates worry about other aspects of the classroom. Shine new ITT people have other bothers:

  • Will the pupils behave
  • Will I cope with the marking, feedback, will I even be able to answer the exam question myself
  • Will their parents moan about me
  • Will my classroom turn into an example of chaos and riot
  • Agh should I be a teacher

It’s nimageot just about knowledge. Back in the day when I did a PGCE we had what we called books and if you were asked a question the answer was in a book so you found it there or bluffed. Now you can google it, so can pupils, but learning is much deeper matter and, it’s really all about

  • Understanding,
  • reasoning,
  • application,
  • synthesis …..maybe more

Knowledge has to fit into a curriculum. Whatever knowledge the graduate has or does not have the demand is in a curriculum be that for Y7 for Y9 top sets or for GCSE or Level and maybe when we get this wrong we underestimate our pupils and maybe there is truth in the Ousted chiefs criticisms of the way we work with bright pupils

Graduates should be able to make a subject “come to life”. OK there is a curriculum but get the  best bits of your subject, the exciting and interesting stuff into the lesson. Children love this and if we keep winning them over they will enjoy the lesson, learn and see they can progress. That is the virtuous circle of success

Stay in the mainstream of being a subject specialist. I am a reasonable Chemist ( hey Ive a degree and an FRSC) Im an OK Chemistry teacher- but when you give me KS3 biology I can kill it. I never did any Biology, in my day an all boys grammar didn’t do Biology.

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Sir I don’t think you know how to use this microscope

I did a little in my degree and sure I can teach it BUT do I know if this lesson on photosynthesis is putting the right emphasis on the right foundations. Bet someone who taught KS4 or 5 would identify better the exact basics to grasp. One reason I think our Maths and English results are so good is because people teaching KS5/4 teach Y7 and Y8 – when they cover adverbs in Y7 they sure have an eye on what will be needed post16 or GCSE and make sure they start building it well. Drip feed complex ideas form an early age.

 

A few challenges

Pupil growth in understanding mirrors yours. There are always better ways to teach better ways to work out how to deliver your subject after a few years of working out that this be the topic doesn’t get a learnt very well in that particular way we is the subject experts can probably sit down and find a better way. in the 80’s I taught Chemistry the same way I had been taught and the same route as my degree. By the time of Salters I was teaching JUST the part needed at a particular stage, we revisited ideas, we did ideas in a circular way that genuinely held learning and it meant we revisited Chemical ideas. It worked and worked well and we  saw that in results in numbers carrying on in the subject and guess what – we saw it in their understanding. Avoid the errors of dropping really difficult concepts and ideas on pupils too early in their learning before they are mature enough to cope.

Importance of the story of the subject (even Maths). All subjects even Maths have a story to tell – a history, a set of characters, set of discoveries, a context, a baddie a discovery. I can name you all these in Chemistry. Have a fund of stores or look at my post on storytelling.

Importance of secuIMG_2943re understanding not teaching to test – PPS (past paper syndrome). No teacher reading this hasn’t had the frustration of a pupil asking “whats in the test?” or doing past papers sometime in January and not doing very well.  We need to use our own deep understanding of our subject to show pupils just how to grasp, understand, learn and progress.
No point doing exam papers (yet) be secure in your knowledge and understanding) and sure we might have to do some simple testing to see if you have and to see how we help.

Using new technologies. I love what I have in the toolbox for teaching so we must keep an eye on ICT or Activites to enhance BUT we use out subject knowledge. I’m reminded of some of the early software I was shown by enthusiastic software salesmen aiming  to show me how wonderful chemistry could appear  on the interactive whiteboard. Watch! You can pull a virtual bottle of acid from here and look you can pull across test tube and choose a bit of zinc or other metal to add. Now, drop it in and click here to open the bottle and look the equation is written underneath and there is the reaction: some bubbles of hydrogen the pupils can guess what it is and the little splint will come over and on imagethe screen appears the word “pop” what do you think of that? It’s quite nice but I’d rather g
et a bottle of acid out give it to my pupils and a test tube and let them do the pop test to see the delight in their faces and the motivation which will probably drive them to work out the equation ready for tomorrow when if they’ve worked it out they can do a few more themselves in real life. Use technology but use your subject common sense

Importance of the keepy uppy in your subject there is the obvious importance of keeping up in the subject and chemistry as in most subjects things has seen dramatic changes. Nanotechnology didn’t exist back in the 80’s. We need to keimageep up with our knowledge, we should enjoy that. It will get us excited: a new material anew discovery, scientist on the international space station. I teach my pupils about DNA and the structure and hydrogen bonding and it’s fascinating and actually give them the 1953 article (a single side of A4 paper) that was in nature and I remind them that in
1953 this won a Nobel Prize and in 2016 it might get them three marks in an exam.Surely there is nothing more important than us keeping up our frontier knowledge to excite and inspire the next generation – cos someone did that for us , a teacher a copy of New scientist a TV programme. Get in touch with your professional subject: ASE or RSC for me.

Delight of discussion of your subjectone of the best parts of the teacher’s job is spending time in the staffroom or on CPD opportunities OR with pupils, talking through some of the issues. How can we make this better? What does this mean? Did you know that? Have you seen this? Hey and if you can draw in other staff, the renaissaince people in te staffroom then the discussion makes the job richer, and all the better

Lifelong learning. You and I dream of creating lifelong learners, and we are lifelong learners of our sunbelt. Use the vehicle of your subject knowledge to sign the deal.


Some Questions

Q1 what importance does your ITT, NQT RQT or frankly your CPD programme place on Subject Knowledge?

Q2 Have we neglected subject knowledge at the expense of pedagogy and lost out

Q3 Should we try and wrestle subject knowledge back to being the “first love”?

How to succeed in post 16 Chemistry exams *maybe not*

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Just to be clear, these are the top tips for doing badly in your Chemistry exams. Badly – yes that’s right.

Ignore the information in the stem of the question…head straight for (a) part i.

image1Show how expensive your calculator cost you by giving all answers to at least 9 decimal places, and preferably put the decimal point in the wrong place too. This also leaves no room on the page for units.

 

Units – forget them after all surely an examiner knows that most of the time it is KJmol-1 except when it’s moldm-3 and aren’t they a chemistry graduate, surely they can work it out.

Forget this is an A-Level Chemistry exam and keep answers superficial. At any hint of ozone/greenhouse effect, or those tricky application questions “suggest one other consideration…” This is your chance to waffle about needing a greener world/being environmentally friendly, or even the ubiquitous “might I suggest a quick google of the problem”

Adopt a sloppy use of language, especially those pesky technical words which no one else in the sixth form even has to bother with. It’s really best if you can muddle up the terms atom, molecule, element and compound because these are basic. However the real test is using words like electrophillic in the wrong place.Hey and if you get really stuck use electronegativity.

Past papers show you ideas in Chemistry which are often raised in exams. Hence it’s better not to look over past papers, and neither should you read those examiners reports because they say stuff like ” Few students know the reagents for synthesic organic  reactions” You will do much worse in the exam if these type of questions come as a complete surprise. Of course the worst thing you could do is practise those past papers.

Here is a great trick when answering really tricky questions – rearrange the words from the original question. eg

Q Describe and explain the effect of increasing the pressure on the Haber process?
A The Haber process makes ammonia and when changes are made like pressure it will change the amount of ammonia and the other chemicals. This can be explained by a Frenchman better than me.

Understanding Chemistry. I think a lot of students wishing to fail make this mistake. So forget about trying to understand concepts and key chemical ideas. Just head to one past paper, preferably from a different spec and preferably one you can do so badly on you are convinced you are useless. This will boost your confidence that you will do really badly.

Reading – I did mention it, don’t do it. The school really want those text books back in pristine condition ( they are only used once more) but stick to your games web sites, gambling sites and Facebook.

Talking to other students – this is another dangerous game. Sharing what you can and cannot do, could lead to you helping each other, you might discover trying to explain to a peer helps improve your explanations – avoid it

IMG_2943
Faced with those longer parts to questions with half a page and 5 marks, do not bother to review your knowledge and select key points. Instead ramble on and on, jump from one idea to another. In fact the more chemical words mentioned the better. (A-Level equivalent to indicator goes bluey reddy yellowy greeny orangey colourlessly clear.)

Likewise with practise  and you reall will need practise the + can look like – for ΔH calc’s; Better still ink spots and extra dots on dot cross diagrams. There is also a knack to writing the fourth letter in alkane like alkene try alkøne or alkæne

On the subject of organic reactions you will probably get a mechanism, you can lose a lot of marks by random use of curly arrows – pretend they show where to attack, not where electrons move from. It’s also better to target atoms than bonds – after all bonds already have enough electrons, rather delicately shared.

Overlook the advice given in the question to help you. It is preferable to answer your own question NOT that set by the Board. A favourite here should be answering about kinetics, how fast etc when the examiner asks about equilibrium and how much . I suggest you write Le Chatelier in the original French just to show off. “Quand un système à l’équilibre est soumis à une variation de la concentration , de la température , le volume ou la pression, puis le système se réajuste à ( partiellement ) neutraliser l’effet de la variation appliquée et qu’un nouvel équilibre soit établi.” Eh voila mes amis

imageDiagrams, here you can lose a lot of marks. Make sure glassware does not connect properly, leave gaps for gases to escape edge between condenser and flask. also do like you did in the lesson and pop a stopper in the top. Remember no one does these experiments from your exam answer so the explosion will be a bit lost

Excuses – examiners love excuses to write in a friendly style to them preferably in red ink ” Dear examiner we had a useless teacher who could not explain Hess’s law” or “I had very bad toothache the day this lesson was introduced and my teacher refused to help me.”

Make sure you switch off your common sense. Some of the best answers I have seen proved you could extract 1000 tonnes of copper from 1 tonne of copper ore and who knew blood had a pH of less than 1. ( well after all it is red). With luck you can get a reaction to give a yield well over 100%.

Space – exams board work hard to leave you the right amount of space to write in, so best then to try and use just a few lines if they leave a large space and maybe make one point (when there are 6 marks available) or else write loads, round the margins and up the sides.

Some exam boards try and trick you by giving a choice of questions.So a good plan here is to do more questions than asked or do fewer than asked. If you would like some fun, don’t read the rubric at the start of the paper just guess how many questions they might expect you to do.

Timing – most students struggle with timing here is a big tip to cause major mark losses. Some students look at the mimage2arks available and the time e.g. 120 marks in 2 hours. They then spend time just short of the mark allocation e.g. Q1 is 25 maks therefore spend 20 minutes no more no less. Here is my tip – rush through the whole paper doing all the bits you find easy – shouldn’t take long! the go back and guess the next bits then go back and fill in remaining gaps just using random big chemical words (see above). Finally colour in your data sheet – as you know this is why the exam board gave it out – see it as extension work.