The Mini-Plenary – Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until a couple of years into my teaching career that I’d heard of a ‘mini-plenary.’ According to the local authority my lessons should have one. When I asked what that might ‘look like’ in the classroom I was given a garbled response about checking progress half way through the lesson.

“But what if I know that the children are doing just fine – why would I want to stop them?” I asked. The reply was short and sweet and straight to the point; “Because Ofsted want them!”

The ‘mini-plenary’ is very en-vogue at the moment, it’s a bit of an educational buzz-word (phrase) and I can’t remember the last time I made a lesson observation and didn’t see one (Or at least an attempt at one)

The problem with ‘Buzz-words’ in education is that they become so familiar to practitioners that they lose their meaning. They become the Boweneque “super, smashing, great,” feature of the educational world; said so many times the meaning is lost.

Getting back to ‘Mini-Plenaries’ then; they can be very useful. It is however, important to remember the purpose of a ‘Mini-Plenary’ is to:

 

  1.   Enhance the assessment of the teacher; ensuring the learning is meeting the needs of the learners
  2. Give the learners the opportunity to ask “How am I getting on?”
  3. Challenge the thinking of the learners.
  4.  Assist learners in target setting.
  5. Address whole class patterns of misunderstanding 

 

Too often Mini-Plenaries are for show; little thought is given to their timings, they become a show and tell session with little evaluative significance and are not intellectually demanding. Even worse, they become a trick to ‘show progress’ to an inspector every ten minutes; if we believe that pupils make progress this often and at this rate then we’re either exceptionally gifted educators or deluded.

Assessment for learning during the lesson should be ongoing; it doesn’t necessarily need a whole ‘slot’ with a ‘wizzy’ name to be useful. Assessment takes place at every stage in the lesson, whether it is with one pupil, a group or the whole class.

 

Effective Mini-Plenaries

The best Mini-Plenaries (for want of a better phrase) are intellectually demanding;  ask challenging questions of the pupils and ensure that when the learners get back to their task, they apply their new skills and understanding with greater authority and confidence.

 

 Ideas for the classroom:

  1. ‘Plenary’ questions display – great prompts for the teacher. The students will know they will be expected to respond to them as some point in the lesson – raising expectations.
  2.  Pupil led Mini-plenary – put the ‘Plenary’ questions on to key rings/cards with a ‘group’ leader who will then guide the discussion on each table.
  3. Review the success criteria – Are the prompts effective? How could we make them better?
  4. Peer assessment – students to pick one aspect of the success criteria for their partners/peers to work on.
  5. True or false statements related to the learning. Ask the pupils to move to a specified area of the classroom based on their response. Demand reasoning here!!

Mini-Plenaries are not a foe; the phrase is just over used (We suspect due to Ofsted ‘game’ playing) All of the above ideas should be part of learners’ experience in class, they don’t need a label; reflection is part of the learning process. Ultimately ‘Mini-Plenaries’ are for the benefit of the pupils, not just another box to tick on an observation form.

 

The Thought-Weavers

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Preparing for Ofsted 2013

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for. I then created a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted visited my school. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-2013-v2&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a></strong> </div>

The Though_Weavers

Preparing for Ofsted!

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for and produced a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted paid my school a visit. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due!

Preparing for Ofsted! 2013

<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_12069324″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson/preparing-for-ofsted-nec-2012&#8243; title=”Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! nec 2012</a></strong>

<div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/thecroaker/death-by-powerpoint&#8221; target=”_blank”>PowerPoint</a> from <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/paceanderson&#8221; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a> </div> </div>

Lee of the ‘Thought Weavers.’

What Kind Of Restaurant Is Your Classroom?

Myself and David (AKA the Thought Weavers) love to play around with analogies, sometimes they help us get a point across and at other times people look back at us with glazed eyes. However, we really feel this one works and will hopefully help you think about your practice.

So here goes.

We think classrooms are like (or perhaps even should be like) a good restaurant. However, this is not always the case, sometimes they are more ‘fast food’ than ‘gourmet’

Let me explain some of the classic features of a ‘fast-food’ model of the classroom:

  • Pupils walk in with no-one to greet them
  • Adults talk really quickly; they’re impatient and want answers quickly.
  • The menu is always the same.
  • A diet of uninspiring food learning is supplied daily. (it does however hit all of the APP outcomes)
  • Pupils will never remember their favourite or lesson when they’re older
  • Standards are high because the criteria for judging them is so narrow. The ‘fast-food’ restaurant makes and healthy profit and the classroom produces high ‘standards’
  • The tables and chairs never move.
  • All posters and displays are professionally made by adults.
  • Differentiation is made by the words ‘small,’ ‘regular’ or ‘large,’ or in classroom speak; ‘poor,’ ‘average’ or ‘bright.’ (Although occasionally ‘G&T is on the menu)
  • Sometimes special menus/promotions are created, in schools these are known as ‘theme days,’ this is the only time when the menu is slightly more interesting.
  • Feedback is standardised and irrelevant. In the classroom this might be ‘Good Work’ or ‘Well Done’
  • No tips are given; the children will never go the extra mile.
  • Customers can never change the menu and ask for something a little different; in the classroom children get what they’re given.
  • There is no overt way of expressing pleasure or disappointment at the service provided.

On the other hand, a gourmet restaurant (or perhaps country pub!) model for the classroom might read as follows:

  • A friendly smile when you walk in.
  • Small talk at the table with staff.
  • The menu changes regularly and there are lots of daily specials
  • The meals (learning) are well deigned by experts who truly know what they are doing.
  • Great memories are created by the quality of service and friendly atmosphere.
  • Relationships with all adults and children are positive.
  • ‘Difficult’ customers are treated with dignity and respect
  • Standards are exceptionally high, because of the attention to detail at every step of the process.
  • If something special is required or someone wants to deviate from the menu it is celebrated and explored
  • Differentiation is the choice of the customer/pupils; there is a wide variety of activities/meals set out in a variety of ways.
  • Feedback is personalised and unscripted, it feels natural but authoritative.
  • Plenty of tips! Children bring in masses of things from home because they’ve been inspired in school.
  • Pupils can personalise the menus, giving feedback to the lead adult about their performance.
  • Pupils are encouraged to think about their decisions; they have time to evaluate the menu before making a decision

And so on…

Let’s make it clear. Classrooms are not restaurants and certainly shouldn’t be run as a business; pupils are not our customers, they are learners and we should be proud to facilitate their progress.

But, we feel the comparisons can be made. We believe that too often, the standards agenda pushes schools into a ‘fast-food’ model of education. Children deserve better! Whilst a ‘Gourmet’ classroom means hard work, it does mean that the children are the most important people and they will remember their experiences.

So how do you make your classroom ‘Gourmet?’

The Thought Weavers

Curriculum change!

The Thought Weavers at the BETT show.

Curriculum change is a hot topic in education at the moment and we had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at the ‘Educational Leaders’ conference as part of the BETT show. The topic for discussion was curriculum change. Prior to the discussion we were also lucky enough to hear the views of Tim Oates, the chair of the expert panel on curriculum review. This post represents our reflection on the curriculum review based on our prior understanding and our thoughts following the BETT show.

Before we offer our thoughts we have tried to make the following assumptions in an attempt to make our views as sensible and ‘objective’ as possible.

  • The review panel have the best interests of children when considering the new curriculum.
  • The new curriculum will be an attempt to give more freedom to schools (This is stated in the DfE website and in the interim report)

Prior to the show we both read the expert panel review report. We were heartened that it does mention extra freedom, learning to learn approaches and having a ‘school curriculum’ that is not prescribed by the new curriculum.

However, when we got into the ‘nitty gritty’ of the report, such as curriculum design, subjects and the organisation of key stages it soon became clear that this curriculum would have much more prescription than the current document. The irony of a 70 page report to inform us that we will have extra freedom was also not lost on us.

When we heard Tim Oates speak, this reaffirmed our worries. He quite openly told us the new curriculum will be thicker with more detailed learning outcomes. He also reaffirmed that assessment would be tightly linked to the curriculum to assessment, whilst this seems to make common sense, we think it reinforces the ‘teaching to the test approache’. He also mentioned that pupils should not be able to move on until one ‘block of content’ was secure; does this mean children will be held back as in the USA?

From the report and hearing Tim Oates speak we came to the following conclusions:

  • There is an assumption that pupils learn in a linear way, with one block of content being learned so that they can move onto the next block of content. Just how does that really work? For some pupils fractions are much easier than timetables, for other it’s the opposite, for some children using commas is much more developed than using full stops. How will they decide the order for these ‘blocks of content?’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children learned in systematic way? – But they don’t!
  • Another assumption is that other countries systems of curriculum design are better than ours. To begin with this assumption is based on narrow tests (e.g PISA) to evaluate maths, literacy and science; so where the does the ‘broad and balanced’ argument fit in? We feel they are just ‘cherry picking’ parts of other countries curriculum to support their own arguments. Tim Oates also stated that whilst we should look at other countries curriculum design we should not try to copy them. This is confusing.
  • Our other concern is the manner in which Tim Oates delivered his speech. In education, when children have one chance, passion is vital. We didn’t get a sense of passion from him, most questions were answered using reference to academic research. We have the feeling that the expert review panel are themselves frustrated under the intense pressure from government to produce a curriculum based on the ideals of Michael Gove.

When we took to the stage to sit with our panel, Tim Oates took his place in the audience. We discussed curriculum change and took questions from the floor. With regret Tim Oates was not able to stay for the whole panel discussion.

The key points raised by ourselves and the panel were:

  • With a narrow assessment system, no matter how schools are encouraged to have more freedom over the curriculum, children’s learning will always be channelled to towards getting the grades.
  • Ofsted’s remit is too wide. They seem to have the power to do what they like. Most of the panel agreed that it is Ofsted that set school policy, not the government.
  • Children’s learning should not be standardised
  • The curriculum review seems to have little direction.
  • The new curriculum will be more prescriptive than the current one.
  • A perhaps cynical point of view was that the curriculum review was an attempt to push schools into academy status.

The expert panel into curriculum change have been given a very difficult job. There remit is to design a core and foundation curriculum that will suit every student in England. The very idea of this, in our view is impossible.

Final thoughts…

With around 20,000 schools in England and many wonderful, creative and focussed professions, the following questions popped into our heads…

Why do we need a curriculum written for us?

Can’t we be tasked with creating our own curriculum, our own success criteria, our own pedagogical approach based on the needs of children we know very well within a community of which we are part?

Does the head of science need to be told what essential knowledge should be taught?

Would a new curriculum create a whole new wave of commercial products to support it?

Who really are the experts in education?

Can we really have personalised learning with a standardised curriculum?

To finish on a positive – no matter what the outcome of the curriculum review, nothing is more powerful that teachers doing what they do best; helping children to learn. The online collaboration through twitter and facebook etc will always be a more powerful force than any formal written document. When teachers collaborate and debate, children will always benefit.

Lee and David.

Adapting to Curriculum Change. (BETT conference notes)

Perspective 1.

The ‘soft skills’ of learning…

The biggest change as a result of curriculum change should be the mindset of school when delivering the knowledge and facts contained within a proposed new curriculum.

We are always reminded that built into its design is the ‘extra freedom’ it will allow. This is what schools should hook onto. In it’s previous (still current) guise the national curriculum was seen as the end. The entire day had to be built around it (this was never the intention) – school should move away from this model and more focus should be given to the ‘Hidden curriculum’ – which ironically, if schools interpret curriculum change appropriately will not be so hidden.

When I speak of the hidden curriculum, I mean the aspects of learning that builds resilience, that promotes curiosity, encourages learners to be independent and helps all of us develop our role within society – recent years have seen a surge in this type of focus (PLTS / BLP); these have great potential, they are however hampered by the current assessment framework – the idea that if its not measurable its not worth teaching.

With relation to Academies and Free Schools, who will have greater freedom over their curriculum, my hope is that these organisations won’t simply use the ‘Safety net’ of the national curriculum as a basis for their pupils education and be innovative and brave; designing their very own! In reality however, because the summative assessment framework will be based on the national curriculum, I believe it likely that most schools use the new framework.

On the one hand autonomy is promoted whilst on the other it is hampered!

 

Perspective 2- Leadership

If the new curriculum does allow schools more freedom to plan their own approach and schools are willing to take the risk (as I believe they should)  this has implications for leadership.

The role of the curriculum leader would be one of real expertise, they would be leading a curriculum that reflects the local, national and international issues of the day and the decisions made must be based on evidence available rather than simply subscribing to a scheme. The freedom to also deliver a curriculum in a way the school chooses, adds to this autonomy.

Curriculum leaders in school therefore need to be social commentators, interested in the latest research and confident enough to say that the approach the school is taking is the right one. The school would become an ‘intellectual community.’

The word ‘expert’ is not used enough in schools. Teachers are (and should consider themselves) experts in their field, in the same way a doctor is an expert in medicine and solicitor is an expert in law. Curriculum leaders would be expected to be leading experts, to be clear about their methodology, to read/promote/apply/challenge up to date pedagogical research, be brave enough to say some things are not appropriate for their schools and to have a clear rationale for everything they lead.

This would represent change because currently the all encompassing National Curriculum is a safety net – as long as there is ‘coverage’ then there is no issue. If, as seems likely, the new curriculum will explicitly say that it should not be all encompassing, then the only ‘safety net’ is the secure knowledge and understanding of the leadership team, the expertise of all staff and a clear vision of where the school is going – an expert community.

This would have implication for school inspections, as each school will have a mildly different curriculum, one they will have to justify and communicate clearly to a range of inspectors; this represents even greater accountability. Inspectors will have to make judgments on an unfamiliar curriculum and give reasons for it; very difficult! The evaluation schedule would need to be different.

What I believe will happen is that under the new curriculum, the very best schools will prosper, the expertise of the staff will shine through and ultimately the pupils will benefit greatly; many schools are ‘ahead of the game’ and curriculum design expertise is part of their fabric. In other schools, where a rigid curriculum ( or bought in ‘creative curriculums’) has been employed for many years, curriculum change will be a huge challenge; without confident leaders, who have a deep understanding of curriculum design and learning processes, the results could be catastrophic.

The one thing that will hold back innovative and relevant curriculum design is the assessment framework. True freedom would not only be curriculum design, but also to decide the criteria for success.

Would you rather be clever or intelligent? A whistle-stop tour of Multiple Intelligence (MI)

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Think of a bright child in your class. Chances are it came to mind relatively quickly, but what criteria were you using? This blog investigates the difference between bright/clever and intelligence.

I am blessed enough to have two beautiful boys aged 12 and 17 – two boys with very distinct and diverse personalities.   My eldest boy Ryan, left primary school aged eleven as a ‘Straight A’ type of guy;  achieving level 5s in  all subjects; academia fell into his lap as softly as a leaf in the warm September breeze.

On the other hand the little man Leo, found most of his academic studies rather arduous and soul destroying – feeling rather ‘thick’ (as he put it) because we was poor at number ‘work’ and spelling.

I was fortunate enough to have Leo at my school for the last three years of his primary education; during that time I witnessed him blossom on his learning journey; eventually leaving school with Level 4 SATs in Maths & English and a Level 5 in Science.  Despite this achievement he always felt he was not as clever as the others in his class.

Where Leo did come into his own was within his imagination, his creativity.  Even now at the age of twelve he can play the guitar, ukulele, Bodhran (Irish handheld circular drum).  He is a competent artist (winning ‘Pupil of the Month’ for his art at school)  His woodworking and practical making skills are outstanding.  However, not one of his talents or skills above can be scored within the world of SATs! – So do they count?

What the world of academia has succinctly said to generations upon generations of children “If you can’t read or write too well; or you’re poor at counting then you’re stupid!”  Luckily, Leo has a Thought Weaver for a dad and Leo knows that he is very intelligent!   He knows his strengths and his developmental areas – he knows there is a distinct difference between being clever and being intelligent!

I was pondering on the question: What is the difference between being clever and being intelligent?

After posting the above question on Twitter; we had many replies but my favourite was from our friend Mr. Gerald Haigh:   @geraldhaigh1: (Learner, teacher, writer, piano player.)  Gerald says that in his opinion:

‘Clever” is a catch-all meaning ‘owt’ (anything) from very able to deeply cunning. “Intelligent” was once precise but is now discredited.’

Is intelligence discredited?  Should it be?  Does it still have a place within the modern ‘SATs driven’ education system? Pablo Demarchi (Argentina) @PDemarci says:

‘I think being clever is an abstract ability; being intelligent means you can apply that ability to create or find solutions.’

I know that my son Leo has the ‘abstract ability’ but where he shines is within his ability to apply his new found knowledge, skills and experience to any new situations; this I feel is very intelligent indeed.  The Slideshow at the top of the page is Leo’s ‘Cigar Box Guitar’ (or in this case it’s an Old Pasta Tin Guitar).

This is what happens when you encourage youngsters to find their own intelligence.  I swear to God I had NO input in the making of the instrument pictured.

So hopefully we all can see a distinct difference between ‘Cleverness’ and ‘Intelligence.’ The piece of theory I love about intelligence and its application is Howard Gardner’s findings on Multiple Intelligence (MI).

I know that for many the jury is still out when it comes to the scientific credibility of Gardener’s work.  But I must confess that I am a true disciple and take on his teachings verbatim.  The reason I believe in this so strongly is that I know it works and I have witnessed the benefits within my classroom

Below is a brief synopsis of each of Gardner’s intelligences. It important to know that we have them all! It’s just that some of us excel/enjoy in some aspects whilst with other aspects we don’t.

Try to think of two or three pupils/people or maybe think about yourself and pick out their/your personal traits in relation to these below.

Spatial Intelligence The artists, designers, sculptor, architects and free thinkers: These are the ones that can see and think right out of the box. These see things from different perspectives! Perhaps when a boy in my class told me he’d like to meet an Alien, he was serious!

Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence– Writers, journalists, teachers, poets and lawyers. These are the people who have a great command of language and words; they excel at speaking and are able to command an audience. Perhaps it’s not always best to ‘be quiet!’

Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: mathematicians, accountants, engineers: The number crunchers, the deal-doers. These are the market speculators of the world!  Solving problems is very well suited to this!

Body-kinaesthetic Intelligence: The athletes, fire fighters and actors of the world. These are the folk who use their body to its best ability, in the classroom the may ‘fidget’, but outside it they flourish! When was the last time you created a dance routine based on an electrical circuit?  Check out our blog on Physical Movement:  http://wp.me/p1upWt-1l

Musical Intelligence: The musicians, composers and DJs of the world. They have great rhythm, love the feel and sound of instruments and are passionate about listening to and making music! When was the last time you asked children to make up a song about triangles?

Interpersonal: These are the socialites of the world, those who can enter a room full of people and know something about them all in a very short space of time! They love talking! What does outstanding collaboration ‘look’ like in your classroom?

Intrapersonal: This is the philosopher’s intelligence. These folk are highly reflective and think very careful about things. This type of intelligence helps use to identify our strengths and weaknesses. Have you tried P4C?

Naturalistic: The great outdoors would certainly suit people who enjoy using this type of intelligence; the farmers, walkers and gardeners of the world! How do you link science with gardening?  How often do you take the learning outside?  Personification poems can be taught brilliantly by interviewing fences!  Trust me it works!

Many of the children in a typical classroom will be able to demonstrate with considerable skill a range of the intelligencesGardnerwrites about. It seems strange then that despite this they may not be seen as clever.

Lee & I had a chat about the question above: ‘What is the difference between being Clever and being Intelligent?’  We came to the agreement that ‘Clever’ is a title that someone gives you (usually after you have performed well in a test.)  Intelligence is something that you give yourself; an positive intrinsic energy from within that helps you to apply your knowledge and understanding in a way that clever people find difficult!

Ian Gilbert (The Independent Thinking) prompts us to consider the approach of rather than asking child:  How clever are you?  Why not ask them ‘How are you clever?’

The last word we leave to Mr Albert Einstein, his words sum up this blog:

“If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will forever think it’s stupid.?”

Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)

FURTHER READING:

Howard Gardner: Frames of Mind: ISBN: 0-00-686290

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/Intelligence-Reframed-Multiple-Intelligences-21st-Century/1359596954/bd

Ian Gilbert: Essential Motivation in the Classroom: ISBN 0-415-26619-X

http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Shop!/Books+Main/BooksWritten/144.aspx

David Hodgson: The Little Book of Inspirational Teaching Activities; Bringing NLP into the Classroom. http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Shop!/Books+Main/BooksWritten/622.aspx