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

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.’

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.

What is the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

What’s the point of SATs?

In short: Very little!

Firstly, I’d at least try to provide some balance to my argument. The main arguments for SATs are:

  1. They provide the data for the ‘standards agenda’
  2. They provide an objective snapshot of children’s progress.

In 2009 I sent an email to Ed Balls at the Dept of Education and below is a quote that sums up the Government’s position. (A position that still holds true in 2011)

‘The majority of parents value the information our system of testing and assessment provides to help them choose the right school for their child and to have objective information on their child’s progress.’

From this quote there is, could I add, one more argument for SATs:

The fact that the Government feels that teachers are unable to offer an objective assessment of pupils.

I’ve facilitated learning with my class for the past two years, taking the children at the end of Y4 and all the way to the end of their primary education. It may seem odd to say that ‘Standards’ are one of my lowest priorities; learning and enjoyment are my top priority, with the belief that ‘Standards’ will be one of the many outcomes of my pedagogy. Children in my class have excelled in SATs this year and the cries of, “this should keep Ofsted of our backs!” have reverberated around the staffroom. I therefore feel in a position to add my two penneth’ worth

I suppose I should be happy then, my children have done great in their SATs! Ofsted (even if they do turn up), will be drooling over RAISEonline…I am not happy though. In their current form, I despise SATs with such a passion that I’d happily see them abolished yesterday.

The simple truth is that SATs do great harm to children. They fix their ‘ability’/mindset in maths or English. The ‘level 5’ children think they’re great or clever, the ‘level 4s’ will spend their secondary education in what we call ‘an average kind of hell’ and the level 3s will feel so stupid they will want to finish school now!

From the beginning of Y1 until the end of Y6 children spend over 6000 hours learning in the classroom . These youngsters put in a lot of effort in that time; they laugh, love, cry, complain, question, find friends (and enemies), have chicken pox and lose teeth along the way. In that time we hope they have become a child with the potential to flourish now and in the future.

Towards the end of primary school, the children sit ‘Standardised Tests’, in less than four hours, the Government decide whether the 6000 hours was all worth it! Children are then pigeon holed into the ‘bright ones’, the ‘average ones’ or the ‘slow movers’. All this assessment based up on two principles, maths and English. (see our blog on Multiple Intelligences http://wp.me/p1upWt-1S )

Imagine this: Ofsted, come into a maths lesson, maybe yours (I can feel the shivers down your spine as a write this) and you decide, based on your understanding of ‘Standards’ that:

  • There will be no differentiation.
  • Any word problems will involve the same three people and involve sweets or buttons.
  • Children will, under no circumstances, be able to talk to one another, reflect upon their learning, collaborate with each other or think creatively!
  • The lesson will be 45 minutes, not a second more, not a second less
  • Pupils will not be allowed to apply any ‘help’ strategies if they get stuck; if they do get stuck, the MUST stay stuck
  • All learning prompts will be covered up or removed from the pupil’s desks
  • At the end of the lesson each children will be explicitly told they are either
  1. Above average
  2. Average
  3. Below average

After the lesson, you sit down with the inspector and confidently ask “Did you like the way I really focused on standards today?”…

Why assess children in a way so detached from the learning process? It’s like asking Lewis Hamilton to complete his next race in a submarine! SATs bear no resemblance to the learning process – the only thing being assessed is how good the pupils are at sitting a test, or as one little boy (Niall) said to me, “SATs only prove how well you do under pressure don’t they”

Chris, who had the highest raw score in the maths test, also happens to be the one boy who struggles most with problem solving! I also have a wonderful writer, she writes with such vivid description, creating wonderful pictures inside the minds of her readers – she ‘scraped’ a level 4 in the writing because her handwriting was poor and in this extremely unnatural situation, she failed to show the wonderful figurative language she shows day in day out in class. For the past two years I’ve shared my admiration of her writing with her, her parents and colleagues, only for the ‘Standardised’ test to inform us that she’s average! Sadly she’s not so sure she’s such a great writer now.

SATs are also used to put schools into a league tables. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that schools move from being collaborators to competitors. Teachers look to see if they’ve ‘beaten’ the nearest rivals and schools from economically challenging areas are looked down upon.

By creating league tables an ethos of competition, winning and losing, comparing and contrasting emerges; the motivation to collaborate slowly ebbs away. Self perseveration rules!

If it were a football team, the Y6 teachers would be the strikers who score the ‘goals’, they too often carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and should they miss the target, they are forced into finding excuses to save their skins. The Headteachers are the managers who watch on helplessly as the results come in, hoping they’ve beaten the school up the road for the kudos it supplies at the next meeting. And the sharing of ideas is something that can’t be done, after all why would you give your competitor the edge?

Would Chelsea and Manchester United ‘share’ players and tactics whilst performing in their ‘league?’

The Government and the media have hyped-up SATs to be the pinnacle of excellence, the gold standard for primary education, a system that gives bragging rights to some and embarrassment to others. SATs bog the education system down, skewing its purpose. The recent uproar relating to the marking of writing assessments illustrates our point; the anguish and anger caused by this cannot be good for children’s education.

It may then seem odd that we think getting rid of testing is not the answer. What we argue is that the significance attached to them is disproportionate to the data they produce. In short, good SATs results do not mean a good school and vice versa. They are the wrong criteria to use.

The ThoughtWeavers

Knowing me, knowing you! Building Positive Learning Relationships with Children

Knowing me, knowing you!
Building Learning Relationships with Children
Is there one child in your class who gets to you for all the wrong reasons? That one child who pushes all the wrong buttons. The one that makes all your behaviour modification strategies look futile. My friend Katy once described such a child.
She said “He just takes me to a place where I don’t want to go!”
We’ve all met the little terrors! They come in all shapes and sizes from 7 to 17. However, despite their differences many of them share very similar features.
The similar features/traits means they are:
Usually boys
Usually bored
Usually on the SEN register
Usually come from the same area/estate /neighbourhood
Usually have siblings with similar traits
Usually from dysfunctional families.
Right! We all know the sort of child we are talking about by now – don’t we?
Think about their behaviour in your lessons. How do they make you feel? What is it that they do that makes you feel so hostile toward them? Usually if you could have one wish it would be for them to move far, far away (this is totally natural as we have felt this way many, many times ourselves) However, the Likelihood of them moving away is about as likely you winning the national Lottery three weeks in a row. So what is the answer? Picture this little angel in your head and ask yourself some of the following questions:

What makes them happy? Scared?
Where do they go on holiday?
Who is their hero?
Who do they look up to?
What do they want to be when they are older?
What’s their favourite colour?
What’s their favourite drink? Food?
Do they have any pets?
If they had a super power what would it be?
If they ruled the world what would they change?
What do they think of your lessons?
What do they think if you?

If you can answer ‘I don’t know!’ to more than three of the questions above, then you are doing that child a disservice! You’ve almost written them off before you have even got to know them. We know that it’s very difficult, at times, to find something endearing about the disruptive little whirlwinds, who attempt to sabotage your entire lesson every week. But if we give up on them – who will believe in them?

The key to getting them on your side is building positive, appropriate relationships. It’s truly amazing what you find out about them once you start asking. The trump card you have up your sleeve is yourself and your life outside of the classroom! They love to know all about you! It’s a brave thing to do but done correctly it can move mountains.

You don’t have to share you home address, credit card details or the names of your first ever boy/girl friends. But let them know the name of your dog, your favourite food, football team, where you like to go on holiday, what you wanted to be when you were their age.

For the bravest amongst you; you could (God forbid) tell them your first name; the names of you family members; where you went to school. It goes without saying if the information you share is going to compromise yourself or close friends then keep it to yourself.

Once they know you a little better you become more three dimensional. You become a real person not just a 2D image of a name on an exercise book or on their timetable.

When they enter your classroom next time hit them with:

“How did your game go this weekend Jake?” or “Sarah did you go your aunties’s party last night?”
It’s way better than “Jake stop that and sit down!” or “Sarah did you write up that experiment like I asked you to?”

Don’t get me wrong they still have to be accountable and ‘write up the things like you asked them to…’ but the odd friendly ‘humanistic’ comment does break the ice.

“Where do I get the time to ask all these questions?” We hear you cry: the answer is direct and simple ‘make time’ think about the wasted minutes some of us use trying to redirect negative behaviour. You can create chances walking along the corridor, whist on playground duty, on the bus during school trips, diary entries, play scripts in literacy, planning and budgeting a day out (Maths), circle time or the 3 minutes packing up time at the end of the day. Say to yourself I’m going to find out one thing new about ‘x’ today and I will impart one piece of information about me. Try it the results are astounding!

Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

Being at home at school!

It was Jonny’s first day! The building was scary, full of rooms and corridors, the big locks on the doors with special security key pads seemed very futuristic. He looked out at the perimeter fences, they seemed so high! However Jonny was determined not to feel down, after all in his brand new grey and blue uniform he’d fit in perfectly.

The first person to speak to Jonny was Miss Jones, she went though a whole host of procedures and rules, Jonny felt a little mixed up. Life at home wasn’t like this he thought. It would take a bit of getting used to.

To begin with, in preparation for lunch time Miss Jones showed Jonny and his new friends a poster on the wall with a timetable, for when it was their turn to be fed. She showed them some strange plastic little trays that had little indentations on them so, in one fell swoop a drink, main meal and desert could be carried all at once!

If Jonny needed the toilet he was shown a little hook by the door, on the hook were passes, Miss Jones explained that if he wanted to use the lavatory, he would first need to ask and then take a ‘pass’.

Miss Jones then moved on to protocol for outside activities, she explained that when the whistle went Jonny must ‘freeze’ and await the next instruction, which was usually to line up in alphabetical order, quietly of course. Miss Jones also reminded Jonny and his new friends that they must address the staff as Sir/Mr/Mrs or Miss. Finally she explained that Jonny would only be allowed out of the room when she said.

Jonny was so confused, all these rules, procedures, new people and places, his head was spinning. However there was one ounce of relief, he was just pleased with his decision to plead guilty to armed robbery in court; at least he would only spend four years in his new home rather than the customary seven or eight.

Having experience of both prison (in an educational capacity) and schools, the similarities between the two don’t sit comfortably with us.

Schools are not an institutions, (some would argue that prisons shouldn’t be either). The difference between school and wider society is too wide. Of course procedures are different when groups of people converge in one place, however, employing systems and processes simply because it’s always been that ways is not a good enough reason to keep them!

We argue that these systems are in place because it is easy for adults enforce and follow them. They are for the benefit of the adult, not the child.

Let’s take one example:

At lunchtime in the majority of primary schools, the children who opt for school lunches are given a plastic tray that accommodates a drink, knife/fork/spoon, a main meal and a desert.

My first question to you as a reader of this blog is:

Would you be happy to eat from one of these trays?

Lunchtime staff often complain that the children can’t use their knives and forks properly; consider this though… after practising at home with ceramic plates and bowls of a circular, concave nature with knives and fork designed for their small hands, the children are expected to apply these skills to a flat bedded, semi-circle with walled sides and adult size utensils!

We give the children oversize cutlery designed for bowls plates and expect them to eat off a plastic slop tray.

Worse still, should we dare to suggest that the children could use plates and bowls the shutters crash straight down…

What if they drop them?

It would take to long?

Responses illustrating that many schools are designed and run for the needs of adults within efficient and rigid systems. Also worth noting that rarely are plates dropped and it never takes too long when the children visit outdoor education centres!

The above example may seem trivial. However, this attitude towards children in schools is symptomatic of the current approach to education (Gove et al). Not wanting to labour the point and complain too much, below is a few ideas you might light to try that give the children more responsibility and make schools a little more human. As reader of this blog I’m sure you have your own great ideas too!

  1. Let pupils lead themselves into assembly, they know where to go, if they are too noisy, they need more practise at managing their own behaviour, more reason to keep doing it!
  2. Set home-learning projects that are aimed at the whole family.
  3. Make them a cup of tea from time to time (sounds wacky I know, but this truly gives the children a sense of comfort in their surroundings)
  4. Have a couple of days each week when they can choose whether to go out or not at playtime.
  5. Don’t end a lesson just because the bell went; all of the learning won’t fall out of their heads during a game of catch!
  6. Ensure most learning in done collaboratively and not always in ‘ability’ groups.
  7. Tell children lots about yourself and more importantly find out even more about them and their families.
  8. Never ever shout at children, there is not one shred of evidence to suggest this acutally works!
  9. Remember that learning is recorded in brains not books.
  10. Stop using the word ‘Work’ Children are at school not work!

These are just a few suggestions that we feel may help children become less institutionalised at school. Not everyone will agree with them all, but it’s the discussion that matters.

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Thought Weavers.