Archives for the month of: January, 2017

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I think it’s possible that some of the reaction against strong discipline is that some teachers like pupils to look and act a bit bad because it’s cool. Rule-breaking, questioning authority, and non-compliance are all phrases you might hear in a favourable review of a record by someone cool like the Sex Pistols or Dizzee Rascal. Eager, polite and obedient are not.

I suggest that some teachers like working with tricky teens because it makes them cool by association. A gruff “safe Miss” on the way out of the lesson gives a sense we have been accepted by the urban subculture. An awed “I don’t know how you do it” from a friend when a noisy and slightly intimidating gang get on the bus gives us a feeling we are a bit special.

“Those nerdy kids in the photos? Reading their books on the tube? Gleaming in their smart uniforms? Eager to learn with impeccable manners? Any saddo could get through to them. But I, the quietly cool teacher, I can relate to these edgy kids, with their slang, and their clothes, and their body language, because although I am a middle-class teacher from the suburbs, inside I am a lot like Patti Smith”.

Why do I think some teachers think these things? Because I myself have thought them all. It is NOT COOL for me to admit this. Being cool requires a convincing attitude of not caring or knowing about being cool. To be fair I didn’t realise I thought I was thinking it until I questioned myself recently: Why do these photos and videos of very well-behaved secondary school children make me feel a bit uncomfortable? And that was the answer I found. But hang on, I’m supposed to be here for the pupils’ benefit, not the other way round! So now I have two massively embarrassing realisations. First, I have been (albeit subconsciously) trying to be cool at the age of 33 and second, I’ve allowed this to colour my reaction to something that really does help the very children I profess to care about. Children in schools with stronger discipline get better results. Especially poorer children. Every school I’ve ever come across which has turned itself around has done so with a foundation of strict uniform and strong discipline. So I am naming this beast I have found in me that I might better fight it. I’m rejecting cool and embracing success for pupils instead. How many others could do the same?

A presentation given by Matthew Newberry, Ofsted’s science lead, at the ASE conference this week was seen by some to contradict the (welcome) message from Ofsted that they don’t have a preferred teaching style. Greg Ashman wrote about it here

Sean Harford responded that scientific enquiry is on the national curriculum and so it’s reasonable for inspectors to look for it, and he reinforced the message that Ofsted are not looking for a particular style of lesson.

Here’s what I think: two very different things have been conflated: “scientific enquiry” and “enquiry-based learning”. Scientific enquiry is a curriculum area whereas enquiry-based learning is a style of lesson.

This is a slide from the ASE conference that seems to advocate enquiry-based learning for delivering science curriculum: 

This is the sentence that gives me concern: 

“Timetables in a significant minority of primary and secondary schools visited did not allow enough time for the teaching of science through regular, enquiry-based learning”.

I have scanned the “Maintaining Curiosity” document and I didn’t find this sentence, it could be in there or it could be a paraphrase, but as it was Ofsted’s science lead giving the talk, I don’t think there’s any question of this being one of those “someone stuck an Ofsted logo on a PowerPoint but it’s not the actual Ofsted position” moments.

So what’s the difference between scientific enquiry and enquiry-based learning?

Scientific enquiry is a curriculum area including things like making predictions, making accurate measurements, and planning investigations. These can be taught using different styles of lessons. For example, I teach my pupils what a good experiment design looks like, and then ask them to design their own experiment. The thing that they are learning is how to design an experiment to give valid and accurate results. The results themselves are incidental. Another teacher might choose to get pupils to research on the Internet what makes a good experiment design, rather than telling them. The lesson style here would be different but the intended curriculum area to be learned would be the same.

Enquiry-based learning, as I understand it, is where pupils find out the content by enquiring, often through experiment though it could be using another method such as researching using secondary sources. So when you need to teach pupils about latent heat, you might get pupils to do an experiment in order to find out how temperature of ice varies as you supply heat energy using a Bunsen burner. The experimental findings are not incidental, but are the intended curriculum area to be learned. The teacher does not tell the pupils the results: they find them out for themselves. Another teacher might choose a different style of lesson: showing pupils a graph of temperature against heat supplied in an ideal experiment, explaining about latent heat, and then getting pupils to conduct the experiment themselves in order to compare their results with the ideal ones. I would class this style of lesson as direct instruction with illustrative practical.

I hope I’ve shown why enquiry-based learning is a style of lesson, and separate from the scientific enquiry section of the national curriculum. Whether or not you think it’s an effective style of lesson (I don’t), given that Ofsted now state they have no preferred teaching style, it should not, in my opinion, be advocated by their representatives.

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One of the biggest challenges in adopting our behaviour system was persuading pupils and staff that it was real. We were told about it with words but feeling it in our bones took a lot more, because the mindset was diametrically opposite to what we had before.

Under the old system (if you could call it that), teachers were individually responsible for behaviour in our lessons. I don’t think anyone was responsible for behaviour outside of lessons! If you saw poor behaviour in the corridor there was a vague expectation that you would try and get them to stop it, ideally in a jocular, distracting way rather than being “confrontational”. Certainly no detentions. In lessons, the ideal was that pupils would just behave because teachers had planned such great lessons. If that didn’t happen, we were supposed to use all the Bill Rogers techniques like “redirection”and “the language of choice”. Failing that, we had to set detentions, communicate home, chase them when they did not attend, work around clashes with other teachers. And if we needed a pupil removed we had to document what happened in detail and all the steps (there should be many) we had taken to try to resolve the issue before asking for help. And if a pupil contradicted our version of events then we would be questioned, often at length, to determine “what really happened”!

This really was a hideous state of affairs that simply didn’t work but it is one I know is prevalent in schools across the country. Anyway, the teachers knew it was rubbish but when the new system was introduced we all found it hard to change our culture.

Firstly, staff needed to pick up on things that previously would have gone under the radar. Second, we needed to overcome feelings of guilt or hesitation in giving consequences to pupils. It was common in the first few weeks for pupils to incur consequences without really knowing what would happen. They were told the new expectations in detail in an assembly before the system took effect, but it takes more than an assembly to change habits and it’s hard to believe it in your bones as we teachers found ourselves. Things like playfully pushing a friend in the corridor, asking a neighbour about the work during a silent task, and swearing in conversation with friends at break were all to be given consequences now, (C4 other, C1 and C5 respectively) where previously they would have been cajoled, gently reminded, tactically ignored or not even noticed. Many really lovely pupils who had never had a detention before suddenly got them, and it was hard for teachers to do this. We hesitated too, with more challenging pupils for fear we’d ruin our relationship with them and actually make life more difficult for ourselves: “Min’s worked really well all lesson, do I really want to jeopardise this because she said “piss off” in a friendly way to her friend as she left the room?”

In my last post I mentioned that the culture change was like Chip and Dan Heath’s “motivate the Elephant”. (This refers to the emotional brain and not just motivation.) Staff wanted behaviour to improve, but we were afraid.
It was really difficult to believe that using the system didn’t make us look bad. SLT would drop into classrooms and we’d feel embarrassed that we had names on the board with ticks next to them- but this was what we were supposed to do now. After I’d C5d one pupil for deliberate attempt to undermine the lesson, could I really send a second, a third, a fourth? Under l’ancien regime this would be unthinkable: it would make you look completely inept. Even having one pupil removed was often a challenge if the SLT member doubted you or the removal room was full. But now, if four pupils deliberately tried to undermine your lesson, then four pupils should get a C5. If thirty pupils did it, then thirty pupils must have a C5. We staffed extra consequence rooms during the first few weeks to make sure we had the capacity for such eventualities.

To support the culture change we needed constant modelling and reassurance from SLT. They, including the headteacher, were all out and about around school all day every day during the first few weeks. They modelled giving C4 others in the corridor and answered all our questions. They gave specific praise for use of the system and shared stories of their own use of it. It was really helpful to hear them say, yes, I found it difficult to give him a C4 for offering a classmate a pen during a silent task, he’s a lovely lad, but that’s what we’ve got to do. We had to have many of these conversations, partly because the system has many details but also because telling us once wasn’t enough to convince us that it was what we should be doing: this shows how much of a departure it was from the previous approach.

When new and supply staff join us now, we have to work hard to make them believe that they really are supposed to use the system in the way they say we are. They can’t believe that they will not be seen to be doing a poor job if pupils misbehave in their lesson- but this is absolutely the case. David Didau describes the two cultures here where he presents them as (a) believing good behaviour to be a product of good teaching and (b) believing good behaviour to be a necessary precondition for good teaching. Previously my school subscribed to (a), and the new system is born out of (b). I believe (a) to be a well-intentioned but wrong. I defy anyone who genuinely cares about pupils’ prospects to maintain a belief in (a) once they have seen the quality and amount of work that is possible under (b). But the role of the emotional brain cannot be underestimated in this transition. If teachers have been held responsible in the past because of their teaching rather than their application of a behaviour policy then they will need a lot of reassurance in order to absorb the new policy into their core. Supporting this culture needs to be an explicit goal for SLT if a policy is to be effective. The elephant needs reassurance.