Caption: “I sat Gove’s EBacc and look where it got me!”
I am not necessarily angry at the demise of the GCSE; however, I am annoyed that Gove appears to be spurning his undeserved privilege to create a truly world class qualification in the place of GCSEs that can make us all proud. Gove’s EBacc isn’t finalised by any means – but surely the misguided proposal of a sole final three hour exam for a national English qualification could not possibly be the totality of any qualification to ready students for a complex and rapidly changing modern world. Expecting a qualification with a concluding three hour examination as its only method of assessment to ready students for their diverse and highly technological future is like asking a giraffe to climb a tree to ready it for survival on the barren plains of the Serengeti! Gove appears to avidly ignore a wealth of educational evidence, and the myopic prejudices of Gove and Gibb look set to squander any hope of a modern qualification for English, the Humanities and beyond, that is truly fit for purpose.
There are a range of examinations, both nationally and internationally, to draw upon to create the best qualifications for our 11-16 year olds that is fit to prepare them for their complex future. Gove appears to eschew such research, evidence and expertise, and he appears to stubbornly rely upon his conservative prejudices – he may praise certain qualifications, but he refuses to learn lessons from them. So what current options do we have for which to build an ideals set of qualifications? We have the GCSEs (labelled as wholly discredited, mostly by people whose knowledge is slim and their prejudice fat); the iGCSE (a favoured preserve of Private schools); the International Baccalaureate – at both Middle Years and Diploma (praised repeatedly by Gove), as well as a host of internationally renowned qualifications. I would ask a series of questions about how our assessment for this curriculum stage, and our curriculum more broadly, would be composed to best suit the skills and knowledge required for the future:
Where is the place for Project Based Learning?
The PISA report, one of Gove’s sacred tracts, revealed how assessment models that embed project based learning are the way forward for successful assessment models. I have quoted this in my diatribe against Gove’s Ebacc before (http://huntingenglish.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/an-angry-response-to-gove-levels/), but it bears repeating. PISA found in the ‘framework for assessment’ aspect of the report that:
” “problem-solving competency” can be developed through “progressive teaching methods, like problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning” and project work. “The Pisa 2012 computer-based assessment of problem-solving aims to examine how students are prepared to meet unknown future challenges for which direct teaching of today’s knowledge is not sufficient,””
This approach is not a new phenomenon, but it is a manner of assessment that is rich in a diverse manner of skills: from independent research; to reading a complex range of sources (from the Internet to ancient literature) and synthesising ideas in a logical structure; to extended writing with a real purpose and a real audience; to a final oral presentation which is ‘testing’ in the most rigorous and rewarding manner. In IB schools, 11-16 year olds already undertake such projects, like in the Southbank international school in London: http://www.southbank.org/personal-project.html. Should we not seek out the assessment celebrated by the very international body Gove so clearly heralds?
Where is the place for Speaking and Listening?
A three hour exam is all well and good as a simple measuring stick, but our children will need to exist in a social world where they will also need to communicate successfully in a myriad of ways still unimaginable to us now. They need to be highly flexible in their capacity to communicate with different audiences and in different contexts – in a truly globally connected world. The current GCSE model of three oral assessments in English, includes a drama performance, a group discussion and an individual presentation. It is imperfect, but it is wholly appropriate to lending credence to the central place of oral communication in any and every assessment model. Gove could warmly remember his days as President of the Oxford Union if he were to come to a state school like mine (he would dread this I’m sure!) and listen to some highly enlightened current debate. Only this week my Year 11 English group have been arguing about the nature of fame, Warhol’s ‘fifteen minutes’ and the importance of role models in our contemporary world. Yes, a final examination does not exclude the central position of discussion in our pedagogy, yet every student and teacher in the land will be under pressure to teach to the test – keep your dogmatic league tables Mr Gove and you will continue to see teaching through the eye of a narrow test.
In the International Baccalaureate Diploma there is an oral presentation and an oral commentary (recorded for and moderated by the IB) in the A1 English aspect of the course. These form nearly a third of the overall assessment for A1 English for one of the most renowned and rigorous qualifications across the world. The oral commentary is a developed response to literary texts and it is highly challenging. Is such an assessment model not fit and proper for our students? Would it not hone a whole host of skills and inject a much needed diversity into our proposed Ebacc assessment model?
Where is the place for multi-modal writing and technology?
Gove is a self-professed traditionalist, and as an English teacher, I would debate heatedly the importance and relevance of Shakespeare in any modern English curriculum. I may draw the line at Gove’s liking for Dryden, but I have a keen preference for the classical canon. That being said, we live in a rapidly changing world where media literacy and multi-modal texts must be combined with the best of the traditional canon of knowledge. This isn’t pandering to create a curriculum for ‘enjoyment’; the reading of film, a critical analysis of the web and a skilful knowledge of texts that combine all of the above, are crucial skills for a future when the written word will continue to synchronise with technology in ways we cannot fully comprehend.
Once again, project based learning can encourage the use of tools of modern technology in a real and innovative fashion. Seeing students be creative with iPads, smart phones or computers to create films, applications or presentations, truly celebrates a multitude of skills appropriate for the future when technology will surely be integral to learning and living.
Where is the place for extended writing not completed in exam conditions?
Now, let me set the record straight, neither old fashioned coursework, nor the new controlled assessment system is ideal as a mode for assessment. Crucially; however, the role of extended writing produced in a series of drafts, and honed and crafted, is just as valid as any examination approach to extended writing. If the issue is the ‘gaming’ of the system that occurs with coursework, as so famously exposed through examples like the honourable Prince Harry and his Private school art teacher; or the limiting of curriculum time created by the stultifying controlled assessments, then learn from those errors and make the assessment better! Create an independent piece of extended writing that is offered in a portfolio approach, where proposals are recorded, drafts are retained etc. We may even come to recognise the value of crafting writing with research, deep thought and revisions, rather than celebrating the reductive time constraints of the exam model. Again, the IB Diploma has this enshrined in the Extended Essay aspect of the qualification. It allows for an independence of thinking and exploration we would surely seek to foster in all our students – whilst honing a range of skills simply not possible in an exam-only model.
How do we get our students to ask and answer questions that can’t be tested?
The exam-only model is clearly reductive. It is easily measurable, quantifiable and scalable (and sellable to bloated exam boards!) – therefore it is the default model for education systems around the world. Crucially, however, continental systems still manage to embed philosophy and critical thinking at the heart of their curriculum. In the IB Diploma, for example, TOK (Theory of Knowledge) explores knowledge and thinking in rich and diverse ways. Time is found to explore and critique knowledge in a way comprehensively ignored in our national curriculum at 11-16. It is this deep learning and thinking that helps foster citizens who can think flexibly and be able to apply their thinking skills in innovative and creative ways.
Finally, I would ask a broader question: why are independent schools, and their students, given the privilege of choice, when our state schools are hampered by that behemoth that crushes all breadth and richness of curriculum provision – school league tables? I will admit it is my very personal bête noire – but whilst schools are forced to supposedly raise standards in a system which fosters a heightened narrowing of the curriculum to achieve ‘success’, how will we ever see the required diversity of curriculum provision needed for the future of our children? How can a system that actively promotes competition over collaboration, in a survival of the fittest to scramble up the league table to relative safety from the attack dogs of OFSTED, ever work in raising standards for all? With such a pervasive culture of distrust and narrow judgements, how will schools enjoy the freedoms to innovate and enrich? With such crushing judgements awaiting schools, it is no surprise when cheating ensues, when good practice is ditched at the alter of expediency. I am not condoning such corrosive behaviour that impacts negatively upon students, but I understand why it is going on when the conditions for growth and development for state schools are as fruitless as Osbourne’s scorched earth economic policy.
When will we corral the experts in the field of education to create an English qualification fit for purpose in preparing students for a changing world? When will we be led with courage and the foresight to let schools collaborate in local unison to create assessments fitting for our children and their futures? To bastardise a political phrase: we must be the change we seek. We must forge a vision of a future proof curriculum that we can be proud to teach and make Gove and his colleagues stand up and take notice. Parents, teachers, school leaders and unions must unite in this cause. It is crucial to the very future of our nation in a globalised world where economies of scale mean that Britain must create a highly innovative and creative knowledge economy. It begins with education. It begins with an evidence based curriculum fit for purpose. It begins with us.
My last post focused on becoming a better teacher and how we can undertake our own professional development by dipping into the wealth of great books at hand for teachers. I wanted to create a simple list of what I view in my humble opinion as the best books for teachers out there in the market. I thought of two key factors – ‘philosophy’ and ‘practicality’. By ‘philosophy’ I mean those books that get us thinking deeply about our role and our pedagogy – books that reinvigorate our passions and spark new thinking. ‘Practicality’ is self-explanatory but essential for the best educational books for teachers. If a book gets you scribbling notes furiously or splashing each page with post-it notes then its usefulness is clear. The selection is in order numerically, but that doesn’t indicate any order of priority of quality:
1. Visible Learning for Teachers: John Hattie
John Hattie has developed a global wealth of research in order to provide evidence for what works in education. The findings are fascinating and thought-provoking: strategies like homework are exposed, whereas strategies like formative feedback are heralded. The motto of the book is ‘know thy impact’ and it explains there is no ‘silver bullet’ answer, but that we must approach our teaching with passion and ‘deliberate practice’, focusing in upon the evidence of what works for our students. Don’t be put off by the statistical analysis or the science of a ‘meta-analysis’ - even this English teacher got a hang of the numbers! ‘Visible Learning’ – the original Hattie text, for which he has based this sequel – was rather grandly labelled “the Bible” in one review, but it really is a seminal work. A must read!
Give this a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sng4p3Vsu7Y
2. Embedded Formative Assessment: Dylan William
Dylan William is the undoubted king of AFL. The opening chapters present a precise and near perfect explanation of why teacher pedagogy is absolutely crucial. This is followed by chapters simply bursting with practical strategies for formative assessment, with well chosen research and examples. It ties in neatly with the evidence provided by Hattie, in Williams’ own eminently readable style. Put simply, it does what it says on the tin!
Give this a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKLo15A80lI
3. The ‘Perfect’ series – ‘The Perfect OFSTED Lesson’ by Jackie Breere and ‘The Perfect English OFSTED Lesson’ by David Didau
These two books come from the same excellent series and they both provide a great range of practical strategies to attain the much vaunted ‘outstanding’ in OFSTED observations. Both texts don’t obsess about OFSTED, rather they are focused about sharing great pedagogy. Clearly there are common parallels between the two books, but they each provide different ideas and approaches, with the English specific book (Didau) exploring SOLO, for example, in a clear and driven way. Don’t be put off by the ‘English’ focus either – Didau’s book presents strategies that are easily applicable across the curriculum and would potentially provide some new angles of pedagogy that prove fruitful for different subject areas.
4. Full On Learning: Zoe Elder
This simply brilliant book is comprehensive and packed full of the philosophy of ‘why’ and the practicalities of ‘how’ for teachers. It presents a great range of research and a thoughtful exploration of pedagogy with lots of practical ideas and tips for further research and classroom applications. The book also happens to be aesthetically quite beautiful, which is an appropriate match to the artful thought processes of the book itself. This really is required reading for teachers at every stage of their career.
5. What’s the Point of School?: Guy Claxton
This book is very much a philosophical exploration of education, packed with interesting research and questions to stimulate every teacher. It should be required reading for every PGCE student or NQT, but it is appropriate for even the most seasoned of veterans too! It stands up well to a re-read to refresh our sense of purpose and direction. It also does what good educational books should do – it reminds us of the crucial value of our vocation and the transformative positive effect we can have in our complex and rapidly changing world.
Give this a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqRu74M_1Gw&feature=relmfu
Note – Any such list clearly has to make difficult omissions (it is very much an imperfect science!) – please comment if you have any other recommendations.
As a Subject Leader, I have thought long and hard (with my colleagues, and particularly my fellow Subject Leader – of Media Studies – @KRE_ativity) about how we should move things forward in developing teaching and learning in our English and Media faculty. To bastardise a well worn American political phrase the first priority is clear: “It is the quality of the teachers, Dummy!” Quite rightly, the question of technology to enhance pedagogy does come a couple of rungs down the ladder when it comes to importance. Every experienced teacher in almost every school will have suffered the trials of finding ICT room bookings like the proverbial needle in the haystack; traipsing across the school site in the rain; losing the late student who forgot it was an ICT lesson for the crucial first fifteen minutes of the lesson! The obstructions often outweighed the benefits. However, the potential to enhance teaching and learning with the freedoms provided by mobile devices becomes a different story; the capacity to excite, engage and personalise learning is undoubtedly present. With the flexibility and portability of tablet devices many of the former obstructions fell away – the enhancements were only enhanced! The question became ‘which technology could best enhance the pedagogy?’
In the world of tablet technology the warring dividing lines very quickly became the choice between Apple and Android mobile devices.
The research began. The comparisons between apps and general capacity for varied uses were central (see my earlier blog posts), but also crucial was the cost. The question, ‘why pay for the premium Apple iPad product in a time of fiscal austerity in education?’ is obvious. Is the capacity so much better to justify paying extra, or is the iPad a triumph of advertising hype?
Firstly, in addressing the financial aspects, it is true to say that the iPads are at a premium; however, the iPad 2 has seen a significant price drop and its functionality is still cutting edge and brilliantly tailored for exploiting in the classroom as a collaborative tool. Still, they are significantly more costly than their cheaper Android rivals. When investigating the breadth and quality of applications, hardware and operating system maintenance, the dividing lines between Apple and Android were stormed by the better quality and range of the iPad. Crucially, no other Android device provides anything like the scope for enhancing teaching and learning like the iPads, especially when used in conjunction with Apple TV.
Apple’s dominance of the tablet and mobile phone market means that it is the best placed develop educational applications (“Despite lower unit sales following the holiday season, the iPad scooped up 11.8 million of the 17.4 million units sold in Q1 2012 for a whopping 68 percent share.”); whilst being better placed for reliable updates, consistent web browsing, better protection from viruses, and a better range of apps that can enhance teaching pedagogy than any cheaper Android device. Some factors why Apple is better for such a deployment of multiple devices include the following:
- The Apple OS is upgraded and installed much faster and more effectively than equivalent Android OS, therefore apps on iPads continue to get faster and better, particularly in areas like iTextbooks etc.
- The back up, synchronising and cloud storage of iCloud is far superior to any Android equivalent, therefore student work is more secure
- OS support is proven to be more consistent from Apple
- Malware, viruses are considerably more common on Android devices and security on Android devices is significantly weaker. The gatekeeper control of Apple means the downloading of apps is more secure and their system provides excellent systematic protections for multiple devices
- The range of Apple apps is currently significant larger and of better quality (a quality controlled by Apple)
- Apple development and support is more consistent and systematic than Google’s Android model – this is crucial for our needs over the next five years.
 J R Bookwalter, ‘Apple Owns Tablet market, while Android Stumbles’, TechRadar (May 2012)
 Fraser Spiers, ‘We need to talk about Android’, http://speirs.org/blog/2012/3/6/we-need-to-talk-about-android.html
The ‘flipped classroom’ appeared on my radar a fair few months ago whilst combing Twitter for ideas. As an English teacher, I was intrigued by the dramatic hyperbole and interested in what it was – whilst being inherently sceptical about whether it was just another buzz-term or ubiquitous hash tag of little use! It took very little digging to find a host of information about the concept. In its purest form, represented by the likes of ‘The Khan Academy’, the model is quite simply the ability to share content through the medium of technology, in most cases simply lectures (of varying quality!). This basic model doesn’t add a great deal to teaching and learning, other than perhaps allowing for students to revisit and revise key information. Our tech-savvy students can easily use popular web platforms, like YouTube, to access this content at their leisure, on their terms (to a degree – it seems prime homework material!). There are the obvious benefits to this process. It allows for some personalisation of learning, it gives students the opportunity to revisit information, and in some cases (I doubt this is the case on any large scale) parents could engage with the material and support their children in their learning.
In our faculty we are looking to create a Youtube page for English and Media which would provide fun and interesting (that is the plan!) videos supporting students with issues such as essay writing, or giving them guides to our current courses etc. This idea preceded my knowledge of the very concept of the ‘flipped classroom’, but like most good ideas, they fit together nicely. There are a growing number of these departmental video channels now on the web and English departments will no doubt involve students in the process, making videos themselves (monitored and quality controlled by staff you would hope). We are also beginning to use iPads to enhance our teaching and learning, particularly group collaboration. The prospect of using mobile devices also fits snugly into the flipped model of learning and we should begin to align them in our planning and pedagogy.
Where the ‘flipped classroom’ model comes into its own is when the ‘flip’ is used to provide classroom time to then collaborate and engage in the learning, based on the assumption that the content has been digested. No doubt, like the setting of homework, some students will fail to undertake this gymnastic flip, but the show will go on regarding the teaching and learning within the lesson, and the minority who fail to complete their side of the flip would hopefully recognise the error of their ways! What is truly exciting is the prospect of greater curriculum time to practice all the higher level learning skills that help bring knowledge and curriculum content to life. How common is the complaint that we have too little time to cover the mass of curriculum ‘content’ we are expected to in the fulfilment of the National Curriculum and the multitude of examination requirements?
Undoubtedly, the future of learning is personalised to the learner. It embraces the technology of our students who are the ‘digital natives’ of today and tomorrow. The ‘flipped classroom’ model is certainly a positive pedagogical step along that inevitably bumpy road. There are undoubtedly some dangerous flaws to navigate: simply uploading videos for a student busy multi-tasking on their Smartphone, whilst they simultaneously flick through their legion of social media comments, is hardly going to transform learning, or embed any understanding deeper than our existing model of education! (There is a level of distracted passivity and inability to concentrate fostered by omnipresent technology that is explored in this interesting article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/16/31multitasking_ep.h31.html?tkn=LXPFgFOQhUOkgsJaYbFATbwHcdnWde%2F%2Ffhli&cmp=ENL-DD-NEWS2 )
A further issue is the inherent expectation for teachers to create the legion of videos required to make the flipped model work at all. The monitoring of comments/feedback, maintain links, and the technological process itself, are all time consuming.
Like any innovation, such issues are common, but the potential benefits do, in my view, outweigh the issues. The issues can be eased, if not eliminated. There is always going to be a transmission of knowledge required in our craft – the flipped model can provide a way of presenting that knowledge in a more varied manner than our classic ‘sage on the stage’ model. It need not be some ‘brave new world’ where automaton children are taught by internet avatars, where hundreds of future children are cocooned in their bedrooms responding only to the flicker of a computer screen! The use of video or podcasting should be an ingredient that is used often, part of a varied diet of good teaching and learning! Also, no individual teacher need reinvent the wheel – the likes of Twitter and WordPress connects a wealth of teachers looking for great resources, ready to share and pass on those they have found. Who hasn’t used a TED talk or a pre-prepared video (the ‘Shift’ anyone?) with students or staff alike? Students can and should be integrated into the flipped creation of resources; those resources can be recycled and adapted. The teacher may eat and sleep!
It is all rather simple really: it is a bit of a glamorous buzzword, but the principals and pedagogy of the ‘flipped classroom’ are fundamentally sound. The ‘flipped classroom’ is not going away and it will undoubtedly become one of the core habits of teaching and learning in the next decade. Get filming!
Here are some useful links to ‘flipped’ resources:
In our prospective iPad project in our English and Media faculty we are currently trailing the best apps to use in the teaching of English and Media Studies. Here is a useful top ten list (with a few extras with honourable mentions!):
Some other great apps for English teaching deserving a mention:
YouTube: No explanation necessary, but very useful. With the vast range of resources being uploaded by educators (particularly with the growth of the ‘Flipped classroom’ model of teaching and learning) the options are endless.
GoodReader: A powerful app for annotating PDFs, this app has many uses for engaging with texts actively. I find the legion of options rather cumbersome so I am on the looking for a similar, but simpler, app for text annotation.
Instapaper: A great app for simply saving articles and documents offline in case any wireless network problems ensue.
Snapseed: Currently free, this is a great app to edit photos in a variety of ways.
Socrative: A great app for creating a variety of quizzes for instant formative or summative assessment.
Keynote: Effectively Apple’s PowerPoint, it is a nice smooth app that facilitates some lovely presentations. Similar to PowerPoint, it does take some time to get to grips with.
CloudOn: A free app that provides the opportunity to create Microsoft documents for those who wish to use the familiar tools of the likes of Word or PowerPoint.
Frankenstein (by Inkle): A modern re-working of the classic. This app presents a modern, interactive version which really explores some of the moral choices inherent in the text. It also has the original text and some fantastic contemporary anatomical drawings and maps. Surely the future of e-reading is hinted at in this great app.
We intend to use Apple TV in our classrooms to ensure that students can instantly show any of their work from the apps selected. There are a range of apps that also provide this crucial sharing and control of multiple wireless devices, such as IdeasFlight - http://www.ideaflight.com/how-it-works/
I hope these ideas are useful. Do reply with any other good options for apps to use in English lessons.
Beginning in our next school year, we are very excited to implement iPads (iPad2 devices) as a tool for collaborative learning in our English and Media faculty. We believe that the technology can enhance our pedagogy, whilst engaging our students in the basics of reading, writing and speaking & listening. We believe that the devices can harness excitement and confidence in our students, unleashing greater creativity and raising literacy standards. By using Apple TV, we will use the devices as a tool for formative assessment, immediately streaming student responses, writing, annotation or presentations and films etc. We are not going for the 1-to-1 model, instead the device will be used as a collaborative tool in groups. A class set will effectively be 7 to 8 iPads.
‘The main thing is the main thing’
Undoubtedly, any such new innovation requires time and training (both for students and staff), but we do not want to be put off by the relative newness of the technology for us all as a teaching and learning tool – we want to grasp the innovation and utilise the devices to enhance our pedagogy. Every teacher is a creature of habit – often we teach very similarly throughout our career – with a few ‘tweaks’ along the way. It is therefore important that we create new habits and really focus on where the devices can make those marginal gains in teaching on a day to day basis. We have therefore highlighted our key teaching and learning strategies:
- Using the device for photographing and streaming student work to the projector for immediate formative feedback
- Using the device as a tool for shared writing and guided writing
- Using the device for multi-modal group presentations
- Using the device for group reading and annotation
- Using the iMovie app for creating films/presentations
- Using apps like Goodreader for annotating documents (Interactive Whiteboard style)
- Using the device to research the web
- Using the device to store student work: ongoing and completed e.g. notes on a novel
- Using the audio recording facilities for speaking and learning activities e.g. podcasts
- Using the device to access and collaborate with research homework e.g. Pinterest