Category Archives: Assessment

#Blimage – Seating

Photo - Steve Wheeler.

Photo – Steve Wheeler.

 

When I first saw this particular #blimage it struck a chord with me immediately. Seating arrangements! One of the things in teaching I’ve read up about and tried out lots of to get the best learning out of my class (and in my early years tried to improve behaviour with too).

 

What can seating look like in primary schools?

 

Well those desks suggest the old style of rows to me. The type of thing that was actually being phased out when I went through primary schools in the 1980s. I’m not sure of the benefit of rows. If you were partnered (as our desks were double desks) with the ‘wrong person’ it made school life miserable. (My step-daughter who is a hard-working girl who isn’t easily distracted and tries her best ‘won’ the seat next to the class ‘naughty’ boy who was very talkative. She was sat there for a couple of terms…say it quickly it doesn’t sound a lot does it. Two block of 8 weeks maybe. 80 days then. 6 hours a day. 560 hours of school. With no planned benefits to her, only unhappiness because she’s not sat with the rest of her group). So maybe that seating wasn’t of the 70s and 80s? I’ve seen it used in classes in schools I’ve taught in. I assume (though never asked) to stop off task interactions.

 

A more traditional seating arrangement in primary school is the ‘table’ of around 6 children. Why do we do this? To create group interactions? Because it what primary classrooms look like – (thanks to SMT who’ve shared that gem in the past)? So that we can engineer groupings to ‘settle’ the behaviours of some children? In the early stage of my teaching life I used table groups and changed them regularly, twice a year (or moved ‘individuals’ around as a behaviour measure). I dread to think.

 

In latter years (after working with Shirley Clarke in Gateshead) I used tables of 6 children and changed them every Monday using lollipop sticks. The purpose behind this being to get the children interacting with as many different children in the class as possible. Finding out the skills and positive features that people they had never worked with had, as well as developing their own skills, through sharing their ideas and supporting each other in group work. It worked really well, and some of the feedback from the children about things they found out about each other was amazing. Of course if this happens you can’t have table points, table captains, table winners or table losers, you will need children to be self-motivated and working hard for themselves and not for external reward.

 

For the best part of a year I put all my tables together to form one large table in the classroom and mixed up the children weekly again using lollipop sticks. I did this after reading a book about how Apple and Google create spaces for ‘chance’ interactions. The class enjoyed working in this way and again reported that working with different people made for exciting learning time and exciting school time. (Behaviour, to my observation, was no worse using a ‘random’ approach to tables and seating than having ‘planned’ seating).

 

This coming year I am going for a horseshoe in my classroom with seating positions again changed weekly by random means. As well as the horseshoe, I have a table of 4 in the middle and a table for 8 for group teaching purposes. I will encourage the children to move furniture around for different tasks as they feel it suits their learning.

However, before all of this happens I will spend time in the first couple of weeks setting up the reasons behind our seating arrangements and setting up ground rules as well as discussing growth mindsets and key aspect of formative assessment. You can find loads of reading and resources about developing a growth mindset in the classroom all over the internet, and I have collected a few of the articles I have found useful here.

 

I’d be delighted to hear any of your ideas, arrangements etc in the comments.

 

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Highers – Follow up.

Since writing about my step-daughter and highers last week, I’ve received some good feedback from and MSP, parents, teachers and educationalists.

Before I go into that, an update. It’s now Wednesday of the holidays and my step-daughter has been into school on ever weekday of the holiday, apart from Easter Monday. She’s also done lots of work when at home. She’s not really her normal self, is a bit tetchy and showing some signs of being fed up. (I offer cups of tea, hugs and chocolate feeling a bit helpess)

I have found out that the school my step-daughter attends is paying staff to work in the Easter holidays. For me that raises many, many questions. What else could be done with that money? What if your family have already booked a holiday in the Easter holidays (because booking in term-time is strongly discouraged by schools, but encouraged by pricing structures of the holiday sector), surely you don’t have equality of opportunity for this use of public money? Are the teachers being paid a universal teacher rate (i.e. teachers daily rater or supply rates) ? How much pressure is put on teachers to do this? Do the public know teachers are being paid overtime to get the grades which will be trumpeted as a triumph for Scottish Education/ Government / Political Parties when the results are announced? Do we have a true financial cost?

Feedback: You can read Amanda Wilson’s feelings in the comments below the original post. Thanks again for your time

Mark Priestley said:

and

Iain Gray MSP said:

Angela Constance replied:

I will publish her reply in full when I receive it.

Jak tweeted:

As well as these reponses I have received a long and sincere e-mail from a teacher who sympathises and dislikes the current system.

I have also received many favourable comments on FB as well as face to face when meeting parents of children of all ages in person.

I ended my initial post thus: This isn’t progress. This isn’t creating an education system better than the oft-mocked English system I described earlier. This isn’t good enough.

It seems I’m not alone in those thoughts.

Highers? The best we can do?

It’s Easter Monday, (Bank holiday in the UK) and it’s 8:47 PM. My step-daughter is holed up in her room. Listening to music? Watching YouTube vloggers? Reading? Watching Games of Thrones via illegal feed? None of the above. She’s studying. This time for English Higher. Saturday it was for Art, Friday for RMPS.  Wednesday night she was up until 2:45 AM working on her Graphic Communication project which was due in. (She was up against a wholly unrealistic time scale, as the previous teacher ‘misunderstood’ what was required for the exam. I wonder if they were up at 2:45 and then ready for school next morning??) To be fair to her she didn’t start work until 10:00 PM on the Wednesday night.

 

Would you like to guess why she began work so late? She was organising a music concert at her school along with other S5’s. This wasn’t part of her course: It was over and above. It was her and her friends taking a leading role in school life. The Curriculum for Excellence says this is a thing to aspire to for schools and pupils, yet due to some inadequate work from a teacher, her reward for this was working until 2:45 AM.

 

Well at least it’s the holiday now. Except it’s not quite the holidays, as my step-daughter is attending revision classes in the school on different days of the holiday. These are being provided by teachers who are clearly committed to their pupils getting the best grades they can in their exams, so committed in fact that they are ignoring national guidelines on holidays for pupils and teachers to deliver them.

 

Perhaps she’s having to cram as she’s not done enough work previously? Maybe she slacks off and works hard in the ‘exam season’. I can tell you she’s not angelic. She leaves the toilet lid up, doesn’t wash her food pots and has even been known not to replace the butter in the butter in the butter dish! She does work very hard at her studies however, pushes herself hard, as well as trying to develop other areas of her life (like attending animation classes, organising concerts for the school, volunteering in a hospice shop when she can).

 

Our ‘new’ Curriculum for Excellence (published in 2004) has strong ideals and ethics in it. It aims to create “successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.” I’m not sure how these fit with holiday revision classes, weekends where homework is all that gets done in a household, time taken off school to complete ‘vital’ homework tasks. To my mind they don’t. The conditions of work my step-daughter is working to are likely to turn our young people away from education for a lengthy period of time. I dare not think too long about the effects this amount of work and pressure has on her (and her many friends) mental health. This was not the aim of the 2002 consultation paper on education, yet this is where we are.

 

Charlie Love wrote a great blog post about National 4 exams and the effect that working Nat 4 courses had on pupils, it’s well worth a read. It is not just Highers, it’s the National 4 and 5 exams which don’t appear to be working also.

A quick google for problems with Highers brings up a few news reports but nothing too recent. It seems that the political will to create a system where our young succeed and lead balanced, healthy lives is not there. When I did my ‘A’ levels (in England), I (like everyone else) took two years of study to pass them. It was a wonderful time of my life, some hard work, some enjoyment of a different side of school life, even some maturing! The key was the time afforded to work, think and develop inside the school week. I had at least one 1hr 15 period of study time each day. Sometimes more. My step-daughter gets nothing, it’s wall to wall teaching.. Yet, apparently this amount of teaching time isn’t enough, she still has to work so much ‘extra’ time in the evenings and holidays.

 

I’d be delighted to hear from Angela Constance and Iain Gray about pupils being overworked in order to pass National Exams. I’d also be interested to hear of anyone else’s experiences. Please tweet me @robertd1981 or e-mail me at robertdrummond@gmail.com if you wish to contact me, but not leave a public comment.

 

This isn’t progress. This isn’t creating an education system better than the oft-mocked English system I described earlier. This isn’t good enough.

 

Assessment.

Assessment. It’s difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. I read this blog post and it became a bit less difficult. I really like the 7 questions Michael has written down.  Whatever method we use for assessment, these questions provide ideas about why we are doing it and most importantly the impact the assessments are going to have on our learners. Have a read, leave a comment for Michael.  What do you think?

 

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