A rewarding experience

Rewarding positive learning in my classroom is one of my core values and I hope that my students feel that their efforts are rewarded fully. I have, over my limited teaching years, developed different ways of giving out rewards.

My favourite of all the techniques is the tick system – every positive contribution is rewarded with a tick and three ticks earns some form of reward (credit/merit etc.). This system allows a student to make small contributions to earn a larger reward and it’s also a useful way for me to learn names! The challenge I have found with it is it limits my movement within the room – I need to be near to the whiteboard to write on it and it also limits the flow of my lessons if I have to keep stopping to write on the board.

I am, therefore, on the hunt for a system which enables me to quickly and efficiently reward students for their contributions in lessons. I have started considering a number of options; for example I have thought about using raffle tickets or another token-style reward which students could trade in for a reward at the end of the lesson. My concern with this method is that tokens may be lost during the lesson (there is a lot of movement in my lessons, especially between rooms) and I like rewards to be visible (I find that this encourages the attention-seeker-type to feel rewarded for positive behaviour and not being silly).

The option that I like the most at the moment is using a student to scribe the ticks for me – this option has many merits and would allow flow in my lessons without much interruption. I have not, yet, been able to test it – the white board in my class is quite high and many of my year 7s do not posses the stature to allow full use of the tick section!

How do you reward your students in lessons and do you feel as though you give out enough rewards? I would be interested to know your thoughts!

I love trips but I hate the Ebacc

I love trips.

As a teacher, I enjoy getting out of my classroom and getting the opportunity to go on new new adventures to places I would never have seen and do activities which I have not done before. They are a great opportunity for my own development as a person, providing an excellent way to engage, in different situations, with students and other staff.

Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Fine – but surely schools trips are about the students?” and you would be right! But everything I said in the previous paragraph is also true for students who have the opportunity to venture out on a trip.

I am a passionate believer that education is not solely about classroom learning. Much of the rhetoric from government and media is about results and “academic” learning – schools are measured purely on these factors, but other factors, in addition to exam grades, are essential for the employability and development of students in their future lives.

The problem for schools and government is that these factors are very difficult to measure and if it is difficult to measure, it is challenging to prove, on paper and in a league table, that it has a measurable impact on that student. This is where I begin to get frustrated with our current system which has such a fundamental basis on league tables. Much of what many schools are doing is based on being more successful in league tables – for example, promoting EBACC subjects. As educators, we can agree that positive extra-curricular opportunities help students develop into more well-rounded individuals, so we would not even consider taking these away.

So why would we even consider reducing, or even removing or restricting the uptake of, subjects which do not come under the EBACC envelope? Why do we even have the EBACC? Why is it that schools are measured significantly on their progress in core and EBACC subjects? I understand the logic – we want our country to be literate, numerate and have an understanding of the world around them – but education is more than just words and numbers and certainly more than a grade on a piece of paper, however easy the grade is to measure.

If we want our students to develop fully, we should be considering the ways in which we can give them a well-rounded education, in addition to supporting their reading and writing. We should be giving them the opportunity to explore lots of different things and challenge them with many varied concepts and ideas across a wide and varied curriculum. I fear, however, that until someone creates a way of measuring social progress without an exam grade, we may be fighting a losing battle with a PM who is determined to focus on the core.

But a few more trips wouldn’t go amiss.

Is our system of reporting to parents fit for purpose?

Each year, I spend somewhere in the region of 70 hours (outside normal working hours) writing reports which are to be sent home to parents. These reports are meant to give an overview of the student’s progress throughout the year and inform parents on their child’s strengths and weaknesses. I get the feeling, however, that the time I am spending has very little impact on the student and their progress.

My school has recently focussed on impactful assessment and feedback, encouraging us to spend less time writing detailed feedback and more time getting students to respond to feedback. This has been largely successful – teachers are spending less time marking and students are gaining more from the feedback given (win-win!).

We have not, however, extended this new mantra to report writing. As a teacher of a creative subject, this is one of the most stressful parts of the year due to the sheer volume of reports that I must complete. It varies each year, but I usually have to write 400-500 reports yearly, each containing an adequate and imformative assessment of the student. If I am unable to provide an individual report, I feel as though I have failed in knowing my students.

After a number of years of writing highly personalised reports, I am becoming disenchanted as I don’t believe that they are impactful – I am unable to see that what I write in the report has any impact on the progress of the student in my classroom. This is in stark contrast to parents’ evening, where the change in a student’s attitude to the lessons is immediately noticeable.

The difference between the report and parents’ evening is that parents are able to respond to my feedback immediately and I am able to respond to their response. They can ask me questions about my comments and I am able to obtain a bigger picture for that student. When I send home a piece of paper with some comments on, I have no idea if the parent has even read the comments!

In an age where technology is growing, I wonder whether the paper is fit for purpose and we should consider if there are alternatives to allow more dialogue between teachers and parents, as demonstrated in my parents’ evening example. There are many ways of approaching this – whether it be digital reports with comments boxes for parents, or even the expansion of parents evenings, but we really must start to consider how efficient the system is and if there is a more efficient alternative.

Traffic lights are the cause of all society’s problems

On a number of occasions, I have been mocked by my colleagues for my level of disdain for our country’s roads. Our roads demonstrate every negative aspect of society and there is one significant culprit – the traffic light.

In our education system, we aim to help students develop into thoughtful individuals who have the maturity to question what is presented to them on a daily basis. We promote thoughtfulness and politeness, helping students to consider the needs and feelings of other people.

The humble traffic light may seem like a simple road accessory; however it entirely strips away all of these qualities that our education system has enforced and is one of the reasons why, at times, road users get so irate and so irrational. The traffic light is an inhuman beast which tells us what we are to do with no concern for us as individuals. The red lights tells us that we must stop and we believe that the green light gives us the right to proceed. There is no humility, no sympathy, no understanding of feelings or mood. We are just another car, a number in the system.

I have experienced a number of occasions when traffic lights have stopped working and something magical happens – drivers are courteous, thoughtful and considerate, all the qualities that we try to instil at school. We are able to respond to other humans and this makes us kinder and more pleasant drivers. The traffic light is a competition – something that we are aiming to beat, whereas another human has feelings.

Whilst this may seem like a tirade against the idiotic traffic light, it also has a bearing on the way in which we run businesses and, more importantly, education. With the ever-increasing prevalence of technology comes the increase in automation, even with the suggestion of replacing teachers with robots or videos. The way in which we, as humans, respond to traffic lights should sound warning bells in our minds – will students respond as positively to an inhuman teacher as they would to a person?

Next time you are sitting in a traffic jam, consider that question.

Are we ever safe on the internet?

Following the sudden focus on social networking in my school, I thought it was a good time for me to post some thoughts on the safety of social media following the excellent post by Mike Tidd on TiddTalk.

I have always been interested in the security of social media, and have kept up-to-date with the developments that sites like Facebook and Twitter have made to their security settings. I was particularly aggravated when Facebook removed the feature which stopped people searching for me by name.

When I decided to become a teacher, it seemed as though everything that I learned through my own interests was going to be lost and my vital connection to friends across the world would disappear. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we should get rid of our social media accounts and, at least, we should change our names on facebook so we would not be found by students. Many of my teaching friends now have accounts which bear their first name and middle name rather than their surname.

This technique is all well and good if your friends do the same thing, or you are not friends with anyone you work with. It only takes one stray teacher account for students to access your account as students are not stupid – they know our first names and can work out from profile pictures that it is you.

My greatest problem with this technique is that it provides a false layer of security and those who are less experienced can be fooled into thinking that they are safe. The honest truth is that if we want to ply the internet with our personal lives, we are never truly safe from students finding out. Whether it be an inadvertent share by a less vigilant colleague, or a mistake on our part, we must always assume that what we say can be read by those whom we would prefer it not read by.

I have developed a technique with my students over the past few years – you always get questions from them as they are naturally curious. I tried, at first, to deflect the questions and not answer them – things like “What’s your first name?” and “How old are you?”. Punishing them for showing qualities which we promote in the classroom is not an option; we want them to ask questions and find out about the world. Now, instead of avoiding the questions, I just answer them straight out – the game of finding out is then immediately gone and they leave me alone. We should do the same with social media.

On a number of occasions, students have said to me “I found you on facebook”. At first I used to panic and think that I would get into trouble – my PGCE lecture on social media had made me panic about such situations; I had made a mistake and was not secure enough; however now I am more experienced and say “Ok” and very little else. I am secure in the knowledge that they can find me because I know that there is nothing interesting there. What they can see is boring and normal – and the game of the teachers on social media is gone.

We are never safe on the internet, but we should not avoid using it because we are worried about students. To remain as safe as possible, we just need to consider what we share.