Monday, September 27, 2004

 

A question of style

Interesting day today: aside from learning where our first placement would be (starting next Tuedsay, mine is aparently a high level school with a great tutor, which makes me worry what the powers that be have in store for me next term) we were studying learner styles. Although there is anturally a cetain amount of psychobabble surrounding this topic there were some really interesting points, particularly the distinction between auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learners (learners by hearing, seeing, and doing). Essentially some learners pick up much better when there are visual aspects as opposed to the teacher talking, others actually do better from the talking, and others really need to get stuck into a practical application. Not too complicated, but the really interesting bit for me was how biased the current whole teaching and assessement process is in this regard: most teaching is still auditory and most exams are still written, especailly in 'academic' subjects - even practical academic subjects like science are predomiantely assessed througn written exams. This seems to be to bias towards auditory learners - people who can listen to the teach talk and the easily remember and organise it. I am apparentently an auditory learner, and did fairly well in exams at school, more so that others who seemed to be of similar intelligence, but who perhaps just didn't respond so well to the teacher teaching through talking. Obviously organising exams to take account of those who work better verbally or practically may be very tricky, but surely not doing so disadvantage student who might be clever but who can't show it within the current educational framework.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

 

Information, intimidation, inclusion & confusion Part 2

Tuesday like Monday was mildly intimidating though very interesting: I am always wary when people seek to reassure me about something that doesn’t yet bother me at all: last years students wheeled out for a talk were deeply anxious to tell us that despite the fact that it’ll be very very hard work and there’ll be various moments when we want to kill people or at least pout, we don’t need to worry because we’ll all be fine. Well I wasn’t worrying before but I might be soon now. Aside from that though they did give some generally very sound advice to which I may find myself turning when the wotsit hits the proverbial later in the year.

The other talk, though rather more hardcore that I was expecting in induction week, was agreed by all present to be very interesting: the sort of guy who no doubt has the anti-PC mob getting all hot under the collar was talking about inclusion in the classroom. There was a lot of information and a lot to think about in relation to how to identify, deal with, and not deal with inclusion in the classroom, especially discrimination and identifying learning difficulties and other such issues. He was particularly spot on in terms of equality of opportunity not necessarily meaning the same opportunities for everyone, rather the same amount of opportunities that respond to their individual needs. I guess this stuff has even more relation to citizenship than most subjects since part of my thing will be teaching pupils about inclusion too – I may find myself steal…borrowing some of his stuff for lessons.

More induction tunk for the rest of this week before Monday’s excitement of finding out which school are to be burdened with me this term. Given the various far flung places to which I might apparently be sent I am now dreading the words “Great news: we’re sending you to a fantastic school. It’s in the upper Volta”.

 

Information, intimidation, inclusion & confusion Part 1

Arrived at University on Saturday and got fairly settled in: living in a post-grad block, mostly with overseas students; pretty convenient for the university aside in that it’s only a 10 minute walk. Less convenient in that it’s up a huge hill but hey, you can’t have everything. The course proper began on Monday with a couple of introductory lectures: interesting to note that women outnumbered men by about 3:1 (all secondary) which surprised me - I was expecting about 50:50. Various warms up including ‘discuss with your neighbor why you want to teach’. Amazingly no one thought for ten seconds, stood up and said “good point: why the hell do I want to teach”. I did though overhear a neighbor commenting “I always said ‘I’m never gonna be a teacher, never gonna be a teacher’; cos my mum’s a teacher. And now, I’m a teacher”

This was followed by a citizenship students’ meet-up. The tutor and fellow students all seems good though the definite motif of the day was paper and more paper: the first piece of advice out tutor gave was ‘go to Sainsbury’s at lunchtime and get a large carrier bag’. There was also a lot of talk of the many and varied ways in which the course will be assessed: essays, presentations, logs, lesson plans, target sheets and the ability to juggle six flaming hoops whilst riding a unicycle and whistling a hornpipe. Also grabbed lunch with three of the others and had an interesting discussion about our Primary Schools – quite a wide range from “whenever the teacher stood up everyone stopped talking straight away” to “most afternoon the teacher just gave up and sent them outside to play”. Also devoted a few minutes to badmouthing Charles Clarke which is always fun. Less paperwork in the afternoon – mostly discussing what Citizenship means since no-one outside of (some) Citizenship teachers is entirely clear on this point. Also a spot of ‘what do we want to get out of this course’ discussion in which I tried and probably failed not to sound too idealistic. The other end of the spectrum was represented by the admirably honest “a job”. Had a plough through some of the paperwork afterwards and am suitably intimidated, although happily it doesn’t hot up for a week or three.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

 

Two weeks down, several to go

My first school placement, back at my old primary school, is now done and I feel rather sadder than I expected too. The first couple of days were very interesting but by the end of Monday of Week 2 I was getting slightly bored – already written most of the report, lessons getting a bit samey and the class troublemaker starting to irritate. By the end of week two though I was genuinely sad to be leaving; the troublemaker was still a pain but him aside I felt that I had managed to get some kind of rapport going with the class. We’d covered a couple of topics that I know a bit about in week two which had given them the erroneous idea that I’m quite clever and, since the main teachers tended to stay at their desk, they starting asking for my help with the work quite a lot. Most of them had twigged that Friday was my last day and were really nice about it plus, as a special bonus, the last lesson was P.E.: I was fielding for both classes and I caught the class pillock out. Howzat? He was not amused.

I still don’t think primary teaching would be for me, since I find the material a little unchallenging and prefer to teach stuff with more scope for the pupils to exercise original thought but, after a couple of weeks in secondary, you never know - I might run screaming back…

Sunday, September 12, 2004

 

Assess this!

I'm now half way through my primary school experience and I'm actually kind of enjoying it. Returning to my old school is very strange, not least because of how darn small the place seems. The whole eternal mystery of how the teacher always sees everything when they are three miles away at the front of the classroom is solved: they are actually only about five yards off. Naturally there are also big differences: not only are all the pupils uniformed, there are houses, house points and prefects - all things that used to be confined to high school. There are also morning group exercises which seem just a bit Japanese...

But although I am enjoying it, and finding it very interesting, I'm also ready to publish my first semi-rant: testing. Now I don't have a problem with testing in principle - the idea of schools competing for better results doesn't bother me, nor does the idea of these being published in 'league table' *provided* that what is published actually means something and advances education in some way. The problem is that current SATs appear to me to involve a lot of time and effort from schools whilst not producing very meaningful results.

In terms of the exams themselves my first day saw the teacher announce that 'we have to do a years work before February so we can start revising for the SATs in May' - three months of the year taken up repeating the curriculum for a test rather than on learning new things. In the same class the teacher had to mark a student's answer as wrong despite it showing original thought because 'it's wouldn't get a SATs mark'. Other teachers noted that they now have much less time to teach optional units in subjects like history or the arts because they have to spend so much time focusing on the SATs subjects (English, Maths and Science) and material.

But that isn't all: the results themselves don't seem to me very meaningful. Students aged 11 are 'supposed' to reach Level 4 in English, Maths and Science and schools are judged on the percentage reaching Level 4 or 5 but no provision is made for 'value added' - for the percentage of students with English as a Second Language, or mild to moderate learning difficulties, the percentage of kids in a particular school who just happen to be in the 50% of the population that is below average!

Nor is provision made for assessment in others areas, or in general 'socialising' aspects of education. I fear that if the government ever heard this there response would be 'ah, we need SATs for other subjects too!'. But of course all that would do is make the system even more bureaucratic, and this is my problem: either the tests are too simplified to be meaningful or so bureaucratic that schools wouldn't be able to do any actual teaching, so taken up would they be with assessing what they would have taught if they'd had the time!

The other issue is the affect of these, arguably not very meaningful, league tables: a teacher at my school noted to me that Ofsted would not give a very good report to any school that wasn't getting virtually all level 5s, regardless of the pupils’ level before they began. They would then demand 'measures' to boost the scores - my school does a whole battery, including 'optional' SATS for all ages from 7-11, some of which have to be reported to the Local Authority (optional!?). In the current climate of testing, assessing and ranking these tests probably aren't excessive but, and you can call me old fashioned, I'd rather the schools had more time to erm teach...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

 

Pay attention class...

...and I'll begin. Today is Saturday, and on Monday I begin my teacher training course. Although I'm studying to be a secondary school teacher I start with two weeks in a primary school: since I had to arrange this I picked my own old school, for no other reason that it seemed like a good idea at the time. The last of the teachers I knew left a couple of years ago but it'll still be strange to be back.

Whilst at the school I have to write a report on my visit - there's no specific title, but it's basically meant to cover how the school handles Literacy and Numeracy, as well as my own subject area, and to discuss the process for students moving from Primary to High School. Hopefully the direction to take will become clear fairly rapidly, since the thing is supposed to be done around the time I finish in two weeks. Still however it goes I'm sure it'll be good practice since my course handbook makes it very clear that it is only the first in a series of reports, logs, portfolios and written plans that I will be making during my course. All of these of course have to be tied into the national curriculum, which isn't precisely a compact document itself. Haven't even started yet and I can feel the bureacracy closing in on me - I'm sure I will be returning to this topic.

Talking of bureacracy, and it is nearly 1 am so my mind is wandering from topic to topic a bit, returning to full time education has given me the chance of yet more delightful encounters with the student loans company. Oh, how I have missed them: thus far we have had forms that didn't turn up, then showed up three or four times; passwords that I never got, was then allegedly sent and still haven't got; letters telling me that I haven't returned forms when I patently have; and a 'helpline' that now appears to be permanently engaged - methinks with the post A Level results rush now on, they may have just taken the phone off the hook...It will not take much more provocation for me to dispatch a 'you people' letter...

Saturday, September 04, 2004

 

Testing testing

Testing, testing, three seven twelve fourty-six, testing. Worried about the new teachers numeracy test? Not me!

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