Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Loved this! Marking is about formative comments NOT grades! Cheers to moving kids on and closing gaps!

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Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Context and Motivation

I’m feeling relieved, smug and virtuous because I’ve just marked some books. It feels good because a) it was overdue and, hence, was having that ‘albatross’ effect; b) for a change I am looking forward to going into my class tomorrow without feeling guilty and most importantly c) because I feel like I’ve renewed a connection with my students’ learning in a way that is hard to do any other way; I’ve done something worthwhile which always feels good.

To be absolutely clear, I am a Dylan Wiliam devotee; you won’t catch me doing marking slavishly because someone tells me I should or because it looks good; I only do marking if I think I need to – and this only if I think it will make a difference. I expect my staff to have the same attitude. I’m convinced…

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Mastery is Key

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Recently, I have begun to ponder what a Mastery Curriculum means for SEND learners. On this, Mary Myatt is clear. A mastery curriculum is about “fewer things in greater depth”. When teaching SEND students, this idea is completing freeing. Firstly, because it means that students can have the extra processing time that is often needed for them to be able to fully grasp a concept.

No longer should schools be rushing through topics; instead, educators now have the opportunity to embed and deepen the knowledge and skills of our learners. There is also extended opportunity for those working at a higher level than their peers to begin to use and apply the learnt skill in new contexts. I have no doubt that this is empowering for all learners.

It is therefore crucial for SEND schools to shape their curriculum in a way which has Mastery at its core. In English, this might mean that students are taught topics in a chronological order alongside the explicit teaching of grammar and punctuation. By doing this, learners will have the opportunity to place texts in their contexts and also make links across time. If the learning of new ideas are always interweaved with former learning, the likelihood that these ideas will be remembered and used is inevitably increased.

It is often said that ‘repetition is the mother of learning’. Within a SEND context where students sometimes have difficulty in remembering ideas or concepts, this method would surely be a godsend as they now have multiple opportunities throughout a yearly scheme to utilise and build on former knowledge and skills.

Students with Aspergers often take language literally and of course, sometimes simple statements can be very confusing because of this. Recently, my class has been learning about rounding numbers. One particular student who has shown proficiency at this became stumped when I asked him to circle a number which rounds to 50. Previously, another student became confused when a question asked him to look above and the above section was on the previous page. Despite being a very bright student, they can be stumped by this.

By having a Mastery Curriculum, teachers will have a greater opportunity to expose students to a greater range of terms or statements that are used within the topic area. Exams or tests may consequently become less of a puzzle and these students will have a greater opportunity to demonstrate the skills that they possess.

The potential for improvement in teaching and learning can not be denied. Due to the fact that more time would be allocated to key topics, teachers will be able to present the material in multiple ways. Therefore, presenting topics in a concrete and a sensory rich way before moving on to pictorial and paper based representations is even more possible. This allows learners to have multiple entry points into a topic and provides greater opportunity for learning to be embedded. It’s clear to see that mastery works for students and for teachers.

I am therefore convinced that a Mastery Curriculum possesses innumerable benefits. I am hoping that the value of this is recognised and capitalised on so that all students are able to demonstrate their potential.

The Power in the PIVATS

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I am an English Teacher by trade. I’ve been ploughing the field of the English Education system for quite some time and so, I’ve seen the fads come. I’ve seen them go. So when I first saw PIVATS 4, I was sceptical.

The conversion didn’t take long! I soon recognised that for the world of SEND, it provided a systematic overview of the way that we as teachers can plan and assist our students in achieving the milestones and skills which are so often taken for granted. Regardless of age or ability, there was something there for most learners. There was a step to be attained; a goal to be achieved.

Yet, there are elements which incensed me! How can a student, whose lively is writing and entertaining and filled with myriad devices be relegated to a stage 2 just because their spelling needs work or their handwriting needs a bit more shaping? You see, with PIVATS, students would have to attain all 5 Performance Indicators for a stage before they are allowed to move to another stage. In the areas that pertain to handwriting and spelling this bothered me profoundly! Yes, I know these things are important. They make the journey of life that much more easier to travel. However, we are alive in one of the greatest centuries ever known to man! We live in a Time where software underlines our typing in red when we get it wrong. So surely, these elements, though important, should never hold students back or give a blighted impression of their intelligence when witnessed in a data field?

Although it still irks, I have moved on from things that I can not change. The serenity prayer of life has helped me to recognise something about this new post- levels world that we live in. Previously, when I worked in the KS3 Assessment Group at an old place of employ, I felt that the removal of levels was just another avenue for schools to pretend innovation and recreate the levels from the past. However, as time has past, I have come to realise that there is a life beyond levels. Ironically, PIVATS is central to this.

I started off by giving my students a baseline Maths assessment that would expose their strengths and weaknesses across the Maths Curriculum. Then I developed a colour coded spreadsheet that would clearly highlight where students’ strengths and weaknesses are. Once I did this, I was able to clearly able to see the gaps in knowledge of my students and therefore provide a more personalised curriculum that helped my students to close these gaps. Beyond this, I began to see the potential for me as a classroom teacher. I would be able to use this to identify areas which I might need to approach differently when teaching or areas that required further or research before recapping these elements with my students. As an English Teacher, teaching the Maths Curriculum, I have never felt more empowered in my practice.

So yes, there is power in the PIVATS and it does not rest in the name of a stage. It rests in the fact that when used properly, it can truly make way for progress. If used correctly, this can be an assessment tool which helps to show what our students do and do not know and provide a blue print of where we can take each and every one of them. Of course, some may argue that PIVATS are limited. They only go up to what is roughly a Year 4 Equivalent. For some SEND settings this is sufficient. Where it is not, SEND schools and centres must be bolshie and innovative enough to create a comparative year 5 and above equivalent so that no potential is wasted; no potential untapped!

 

 

SENDT: Autumn Awakening

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about my journey. Yet, I think of my students almost everyday. I think of what makes them sad; I think of what makes them happy; I think of what I can do each day to assure their progress.

I listen to the news, always with an ear for them. I’m always trying to find out something new that I can share and enthuse them with. In class, I tell them “we’re a team” and after saying this, Mr Cheeky announces: “No, we’re not a team. We’re a family!”

In them, I see the circle of life. The better I am with them, the more strategies I use, the more I learn, the more I am able to guide and grow my own little man into the person I want him to be. There are so many fruits to this symbiotic relationship of teacher and pupil, tutor and tutee.

Regardless of politics, boohoos and tears, they are the highlight of my teaching career. Their commitment to progress, their undeniable resilience in the face of endless anxiety gives me courage. Their very presence forces me to reach beyond myself and encounter new and exciting ways of teaching; being at peace; experiencing joy!

SENDT: Autumn Awakening

img_6487It’s been a while since I’ve written about my journey. Yet, I think of my students almost everyday. I think of what makes them sad; I think of what makes them happy; I think of what I can do each day to assure their progress.

I listen to the news, always with an ear for them. I’m always trying to find out something new that I can share and enthuse them with. In class, I tell them “we’re a team” and after saying this, Mr Cheeky announces: “No, we’re not a team. We’re a family!”

In them, I see the circle of life. The better I am with them, the more strategies I use, the more I learn, the more I am able to guide and grow my own little man into the person I want him to be. There are so many fruits to this symbiotic relationship of teacher and pupil, tutor and tutee.

Regardless of politics, boohoos and tears, they are the highlight of my teaching career. Their commitment to progress, their undeniable resilience in the face of endless anxiety gives me courage. Their very presence forces me to reach beyond myself and encounter new and exciting ways of teaching; being at peace; experiencing joy!

Tourettes – A School Teacher’s Guide

1 child in every 100 is affected by Tourettes so it is likely that at some point or another, a child with Tourettes may have sat in your classroom. It is a condition where students move and make sounds involuntarily and uncontrollably. The organisation Tourettes’ Action says “Educationally – TS can make it impossible for students to follow what is going on in class”. Of course, Tourettes can be mild so in mainstream education, we may barely notice it. When it becomes extreme, we do what we can and transition these students into special education where we believe they will be a little bit safer and a lot more accepted. Yet, due to the fact that extreme cases are rare they are still a minority within some special education schools. Consequently, even there, students may face “ridicule, bullying and social exclusion”. As a result, schools and teachers must create an approach to caring for young people with Tourettes that builds their confidence and reduce any aspect of social exclusion and bullying.

Schools can of course raise the profile of this disorder by:

  1. incorporating information about disorders such as Tourettes in the curriculum through PSHE lessons
  2. creating assemblies which raises awareness of the disorder
  3. having facilities and systems which enables students to exercise everyday
  4. having a zero tolerance for bullying and make sure that students who bully or ridicule these students are effectively dealt with

Within the classroom, class teachers are often swamped with a sense of urgency. Whether a student has Tourettes or not, we are compelled to push them to secure progress. However, when you ask this child to cut a piece of paper or write a few sentences, she is reduced to a meltdown or uncontrollable rage as they find this task somewhere beyond difficult. Other times when you might ask her to begin an age old activity, she may descend into despair thinking she’s useless and good for nothing and therefore feels unable to complete the task before her. Therefore, as class teachers we must act to build self confidence and to provide the support which will allow these learners to blossom and fulfil their potential. So the question remains: how?

As a class teacher you should:

  1. seat the student close to the door so that they can make a quick exit if  necessary
  2. provide students with a time out card to use if needed
  3. use lots and lots of praise to reinforce positive behaviours
  4. create a book with positive self talk and positive choices
  5. find out what this student is good at and give them ample opportunities to do this
  6. buddy them up with an understanding student to reduce effects of social exclusion
  7. use a bit of humour to help your student to smile and escape feelings of anxiety and stress
  8. never penalise the student for a behaviour that they can’t help

Of course there’s no one size fits all but I’m hoping that whether as a school or a teacher, you will be able to implement a few of these tips that will help your student to feel right at home.

 

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Building Readers – A Post-secondary Perspective

As Secondary English Teachers our heart is often on inspiring our students to engage with the texts being studied. In this regard, I believe we have been highly successful but when it comes to teaching a child how to read, we simply do not know how to do it. Segmenting and blending for us are linked more to our Sunday Night Baking Sessions rather than to ways that we can teach our kids to read. This must change!

In the paper entitled ‘Reading: The Next Steps’, Nick Gibb points out that in 2009, only 1 in 10 of those who failed to reach a Level 4 in Reading were able to go on to attain 5 good GCSEs. We can not ignore the reality: if our kids can’t read, their chances of success are severely limited.

So we must build readers in our classrooms, we must lift our struggling readers from the fringe and place them deep into the mix of things.  To take this from talk to reality, it is incumbent upon us all to:

  1. Learn systematic synthetic phonics
  2. Offer 20 minute synthetic phonics lessons to all students on a ‘Level 3’ or below in our schools
  3. Utilise synthetic phonics activities as starters in mixed ability and lower attaining groups (so teach the sounds, link to key words and then ask students to apply this by using the key word in the lesson)
  4. Train our high attainers to teach synthetic phonics to their peers
  5. Utilise written spelling tests on a weekly basis
  6. Model the segmenting of words when writing on the whiteboard
  7. Ask your students to read aloud and to sound out and blend words that they might find difficult

Unless we do this, it is undoubtable that our students will continue to be left behind. We can not afford to let this happen. Additionally, de-stigmatising the use of synthetic phonics in our secondary schools is also crucial, which is why it is essential to use it in our starters and make it a regular part of classroom practice.

Bon Voyage!

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An Old Post on Synthetic Phonics

Is your child that 1 in 5? Studies show that only 84% of 11 year olds achieve a Level 4 in Reading. That means that 16% of Britain’s children will have difficulty recognising relatively simple words on a page and even when they are able to pronounce these words, they might misunderstand what they have read. Is there any wonder then when these same children express a hatred for reading? How much pleasure do you experience when something that seems so effortless to others is a struggle for you? Yet everyday these children struggle to understand these words around them and often times, they fail.

In response to this, the UK Government has embraced the teaching of synthetic phonics. This is a method of teaching reading whereby children learn the sounds of letters and letter combinations before being taught how to combine them to form words. The reliance on this method came about through a study of 300 students in Scotland who were taught using this method and as a result obtained a reading age up to 3 years above their peers. It must also be noted that these students did not show a significant improvement in comprehension and perhaps there lies one of the key concerns about this method. It must also be said that the UK government chose to base its entire approach to Reading on a study that happened only in Scotland rather than throughout the UK. Is it right to have a one size fits all approach to reading? Do we all learn in the same way?

Of course there are other approaches to reading such as analytical phonics where children are taught whole words and then later analyse their constituent parts. It must be said that students are taught to read these words within the context of meaningful text. The reading of a word is therefore not done in isolation, it is immediately connected to the other images or words around it. As a result, there is an implication that this method fosters the development of children’s comprehension skills as it is asking children to use clues in order to arrive at an understanding of the text. For many, this type of phonics is seen as a method that has failed even more of Britain’s children due to the fact that in 2001 when it was blazing in its glory, 25% of students were not achieving a Level 4. Therefore, regardless of our reservations, synthetic phonics seems to be reaping better results. Many would even go further to highlight that even boys tend to do better when using this system of reading. For once, they are not lagging dreadfully behind the girls.

Yet even then, reservations abound. This is not because synthetic phonics doesn’t work but because Ofsted now sees it as the be all and end all of teaching reading. Ofsted has made it crystal clear that primary teachers ‘must’ demonstrate a clear understanding of this process. The government is so serious about this approach that six year olds now have to sit a systematic synthetic phonics test. Already some of these youngsters are being labelled as failures when it comes to reading. Or rather, they are already feeling the pressure of preparing for reading exams at a time when they should be enjoying the journey of reading. It is this one size fits all approach which bothers me. Surely analytical phonics still has a place. Surely some students flourished through this method. If not, 75% of the Nation’s children in 2001 would not have been a level 4 or above in English. Therefore, the government must recognise that individuals learn in different ways; that the same approach does not work for everyone. Yet, I must admit that if every teacher is aware of this approach and uses it well, it is less likely that a child will fall behind if they have to move to a new school. There is also a sense of consistency, the idea that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet which makes the playing ground of Literacy Education, a fair one.

 

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The Drowning – Snapshots of a boy with SEN

You have sat him in the seat, next to the door so that in a moment of anxiety he can quickly escape. You are ‘differentiating’ for the boy no one wants to sit beside, the boy whose voice is lost amongst myriad others. He is drowned by the feint noises of their disgust and we can’t save him.

We can’t save him because his parents, though they loved him, didn’t understand that he was different and that he might never grow out of it. They have never heard of SENCOs and statements of needs and in their universe when it is materialised, it is like mosquitoes drifting past the ear on terrifyingly hot nights.

And we can’t save him even though as teachers we have sent him forward for diagnosis and he comes back with paper we helped to produce but barely have the time to read. And though we skim it, we can’t fully implement every strategy or cater to his every need because he is 1 of 30 and there are exams. There are exams; and he’s drowning. 

Tonight, rather than orchestrating solutions, I have a question: how would you save him?

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