Saturday, 18 June 2016

Where does the time go!

Wow, I hadn't realised it had been so long since last posting! This year has seen so many changes in terms of the new A-Levels, new GCSEs and the potential for 'life after levels'. My only hope is that whatever happens politically someone stops and says perhaps teachers (and students and their parents) have had enough upheaval in recent years and leave education alone!

Anyhow, that brings me on to my posting now. I am preparing for our exciting new History course, I think the students will love the options we have gone for. There are some wonderful options being offered by the exam boards including my favourite Crime and Punishment. I've found myself re-visiting sites, books and topics that I used for my undergraduate degree in particular the proceedings at The Old Bailey. The only danger is it is so easy to lose yourself following cases, readings and crime stats! But, a thoroughly fascinating way to lose a few hours nonetheless.

This term has also seen exciting planning with regards to one of my other areas of interest WomenEd we had a fantastic regional training session earlier in the year where the direction and next steps were thoroughly discussed. There have been tea parties to celebrate the first birthday, regional meets, publications and planning has already begun for the next unconference in October. It has been so exciting and rewarding to be part of this. Not only have I had the chance to meet and work with some incredible and inspiring women but it has given me a renewed energy and confidence.

So the next big step will be exam results day, with the sheer hard work and effort that young people have been putting in I just hope that certain newspapers refrain from their usual 'exams the easiest they have ever been' style headlines. It only serves to belittle the achievements of students and to upset those who haven't got the grades they hoped for. So as this academic year prepares to enter its final few weeks I hope everyone is where they want to be!

Monday, 1 February 2016

A taxing taxonomy?

Not, perhaps the most original of titles...

However, something that has concerned a large portion of my waking thoughts has been linked to year 11 revision! As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost I think as teachers we may be more stressed about exams than some of the students. Something that then got me thinking was the implicit assumptions I am perhaps guilty of making. The things I take for granted. This led me to looking at Solo Taxonomy and the way I can apply it to my teaching and student learning.

That is not to dismiss Bloom's Taxonomy at all, and I think that the hierarchy of skills does successfully represent different levels of thinking. What I think is that often we can take for granted that while students may be able to meet some of the higher order thinking skills this does not mean they do not need support in linking some of the elements of the earlier thinking levels. This is one of the things I quite like about the Solo Taxonomy is that students are focusing on seeing and developing connections between elements. The 'levels' or 'steps' of the model, this is not to limit it to being a step-by-step unit.

  • The first stage is seen as the pre-structural stage, where a student may not understand a task or be able to identify any relevant knowledge.
  • The uni-lateral stage is where the student is focusing on one area of detail, they may feel that they can only identify one area of information.
  • The next step sees students beginning to include more detail but they see the details as being distinct or separate, this is the multi-structural stage.
  • The penultimate stage, the relational stage sees the student making connections between the identified detail or knowledge.
  • The final stage, extended abstract sees the student conceptualising the content/detail/knowledge at a higher level. The student is now beginning to see where this connected (relational) model fits into wider topics. For example: a student being able to see how the Scientific Revolution impacted upon wider society, media/art, religion or politics.

I can see how this model can be applied to support student progress and development in that it encourages students to focus on connections and the impact of events/actions/people upon the wider world. One way of demonstrating is through the use of hexagonal models, the interlinked models that get produced show how events cause other events and the way in which the consequences and relationships spiral beyond the opening concept or piece of detail. If you are using Solo Taxonomy or hexagonal models and have thoughts or ideas please do share!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Getting women involved

Just a quick place holder. This evening saw an incredible discussion about 'How could WomenEd be promoted with women coming into the teaching profession?'

The reason why this is such an important question is that WomenEd is rapidly becoming an important movement. Last October saw the first unconference, with more events planned for this year. This is a growing movement, growing in number, growing in skill and hopefully growing in influence. This is a powerful collective of educators with a range of stories, experiences and backgrounds.

This alone, makes it something vital to share with new teachers. With frightening news reports suggesting that '53%' considering leaving the profession in the next two years. We read reports about low morale, stress and mental health concerns, the article also talks about workload and stress. Talking to teachers this is a growing fear and problem. WomenEd offers the ability to connect teachers, to support them not only in career progression but in their career. I blogged previously about delivering a session looking at managing your mental health. This is an area where making connections and links with a network like WomenEd will help, it provides support and lived experiences. New teachers can see that not only are they not alone, but that others have felt this way before.

One of the key factors that was raised time and time again during the discussion was the importance of publicity and Initial Teacher Training. Making those links with ITT providers to ensure that WomenEd material is shared and the message is given to students. This not only builds the network but again provides that support net. The challenge will be in building and maintaining that network, making the initial contact and then reinforcing it. One potential would be for ITT providers and schools to identify a lead teacher who would support female staff and make/maintain the links to WomenEd.

This led onto a discussion about how you would promote WomenEd to ensure that schools knew that it existed and what it was. Part of this was about staff identifying their aims and goals, and acknowledging that this might vary regionally. Did teachers want takeaway items like pens and mugs to use within school that promoted WomenEd as a concept, encouraging staff to research it. Working in the way that an ad campaign might. Or creating a shareable network of videos or articles, tangible items that could be shared within the profession and added to, to build the collective community story.

Anyway, that is all I have time for this evening. But, the proper write-up will follow shortly. In the meantime if you have suggestions about promoting WomenEd and how to share and build the network please do comment, and share!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

#WomenEd Unconference

So, had an amazing day at the first WomenEd unconference yesterday. Kindly hosted by Microsoft, at Cardinal Place. The day opened with some inspiring speeches that helped not only put you at ease but remind you why you were there. It was a non-stop busy day, and I won't lie I was shattered on the bus home, but it was definitely worth it.

The first session I went to was about Feminist Leadership; an incredible discussion led by Kay Fuller that really got us not only thinking but talking about what feminist leadership was and what it looked like in the educational world. I came away with so much to think about, and so much more that I wanted to find out. So a huge thank you to Kay for such a wonderful start to the day.

I then went to an interesting discussion about the use of academic work and research in informing the public debate about social justice in education. This was chaired by Dr Ruth Boyask and the discussion that followed got me thinking about the dilemma that we seem to have in education. We have politicians making educational policy who have not taught, or lack the long-term experience of education. What can work in a manifesto may not work in the classroom, and this was what we discussed. The trouble we found was how you encourage people/schools to try out educational theory, research it in meaningful depth and then use this to feed into policy. A fascinating talk, with a lot of food for thought.

It was a quick sprint over to the auditorium for the next session, which was absolutely packed. This was to hear Jill Berry speak about how every teacher is a leader. The session was full of fascinating anecdotes and experiences as well as practical and realistic advice. Jill was an engaging and honest speaker! I particularly liked the admissions about her thesis (a kindred spirit!) The encouragement to think about support, mentoring and leadership was so important. This is the only way that as women we will begin to break the glass ceiling in terms of leadership and challenge.

Finally I went to an incredible session titled 'You can't be what you can't see' led by Bennie Kara, this was a session exploring the importance of diversity in leadership. The only way we will encourage current students to consider education or leadership is by showing positive role models, this is something we all need to engage with. To ensure that our students, and colleagues, can be the best they can. Some really interesting points came out during the discussion that certainly got me thinking.

Then came my session! I led a session looking at how you can manage your mental health. It started as a discussion about what had brought colleagues to this session, which included some poignant and powerful examples (if that isn't cliched to say that). I was so grateful that people had the bravery and courage to share some of these things. A year ago I certainly don't think I would have had the courage to have done so. This is why #WomenEd matters, if it encourages just a handful of woment o be that 10% braver it has already achieved so much.

A truly amazing day!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Managing your mental health

Exam results are in, tears, happiness, surprise and shock. (and that's just staff!)
Amongst all of this teachers across the country are gearing up to return to the classroom, some familiar classrooms and some to new sites. With that brings the excitement of new students, new expectations and new stationery (or is that just me?). However, we must also be realistic and acknowledge that with this there will be teachers already suffering from stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. Many will, like me, go undercover and be unnoticed by all bar those who really need to know.

Afraid that if we are honest people will question our ability to cope, to teach and to manage. I used to be afraid that if I admitted to mental health problems then people would judge me, find me wanting and not trust me to be promoted. This is my own fear, but that doesn't mean that it didn't impact further on my mental health.

I am really interested in hearing your stories. How have you managed or maintained your mental health in teaching? You can comment below or catch me on twitter. Thank you!

Thursday, 25 June 2015


It's that time of year when the outside world expects us to be winding down. Perhaps people keep mentioning gained time. Maybe you have lots, maybe you have none. Either way as we hurtle towards the end of term I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the 'to do' list keeps getting longer. There are so many things you feel you need to tie up or resolve before the summer term. Every day seems to bring a new project, task or item that requires attention, interaction or a solution.

What I am essentially wondering is how people maintain morale? Do you celebrate the end of term with colleagues or your department? Do your school put on an end of year meal to reward staff for hard-work? Please share your experiences!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Exam pressure and revision techniques

Who is more stressed and worried during this period?!

The inevitable articles will start as we near the results days in August that this year's exams were easier than ever. That we will see more and more students getting the top grades, implying that teaching standards have dropped and students are not working as hard. This isn't fair on anyone, having seen the amount of work that students are putting in and the stress that it is causing them, it belittles the work that us, parents and students are putting in.

Every year we teach students not only the content that they need, the exam techniques and skills but also the ways in which to revise. There was a fascinating article from the BBC about different revision techniques and the success or hindrance that some can play.

As someone who loves their stationery and nothing more than colour-coding both their notes and work I've been a fan of highlighting when working. The BBC article, linked above, raises some interesting findings about this approach. That upon reading actually make a lot of sense; the idea that highlighting sections or sentences at a time means you are only focusing on one concept or issue at a time. Rather than building the bigger picture or connecting concepts, which for many subjects is essential.

Making summary points
This is an interesting one with Professor Dunlovsky suggesting that summaries do not help that much. Stating that students who re-visit and re-read learn as much as those who are making summaries as they read. This is an interesting finding, I found (or thought) that when I was at university this was something that helped me. Although I did make summary notes as I went along, as well as part of my revision.

Memory aids/mnemonics
Useful but with a caveat that they are only really of benefit for short bits of information, like remembering the order of the planets or colours of the rainbow. Rather than being of use for longer passages. This is perhaps not surprising. What was surprising was the suggestion in the research that this approach didn't work for subjects like Physics or Maths. I remember at school being taught a number of mnemonics for both these subjects, although as with other things I revised the concepts and tested them out as part of my revision, so perhaps it was that they played more of a role, rather than the mnemonic. Which brings me nicely on to the findings about what worked well.

The successful approaches
This is based upon the research as discussed in the article and I do appreciate that individuals may still find different techniques work well for them. Spreading out revision over a longer period of time and testing yourself regularly were found to be the most effective. This is not surprising, giving yourself more time enables you to review, check and test your understanding in the hope of cementing it fully before the exam. I am sure I am not alone in suggesting that students start revising before May! Planning ahead and revising your subjects over time, acknowledging that you have possibly at GCSE 10 subjects to revise and balancing your time, rather than trying to revise Biology in one block before moving on to Chemistry is the sensible approach. This ensures you are doing little and often rather than trying to 'cram'.

As we are well under way in the exam season there is still time to work on revision! Whilst research has identified the statistically more beneficial approaches, any revision is better than none!