Assessing learning under the new National Curriculum

Ofsted’s inspections will be informed by whatever pupil tracking data schools choose to keep. Schools will continue to benchmark their performance through statutory end of key stage assessments, including national curriculum tests. In the consultation on primary assessment and accountability, the department will consult on core principles for a school’s curriculum and assessment system.

I’ve never been a fan of levels, they are arbitrary and confusing.  However, I really worry that the changes announced here will mean high stakes testing in the style of Massachusetts.  I could be wrong.

Change and Continuity – Pupils’ ideas

change sign‘and then, just like that, everybody just forgot, and they didn’t accuse people of witches anymore’

Jenny has turned a process of change into an event.  Someone important made a rational decision that everyone accepted forthwith.

So, I’m thinking about ‘change and continuity’ – one of the concepts from the National Curriculum*.  We’re re-thinking our ‘Stuarts’ scheme of work, and I think that this might be a nice opportunity for LHS students to consider some aspects of change and continuity – specifically the theme of ‘who ruled’.

I like to have a read before launching into something, though that has not been possible this time, we’re already well into planning the skeleton scheme of work.  I’ll use the reading to tune the lessons that emerge.  A good place to start seems to be ‘How students Learn History'(1), and the chapter by Peter Lee on ‘understanding history’ which deals with the ideas that pupils bring with them to the classroom about change and continuity.  As I read it strikes me how many links this concept seems to have with others.

It’s really interesting that students’ ideas are so interconnected with the world around them (and also perhaps so bleedin’ obvious!).  For pupils, according to Lee change equals events.  An when there’s no change, nothing is happening.

Lee uses the common place idea of ‘nothing happening’ to illustrate the difference between the way that students equate periods of seemingly un-eventful history with the bits of their lives when ‘nothing happens’.  Lee points out that historians are unlikely to agree that ‘nothing happens’ in historical time, and instead use ideas of continuity.

So, whilst pupils might think about periods of ‘nothing happening’ interspersed with events which are ‘changes’, historians think about states of affairs and change as part of a process or processes.  Lee convincingly argues that seeing change as an event and being unable to appreciate the notion of states of affairs means that pupils are restricted in their understanding of processes, which are in themselves often conflated into events (see the quote from a pupil at the start of the post for an example of this).

The idea of ‘theme’ is very important to Lee’s conception of change and continuity.  Pupils will be unable to appreciate change and continuity unless they’re able to think about direction and pace of change.  In order to be able to do this, a theme becomes necessary – otherwise the enormity of the past (whether recoverable or not!) becomes overwhelming.  Themes are therefore selections, and the choice of theme itself can be teleological (think “the rise of the west” and you’re perhaps in the right ball park).  In our attempt to understand the story of something we might, in fact be creating that story and ignoring the way that other stories crucially affect it.

Pupils seem to think that the direction of change is mostly positive, an idea related to the preconception that people in the past were intellectually (and perhaps morally) inferior to us.  I can vividly remember a year 7 explaining that we are evolving into better creatures, and that Tudor people weren’t as evolved).

Lee doesn’t mention this, but I would argue that once we talk about themes, direction and pace we’re into the realms of chronological understanding.  The concepts of causation and consequence are also inherently linked to that of change and continuity; pupils’ ideas of ascribing individual ideas and decisions to causation, inevitability and classification all therefore arise.

*A new UK Government took office on 11 May. As a result the content on this site may not reflect current Government policy. (nicked from the new Department of Education website!).

Change and Continuity

Darwin's Tree of LIfe by Colin Purrington

I’ve just posted a quick trawl through the web and through the OUDE PGCE handbook reading lists on ‘Change and Continuity’ as I’m planning a new SOW with a colleague at Little Heath School for teaching next year.  As we were discussing it I suddenly realised, that I need to know more about the idea, before I can teach it.  So – here‘s some light reading!

ICT with the interns at OUDE

This session on homework and ICT is going to start us thinking about how we can get around restrictions on the use of ICT in schools (mainly a shortage of available computer suites for history classes) and still enable our pupils to use ICT to help their learning.

I’m planning this morning around two central propositions:

  1. great learning with ICT starts with great planning; and
  2. we can use the ICT that pupils have access to outside lessons to help them learn history.

So, we’re starting with a look at wallwisher – with the central question being ‘what’s the point of homework’. I’m hoping that by considering the purposes of work outside of the classroom, we’ll start to think carefully about how ICT might help support some of them.

After that we’ll look at an online spider diagram which considers some of the reasons we might set homework.  I want to show that there is more than one way to get ‘brainstorming’ or crowd collaboration going in homework, depending on the kind of thing you want to do.

After we’ve got our basic propositions settled we’ll move on to looking at three ways of setting homework that achieves some of those reasons.

  1. Yacapaca
  2. Voicethread
  3. Blogging (you could also try edublogs or edmodo)
  4. Feedback, and the results of feedback
  5. Film making

When that’s done we’ll take a look at my ‘51 things to do with ICT for learning‘ and have a cup of tea.  After break, I’ll be supporting interns in creating their own homework using ICT for learning.

More differentiation – or access and challenge for all.

I’ve just published a second page about differentiation, or ways to enable all students to access the learning in your classroom, whilst offering support and challenge at the same time.  I’ll follow it with a third, a long (and probably growing) list of ways to ‘differentiate’.

thinking about differences shouldn't drive learning…

I’m still thinking about my second page on differentiation. In the meantime, something I saw on twitter has inspired me on the same topic. I’ve already posted on the blog about how much damage is done by ability labeling (and perhaps even more by ability thinking). By way of example I’d like to point out this web page, which I’ve been directed to a couple of times now by a twitterer (and someone I respect a lot actually).

Here’s the top of the page:

as you can see, this page is designed to help you ‘differentiate’ between the bright and the gifted child.

I have loads of problems with this.

  • Firstly, bright at what – maths, language, music, sports, all of these, some of them, all the time?
  • Secondly, look carefully at the list – don’t all children exhibit some of these characteristics. Aren’t all of them capable, on different days, of doing some or all of the things on these lists?
  • Thirdly are these children condemned to be merely ‘bright’ for ever? Can’t they achieve giftedness, or should we pat them on the back and say – toddle off bright child, learn something technical by heart and prepare for those tests you work so hard for. Meanwhile do we let the gifted child run about discovery learning, stopping only to ace the odd test without stopping to sit down?
  • Take another look at that ‘gifted’ list – hmm, what would be condemning a student to if we expected him or her always to ‘prefer adults’, to always ‘already know’?
  • Finally, what I really really have a problem with is the sense that we can do nothing for either of these kids, that the gifted, the bright, (presumably also the not quite as bright, the fairly dim and the dunderheads beneath these two) have their courses plotted in the stars, inescapably fixed. Oh, wait, there is something we can do – we can get the gifted one to do it a couple of times for ‘mastery’ whilst leaving a bit more time for the bright one to do it a few more times, we can ask the bright one to copy things really really neatly whilst the gifted one floats about intensely inferring things. What if, one day, the bright one makes a brilliant inference? We might not notice because we’d be helping the ‘gifted’ one through an existential crisis caused by him or her finding something too hard for them to do intuitively.

The Difference Engine

We’re about to start the last term of my time as a tutor on Oxford Uni’s History PGCE. It’s been quite an experience, and although I’m looking forward to congratulating the interns at the end of the course, and I’m excited about the new responsibilities I’m picking up in September, I will be sad to loose such close contact with a really incredible bunch of people.

During the first part of the year, whilst the interns were on their “J” or joint weeks, I had to re-examine (and in many cases re-discover or redress) my thinking about lots of different aspects of history teaching. I’m a relatively inexperienced teacher, having started teaching in september of 2003, but even in that time I picked up may practices that I just ‘did’. Some of these things worked really well (others perhaps less so), but I didn’t really examine why I was doing them.

In writing sessions for the OUDE interns I therefore had a chance to think again, and to learn lots from them, and from Anna Pendry, the lead tutor on the course. I hope in the next weeks to record some of the results of these thoughts, and when I do I’ll post them here.

I’m starting with an article about differentiation. In the past I’ve often conflated thinking about differentiation with whole host of other things, making things easy, helping weaker students to achieve, making different worksheets for different ‘types’ of student, dealing with students with individual education plans, special needs, or specific learning difficulties. Often differentiation has been about ‘bottom sets’ in my mind. These ideas led me to a heady mix of guilt, aversion and ignorance when it comes to thinking about ‘differentiation’. You’ll know from an earlier post that I have been convinced that talking about ‘ability’ is misleading. So, the article is called ‘the difference engine’ and it’s about driving learning without labeling.

ICT for Learning with the NQTs at Little Heath School

I’ve an hour (gasp!) with the NQTs after school tonight, and in that time I want to introduce them to the idea of using ICT for Learning (especially for homework).

We’re to start with a cool voice thread – the NQts will log in (after creating a user name and password in line with the safety guidelines)

Then we’ll look at a wallwisher wall –

Then we’ll have a go at some activities on

And finally, we’ll take a gander at feedback and data gathering using google forms. I’d like you to give me feedback too!

It’s only an hour, so we’ll have to run quickly through the issues – which I’ve helpfully slimmed down into a prezzi!