Category Archives: CPD

Opportunities for development after qualification

Books you should read?

I was alerted to this list by this tweet.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not read many in total (ok, it’s one, and I bet you can guess which one).  I’ve bumped into bits of the others, and ideas from them. That’s not to say that I have not read other books on education – obviously I have, and currently I’m finishing two that I started last year. I tend to read them more slowly – just as I do everything, as I find I really need to understand their arguments.  It’s the same way with books on the philosophy of history.  I once spent an entire evening going over one sentence in Developments in Modern Historiography. I did get it, eventually. I’m a slow reader, just as I am a slow blogger!

So, I wondered what else people might add to the list.

I’ll start with

Social Theory and Education Research: Understanding Foucault, Habermas,Bourdieu and Derrida Edited by Mark Murphy

and

Reframing Educational Research: Resisting the ‘what works’ agenda edited by Valerie Farnsworth and Yvette Solomon.

Oh, and I bought the Hirsch.

Historic Environment Studies – AQA in more depth

Water in English Gardens (22 of 33) | Hatfield House Gardens, Hertfordshire, UK.Last week I took an overview of all the environment studies. Though they’re (mostly) worth around 10% of the GCSE I wonder if they’ll be giving many HODs and teachers something to worry about as they start to think about their choice of board and specification. This is mainly because they concept of an historical environment study will be new to many teachers, especially those who have been doing modern world teaching (as I have).

This week I want to look more closely at AQA’s offering. They’re interesting because they are so closely embedded in with the depth study that they’re associated with. The questions allow students, (actually require) students to use their knowledge of events and society in the period studied, it’s fashions and pre-occupations in writing answers.  This means that the period study content should be read side by side with that of the H.E. study. Also, the kinds of locality that are implied for each H.E. should be taken into account when planning which unit to teach.

The Medieval Units

The two early periods have a strong military focus.  The Norman period could imply studies of early castles, such as Pevensey, whilst the Medieval unit, with it’s focus on the conquest of Wales suggest the development of castles such as Builth Castle in Powys.  The earlier Norman period has a focus on military tactics and innovations that is not present to the same level in the Medieval study, though both units mention battles that could be the focus of future H.E. assessments.

However, both also have strong social history aspects. So, whilst the Norman period has a focus on the village which would enable the board to set a medieval village location, and a focus on the changes that the Normans made to Cathedrals and churches, the Medieval study focuses on the development of towns.

The Early Modern Units

The Elizabethan unit is the one I find hardest to pin down to particular locations, or types of location. The focus on the rise of the Gentry and of living standards might mean a focus on the homes of the nobility – indeed this is the focus chosen for the specimen assessment material.  We could also read into the content on the church a study of Protestant or Catholic places of worship.  The spec also mentions theatres, so putting a tenner on the Globe being one of the locations might be an option.

The unit on the Restoration has more to go on in terms of possible focuses for H.E. locations. Theatre is an obvious choice, as is Medway in Kent, the scene of a famous naval disaster.  The big star of this unit seems to be London, with a focus on the plague of 1665, and the fire of the following year, coffee houses and Samuel Pepys, the focus on fashions and the changing face of the city being obvious.

The Specimen Assessment Materials

Whilst looking at the specimen assessment materials confirms how much these H.E. studies are embedded in the context of each depth study, common threads in the approach to assessment across the studies do emerge. For instance, the questions emphasise the context of each locality, asking about the use of castles to control areas in the Norman and Medieval studies, or Restoration fashions reflected in Bolsover Castle.  The mark schemes show however that there are strong preferences for answers that focus on the design, materials, as well as the symbolism of the various features of the locality concerned.  This is really exciting stuff – students will be given an opportunity to get to grips with the physical aspects of the past that we have not had the opportunity to introduce them to. Additionally they will be asked to think in terms of the mentalities of the past, to understand how buildings and places had such an impact on the minds of those living in the periods we’ll be studying.

H.A. Northern History Forum: Global Learning

Wednesday’s HA event at Leeds Trinity had a stall manned by Pearson which set out their ‘Global Learning Programme‘.  At the start of the keynote we were told of a CPD event being run by the university (and paid for by it too) deisgned to celebrate work being done by teachers on ‘Global Learning’. Global Learning is clearly ‘a thing’ right now.

The HA website has more details of its take on Global Learning, and I understand that they have been helping Pearson to develop the programme, offered on a website here. It’s hard to argue with the HA’s point that

“much of the history curriculum provides a clear context for the current debate about poverty, globalisation and inter-relationships between the countries of the world, and helps students understand the current debate.”

My mind is also drawn back to Donald Cumming’s talk to the SHP conference in July 2014 in which he rightly pointed out that we cannot really understand the history of any country (and perhaps especially not the one in which I live and teach) unless we understand the history of the countries around it and the wider world. Globalisation and global interdependency are not recent developments, and we’re not really teaching history if we deny this to our students.

Whilst I was reading the key aims of global learning cited by the GLP and the HA, I wondered about the kinds of substantive topics that we could use to help achieve these various aims to

help young people understand their role in a globally interdependent world and explore strategies by which they can make it more just and sustainable,

familiarise pupils with the concepts of interdependence, development, globalisation and sustainability

enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality

stimulate critical thinking about global issues, both at a whole school and pupil level

help schools promote greater awareness of poverty and sustainability

enable schools to explore alternative models of development and sustainability in the classroom.

It seems to me that there are many substantive topics that we could use in trying to reach these aims.   I can also see that thinking about these aims could encourage us to think differently about how we can ask students to think about the past from a global perspective.   Most obviously a comparative ‘long view’ approach of the kind developed by  Shemilt and Rick Rogers offers us a way of brining a historical eye to these aims. By comparing and contrasting different modes of trade, causes of poverty and wealth, and the development of campaigns against injustice over time we can help students understand how people in the past have wrestled with these issues.

If I can, I’d like to go to the conference, if only to see what it means to ‘enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality’.  It is this aspect of ‘global learning’ that causes me most trouble, and has since I started teaching.  When teaching histoy we are, in my opinion, teaching a way of thinking, rather than what to think about a particular event.  History doesn’t guarantee that our students will have a particular opinion about a topic, but should aim that they are well informed enough to form an opinion that is well-supported.  There are no single right answers to many historical questions, though there are lots of wrong ones!

So, I need to clear up what it means to be “moving students from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality”, so that I can make sure that I’m not trying to replicate my own mindset or political views in those of my students.

http://www.history.org.uk/resources/primary_resource_7836,7837_127.html

http://globaldimension.org.uk/glp/page/10807

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/global-learning-celebration-tickets-15724652860

Northern History Forum

IMG_0061Last night I attended the Northern History forum at Leeds Trinity University, ran a workshop entitled ‘Playing Games in History’ and met some great teachers, new and experienced.

Ben Walsh gave the opening address, and reminded us of the benefit of asking ‘why am I teaching this?’ every now and then, as well as giving us some fantastic website tips. These included:

Dipity
Time Maps
Chronozoom

I was there to run a workshop, which I did, entitled ‘Playing with History’.  My aim was not to offer any over-arching theory, but just to present (with new teachers particularly in mind) some techniques that I have been honing over the years to keep lessons moving with purposeful pace.   You can find the materials for the talk on this page.

#28daysofwriting Why am I still blogging?

Diamine Orange Creeping Crud? No! Harmless.What’s the point of blogging? Since 2006 when I started this version of the website, I’ve gone through long periods of not updating my blog properly, usually when time is in short supply, or when things are difficult at home or at work. I’m not a confident blogger, and when I’m feeling un-confident professionally, I tend not to blog at all.

I usually like to blog positively – perhaps when I’ve been to a conference or met someone who has inspired me to try something new, or when I have taught something that I feel proud of. I wish this wasn’t always the case however, as sometimes the best thing happen as result of blog posts that express some lack of confidence, or ask for help with something that hasn’t gone as I hoped it would.

A couple of years into my teaching I wrote a post about ‘imposter syndrome’ on my personal blog. This led to me being interviewed by the TES about the feeling that any-minute you’ll be caught out as the imposter you feel you are – that someone will spot that you’re just winging it. I had lots of great feedback and conversations with other teachers who, under the pressure of marking, reporting, planning and teaching (as well as keeping their own lives going) felt as I often do, that no area of my life was getting the attention it deserved. Confessing to my lack of confidence improved things.

There is some evidence that writing about things that make you unhappy or unsure can improve not only your mood, but also your general health (http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338.full).  When I was doing my masters last year I came across a brilliant chapter in Mark Murphy’s (@socialtheoryapp) book Social Theory and Education Research: Understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida (£) about  writing as an act of confession and/or reflective practice, by Andreas Fejes. Fejes relates Foucault’s study of ‘care of the self’ in the Roman and Greek tradition, in which writing was not a way of ‘knowing oneself’, but instead a way of ‘finding the truths one needs to turn life into an art of existence’. Fejes presents an attractive mode of thinking in which writing is not about weighing up our moral worth, or finding out our limits, but instead as away of monitoring our lives, and devising strategies for better living.    He contrasts this with the later Christian tradition of self examination which took on a more moral and judgemental character.    If we take these ideas seriously it seems that how you blog is important – self examination can be destructive or constructive.

Without getting too confessional here myself, I think I would like to try to blog about when things go wrong much more often.  Yesterday I posted about a lesson with a year 8 class that had not gone as I had hoped.  My blog updates my Facebook feed and a couple of colleagues who I used to work with, and whose opinions I value, posted their thoughts on what I could do next time:

My experience for year 8 feedback: 1) be more specific on improvements needed 2) give whole lesson to improve don’t try to do as a starter 3) still have an settling activity 4) group seating plan so students with similar improvements sit together, this then allows you to give extra teaching on s particular issue to several students at once

and

Totally agree with the second point. Maybe students could complete in less time as they get used to it, but it was always the best part of a woke lesson for my science classes. 

My autistic students really, really struggle with this by the way. The range of responses I get includes “if it’s no good just say so” followed by ripping up work; “actually I think you’ll find my way is better” and “I’ve already done it once, why should I do it again?”. 

Slowly but surely we’re getting there by doing tiny bits of improvement in tasks they’ve enjoyed, but they’re so desperately sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism it’s really tough. I wonder if mainstream students with autism struggle similarly, our if part of why ours do is because they come to us feeling like they’ve failed already in previous settings.

So, not only do I feel better because I’ve shared something that I found difficult, but I have gained sage advice from too friends. Perhaps that’s why I’m still blogging?

Ian Dawson is on Twitter.

Ian Dawson is on twitter, and is also promising a re-vamp of his website. If you’re a history teacher, you’ll want to follow him!

Teaching a new topic – some thinking before we start

5875252599_fb66f23735_zI’m teaching a course for an exam board that is new to me, with some new topics next year. As I was thinking about this,  I realised that this was going to happen again next year to all history teachers, when new AS and A2 specs are taught for the first time.  So, I thought I’d record my thinking, partly in the hope that I can hear what others are doing, and partly so I can improve the process for next year, when we all have to do it again.  Inspired by Katharine Burn’s article in Teaching History 154 about approaching the eighteenth century, and by Ian Dawson’s Saturday Night special at SHP2104, I decided to document what I have done to find out about the new topic.

The new topic is Weimar Germany and the rise of Nazi party in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s.  That’s right, I’ve never taught the Nazis.  I’ve been teaching 10 years, and I’m a “Modern World” GCSE teacher (whatever that means nowadays), and I’ve never really taught about Nazi Germany.  Now, that’s not to say that I know nothing about the period.  I have taught it from an international perspective – explaining the failure of the League of Nations, and appeasement.  I’ve even taught old-style coursework about the Reichstag Fire.  However, as I start this process I’m sorry to say I don’t know very much about Germany’s domestic situation in the 1920s and 1930s.  That said, when I started teaching history I knew very little about the Unification of Italy, and now I’ve written a book about it, so equipped with high expectations of myself and a growth mindset… here we go.

Below is a list of questions that I drafted on the back of an envelope.  They are things that I think I should be finding out about as I prepare to learn.  I will try to answer some of these as I go along, but I may also add to the list as I think of things.  If anyone has any answers / suggestions please do feel free to comment, or drop me a line on twitter – you’ll see my feed on the right.

Examinations and Assessments

How do these topics fit in with school and external exam board req’ts?

KS3 – there may be internal assessments, these will impact on your freedom of movement, but they might also help you structure some your plans.

KS4&5 what are examination requirements, topic and question rubrics?

Are there any schemes of work

Colleagues have any?  Do your friends or twitter-mates have any?  Can you re-use or integrate some schemes you’ve used previously?

Banks of resources

Does the department maintain central banks of resources, physical electronic or both?

Eating the Elephant

What are the key dates, half term, assessment?  How should you split up your teaching time?  When are the dates for internal assessments and communication with parents – what impact will this have on when and how you teach elements of the course.

what are they key cultural artefacts?

Books, novels, film (trailers especially good), television, music.

What history should I read?

Last, and most importantly, are there key historians and any key texts that I should be reading?

 

 

 

New H.A. Primary Schemes of Work

Keen to support primary colleagues, I thought I’d pass on this link to new schemes of work from the Historical Association:

At the HA we understand the difficult task that primary schools are facing getting ready for curriculum change this autumn. The HA is here to help. We have been busy working on quality schemes of work free for our members and to purchase for non-members. Published this week to join the units on the Anglo-Saxons and Ancient Greeks already published are units on Benin, local history, a fresh look at the Great Fire of London and Ancient Egypt, plus the Stone Age to the Iron Age. There will be more units following over the summer and autumn, so take a break over the summer and let us do the hard work for you. Why not take a look at our units and keep checking for further additions over the coming months.

SHP2014

This is a very long blog post.  Executive summary:  I had a great time, learned a lot and I can’t wait to get stuck into my new job!

Just after returning from the 2014 SHP conference I tweeted, a little breathlessly:

A week later, and I feel exactly the same.  The week in between has helped me to reflect on why SHP is so important, and why it made such a big difference to me, the second time I have attended.  I think that SHP re-affirms several things that I know about history teaching, but sometimes forget in the hurly burly of the average day, or in the quiet year off I’ve had doing an MSc.

In what follows I discuss what I learned from the workshops and plenaries I attended.  Unfortunately I didn’t go to them all (though I wish i could have).

1. – History teachers make a fuss.

This was the phrase that many of the presenters used, mainly in connection with their love of the use of language, as we’ll see below.  However, whilst I was thinking about this post I realised that history teachers make a fuss about a lot more things than language.  History teachers like to get things right.  That’s probably why so many of them turn up to events like SHP conferences and HA conferences – they want to make their teaching better and better.

Within the last couple of years we’ve seen history teachers make a very effective fuss about the KS2 and KS3 curricula – they were appalled at the cack-handed back of an envelope thinking that seem to have gone into the draft version. I have heard many other subject teachers talk with awe and envy at the disciplined responses that history teachers brought to bear, and the effective lobbying that the subject association used in order to encourage the DfE to make final requirements much more workable.

This making a fuss doesn’t stop at curricula structures.  Time after time presenters and other teachers made a fuss about their own impact on their students.  This is what it should really mean to be ‘child-centred’.  Instead of allowing this tired cliche to be used as metaphor for the vacuous, weak and trendy teaching imagined by many newspaper commentators, we should trumpet the ‘child-centred’ approach that sees Diana Laffin and David Brown constantly assessing the impact of their lessons and ideas about independent learning, and being honest about those that work and those that don’t.   These commentators should also see the deliberateness with which Dale Banham plans for and then celebrates the improvements he sees in the use of language by his students.  Dale’s talk was typical of the attitude I saw in many teachers.  Cool ideas were everywhere, but each lesson, object, source, worksheet, indeed every activity was presented as a way of helping children learn.    This is child-centred learning – making a fuss about children’s progress.

2. – History teachers reject the labels ‘progressive’ and ‘traditionalist’, but they don’t just do ‘what works’ either.

Donald Cumming’s first talk mentioned the artificial debate in the media about ‘progressive’ v ‘traditional’ teaching, and his description was evidenced  in the sessions that I attended.  There were activities that might be labelled as ‘progressive’, such as card sorts, living timelines, source-work and role-play.  There was co-construction, group work, hot seating and post-it notes galore!  However, all of these activities were aimed squarely at increasing the historical knowledge and capacities of our students.

For instance, A telegraph columnist peering through the door of Neil Bates and Paul Sheridan’s workshop on ‘music and songs as a vehicle for history enquiry’ might have mistaken it for a sing-along.  If they’d opened the door and listened only to the great music they might well have been horrified at the ‘left-wing’ anthem ‘the Ghosts of Cable Street’ being played.  This would have been to miss the point however. We used a timeline, the song and some inspired guidance from Neil to learn how the battle of Cable Street has a reputation that it probably doesn’t deserve as the turning point at which British Fascism was defeated.

Similarly, Diana Laffin and David Brown’s ‘fascist pizza recipes’ are just the sort of thing that would go down well at a political party conference, perhaps as an appetiser for delegates hungry to hear about how the ‘Mr Men’ school of history teaching is holding students back.   In reality these pizzas were constructed as part of A level course which emphasises students reading widely around their topics answering questions to help them to see the important parts of their texts, focusing on solid second order concepts like causation and learning to become great historical writers.  The pizzas are used here as a metaphor which helps students to broaden their concept of how causes work, how factors link and mix together.  I’ve seen others use different metaphors such as weather, or geographical features and events in order to help students acquire the kinds of language that support growing understanding of historical concepts.

Several workshop leaders made reference to our autonomy, in one way or another. Donald Cumming’s history is internationalist in perspective, because that’s the best way to understand events like the Norman conquest of England, and he questions the national approach to history that underlies much of the discussion and construction of school curricula as well as the recent calls by Liz Truss to return to a textbook culture.  Neil Bates and Dale Banham both offered techniques and insights to be applied to our own situations and classes, not to be ‘implemented’ or ‘delivered’ but to be adapted by us.

Andrew Payne and Ben Walsh made this responsibility the most explicit – they suggested approaches to working with video and sources from the National Archive, but also asked us how we wanted to use them and change them in our own classrooms.

3. – History teachers want their students to do history but…

At the heart of the SHP approach is the enquiry question, and the desire that students are active historians – that they are learning history by answering questions about it.   Donald Cumming’s opening plenary urged us to give our students the tools of history, so that they would not become the passive victims of demagogues, spin-doctors or conspiracy theorists.  I wrote about this a long time ago and, looking back at the blog-post in which I pondered this ‘transformative’ power of history, I still think that this is one of the most important reasons to teach history – to equip students with historical skills and the trained healthy scepticism that a historical perspective brings.

4. …they also want them to know it.

However, Michael Fordham urged us, in the context of teaching interpretations, not to rush to the profound too quickly in our lessons. He was keen to set his lessons on Tudor interpretations of medieval history on a firm foundation of narrative knowledge, and to emphasis the importance of dates as well as a broad chronological framework.   Interestingly though, Michael’s activity didn’t do this by presenting students with one narrative.  Michael’s pupils were given a card sort, which they put in chronological order, and which they then selected information from in order to create different narratives.  As far as I understood these cards were used over and over again, and different narratives were constructed from the same facts in different lessons.  

This repetition of narrative helped the students learn the story. However, for me this was not a dry ‘facts first’ approach.  Very cleverly Michael seemed to be asking his students to construct narratives from the very beginning, and in this construction to enrich their understanding of the Wars of the Roses.

Michael’s also emphasised the importance of growing teacher knowledge.  Take this scene of the deposition of Richard II, which Michael had asked students to watch as part of a enquiry into Tudor interpretations of medieval monarchs, as an example.

Michael discovered during the conference, from one of the delegates, that the scene was banned during the reign of Elizabeth I, when even discussion of succession was an illegal act.  A performance that included that scene was commissioned by the Earl of Essex just before his unsuccessful rebellion in 1601.

Ian Dawson’s final Saturday night plenary (next year he’s planning on doing a workshop I think) also focused on the importance of knowledge, and the role of the historian in challenging the dominant interpretations of an event.   What looked at first like a kick-about role play on the topic of the importance of the Battle of Bannockburn morphed into a deeply interesting dissection of the process that Ian went through to go from a small tupperware box which contained everything he knew about the battle, to a large bin full of knowledge.  Ian explained the process, with the help of tabards, by which he went from thinking that Bannockburn effectively ended an English attempt to take over Scotland to a realisation that in the period before Bannockburn relations were far better than they were for a long time afterwards.

 

5 – History teachers like books

Last time I went to the conference I was struck by the way that so many of the great ideas for a history lesson seemed to have been inspired, informed or enriched by a book, and often a history book.   This time I found the same, but this time the scope of these books was wider: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall, Normans and Empire by David Bates, The War that Ended Peace by Margaret Macmillan, The Memory Hole by Fritz Fischer, River of Dark Dreams by Walter Johnson, The Code of the Woosters by P G Wodehouse, Red or Dead by David Peace, Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone, Our Native Englan, by J G Cuckow, Shakespeare’s History Plays Manglish, by Lisa Jane Ashes, Arrangement in Black and White by Dorothy Parker, Love Letters of the Great War by Mandy Kirkby, and An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger.  These were just those whose names I managed to jot down, countless others were mentioned.

6 – History teachers love language, and

Christine Counsel’s clarion call to ‘make a fuss of language’ reverberated around the conference, and echoed in all of the workshops that I attended, but the focus was not just on praising and encouraging the use of inventive, descriptive, precise, historical terminology and phrases.  The attending teachers were full of designs, of devious ways of supporting and developing their students’ use of language.

Philip McTigue’s (not @siggi’s as I first thought) traffic lit vocabulary sheet for encouraging more nuanced words for describing change and continuity (I don’t have a picture, but if anyone else does I’d be very grateful 🙂 ).  

Diana Laffin and David Brown’s strategies for encouraging students to read more, and then using their reading to inform the way they described and explained causation.  Dale Banham piled one pragmatic suggestion onto another to help students expand their vocabularies and spot how writers use words to effect.  Christine Counsel herself gave us careless, clumsy, cheerful and reverent pall bearers (in an activity that should be on a Christine Counsel greatest hits album, if there ever is one) to show us how carefully C V Wedgwood chose her words when writing about Charles I’s execution.

7 – History teachers are child-centred-magpie-collector-bricoleur-engineers and jewel-polishing-artisans.

As history teachers we have a uniquely privileged position which also carries a unique responsibility.  We are not guardians of a culture, but we are gateways to all human culture.  I know that sounds pretentious, but bear with me.

We have the responsibility to show our students that human life and thought has been infinitely varied, and to help them appreciate that because something is different from our own experience, that it is not therefore lesser, dumb, primitive or stupid.  

We have to make the distant past more approachable, more understandable. I learned long ago that I cannot just present something interesting to students and know that they will pick it up, read to it or listen to it and engage with it as I do.  History teachers have an amazing skill of turning a source into an interesting point of departure, or seeing a link to their students’ ideas, experiences and perceptions that will help them begin to understand why people lived or thought in the way they did in the past. 

Our subject transcends all others.  We share with English and Language teachers the written and spoken word, with music teachers the emotive power of song and music, with art teachers the extraordinary potential of shape, colour and form to connect, move and inspire.  We have the whole of human culture past and present as a resource, and amazing colleagues that can help us do just that.

However, as Christine Counsel and Donald Cumming urged us, we also have a tradition to pass on.  This tradition is not a great narrative of history, an Island Story.  Instead it is a commitment to the best-possible explanation given the evidence available, it is knowledge that enables students to understand how the past is constructed and used by themselves and by others and a culture of curiosity and exploration that sees every story open to re-examination and every position worthy of historical, analytical consideration.

I was just reading a journal article that described teachers as ‘devious’ ‘bricoleurs’.  These are sub-craftsmen forced by circumstances – by pressure from above and lack of resources – to cast around and take what’s at hand to fashion materials that we can use merely to defend our positions, to make our lives bearable.   You’ll gather that I disagree.  The article contrasts bricoleurs, who have basic knowledge of a many techniques, with engineers who have precise uses for a small number of techniques.

What I learned at #shp2014 was that we are expert-magpies, devious engineers, adept at spotting opportunities and connections and precisely turning these to the advantage of our students.

What is data for? Whose data is it, anyway?

geddit?

If you’re a history teacher and especially if you’re a head of department then you really should be thinking about how you report to parents and to the school about the progress of your students.  If you’re thinking about that, then you really should be reading Alex Ford’s excellent blog at http://www.andallthat.co.uk/blog.html.

Alex’s extremely thought provoking pieces on what it means to get better at history, why this improvement is never linear, and how to explain it to parents and school leaders makes several excellent points.  History teachers need a way of thinking about the attainment and progress of their students, and Alex’s approach is to provide reporting points on specific pieces of work, and to give descriptive feedback about progress.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  A concrete piece of data that SLT can use for reporting, and clear description of what it looks like to make good, or poor progress in history must be more valuable than a number and sub level which no-one really understands, and which is highly open to accusations of grade inflation and inaccuracy.  Coupled with good feedback in class which helps students to understand how to progress, this makes a solid model for history departments to adapt for their circumstances.

Whilst Alex’s model does an excellent job of helping us communicate with parents and school about progress and attainment, I don’t think that it is all we need as teachers to think about improving our practice. I’m not sure that one system can do both.  I think we need to gather feedback in other ways, and produce data that will help us focus on what matters in our classrooms.

One of the big problems with the NC levels was (still is in many cases) that one (blunt and conceptually confused) indicator was used for many purposes.  Most of these purposes were incompatible or difficult to align with the original purpose of NC levels as a final description of what a pupil had achieved at the end of the whole key stage.  So, the same data was used to give formative feedback, to report on progress, to predict GCSE performance, to assess teacher effectiveness, to hold departments to account, and as part of the decision that Ofsted inspectors made in grading a school. It seems obvious to me that such flimsy data could not hold the weight of so much responsibility.

This situation also led to teachers becoming alienated from data.  Data has become something that is done to teachers.  Even when we have reported our own judgements on pupil attainment and progress, these judgements are taken in such away that we cannot use it, either in our teaching or in thinking about how we can improve our practice.  Data has become something to fear, and even to resent as it is quoted back to us in performance management meetings, appropriated in mock Ofsteds or even worse, rendered useless by a rising tide of scepticism amongst our colleagues.

An interesting project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on identifying and measuring successful teaching recommends a blend of approaches using student test scores, student feedback surveys and observation of teachers.  You can read an overview of the project here and their final report about how these three methods could work together here.  It’s the second method that interests me at the moment, as I think that it is something that individual teachers or departments could think about using in the short term.

The MET projects first paper (here) sets out 7 indicators of good classroom teaching which can be used by teachers, especially over time, as a way in to thinking about what aspects of their practice they should think about improving.    I know some great teachers who will take general feedback at the end of a GCSE course say, or when their A level students are about to go off on study leave, but by then it is late in the day for those students, and often such feedback is bland, un-focused and results in very polite comments.  A system which periodically takes feedback quickly using a likert scale whilst a course is going on might offer much more information.  Adding questions about student confidence in particular topic areas would offer even more feedback about what a teacher needs to do next.

7 CsThe 7 Cs which form the focus of the student feedback give clear indications of the areas of practice which need attention, and much more purposeful indications that an NC level or test scores or final grades can give about what to do to help students to learn better in your classroom.  Better still, this data belongs to the teacher – it’s our data, collected about our teaching and can be used to help inform our practice as well as give direction to our own professional development.