Saturday, 30 March 2013

Want An AfL Essay?

Unlike the majority of fresh-from-university PGCE students on my course, my greatest fear has not been teaching, lesson-planning or workload. It has been 'academia' and the horrors of essay writing: I was never the most assiduous of students and left university more than ten years ago. My dissertation on digital music technologies seems like a vision of the future now (it made various salient predictions about file-sharing which have come true) but in academic terms it was a bit shit. So imagine my surprise when my 6000-word masters-level essay was returned to me with a score of 85/90.

The essay is about AfL and is centred on a critique of three lessons I taught on reviewing The Woman In Black. The lesson plans and anonymised samples of pupils' work are included in the appendices. I received particular praise for my varied references which include the obvious Ofsted and Dylan William quotes, but also more up-to-date references from the likes of Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit, Claire Gadsby and Ian Gilbert (@ThatIanGilbert).

If you have a similar essay to write, a particular interest in AfL, wanna read it for your own CPD or just want to be nosy, the essay can be read by clicking the below link. I hope it's of use to someone.

A Critique Of Assessment For Learning: A Case Study

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Blissful/Wilful Ignorance

On the first day in my current placement school, the ITT co-ordinator made it abundantly clear that behaviour in his school was 'not a problem' despite the deprived inner-city catchment area from which his school draws its pupils. Barely ten minutes later he was shakily trying to convince me that the child threatening to break a member of staff's nose and calling him a 'fucking cunt' was an anomaly rather than the norm. I smelt a rat.

Of course, the abominable behaviour I had just witnessed might well have been exceptional rather than typical. But supposing it wasn't (and subsequent experience has confirmed this), what could possibly explain the reason for my being so badly misinformed. It seems that there are two possibilities:
  1. I was being lied to.
  2. The ITT co-ordinator was lying to himself.
Perversely, I wish I could believe I was being spun a yarn. At least if I was being lied to it would indicate that the school knew it had a problem and was ashamed or embarrassed by it. Sadly, I genuinely believe that SLT are unaware quite how appalling the conduct of their students really is.

In the last few weeks a member of staff has been assaulted, a school trip saw a pupil spray a member of museum staff in the face with hairspray and numerous fights and scuffles have broken out in classrooms and corridors. Every lesson is a battle of wills between teacher and students, and the atmosphere among the staff is one of resignation.

But apparently behaviour is fine.

The leadership team in this school either have selective myopia or are fucking stupid. And given that they've managed to rise through the ranks to assume senior positions, I think it's safe to assume that they are not idiots. So what are the reasons for their myriad blindspots?

Perhaps I'm being a presumptuous young pup in thinking I can diagnose their problems. I probably am. But I have a fresh set of eyes and recent experience of working in two very different schools. I am not jaded and have not become acclimatised to the atmosphere and culture of the school - so maybe my observations are valid?

Firstly, I'd suggest that in order to see what's going on in their school, leaders ought to put their iPads down and look around them. Having an Apple product does not make you impressive in the eyes of anyone: they're tablet computers, not the tablets of stone God gave Moses. Talk to people instead of messaging them. Look your staff in the eye rather than taking notes on your little computer. Cast your eyes around your corridors and classrooms instead of staring into your 7" screens.

Of course, in order to cast your eyes around the corridors, you must first set foot on them. Get out of your offices and get into your school. Be a visible presence. Back up your staff. And don't bullshit us that behaviour on corridors is not a problem when there is no way you can know this thanks to your absolute absence from them.

And who told you that behaviour in classrooms was good? It isn't. It's awful. Your presence in observed lessons is not an accurate reflection of anything: your attendance in those lessons is hugely influential. Why not try wandering into some lessons randomly? Or being on the corridors during lesson time to back-up your staff when they might need some assistance. Cowardly cowering in the safety of your offices might make your life easier, but it makes everyone else's harder. Man the fuck up.

And while i'm on the subject, here's some practical advice you might consider: observe your school's behaviour policy. I'm sure you're aware of it - you devised it. Apply it rigidly and consistently or don't bother at all. Don't make exceptions. Don't renege on your agreements. Don't contradict the staff who have correctly applied it.

I understand that you want to be an 'inclusive' school and you want to keep your pupils on site. But if they don't obey the rules, pupils must be punished fairly and consistently. They will respect you for it. Rather, they have no fear of your sanctions and consequences as they are negotiable. As is stands, you pupils couldn't give a shit about your rules - they openly laugh at the poxy ten minute detentions they face for consistent bad behaviour and know that a spell in inclusion will be over before it begins.

Even a green-behind-the-girls, wet-behind-the-ears PGCE student knows that pupils respect consistency and fairness. Set the rules, enforce the rules, reinforce the teachers at the coal face who are enforcing your rules and do not bend or break. Your school will be better for it. Your pupils will appreciate it. It might make life harder for you at first, but that's why you get paid the big bucks.

And given that i'm on an unpaid work placement, you can have that advice for free.