Making the Government Account for Accountability

In a recent LKMCo article I suggested that ‘accountability measures are eating themselves’ as the DfE are poised to introduce a new performance measure designed to correct errors in a previous (yet-still-to-be-published) measure.
The problem for the new measure is that they didn’t heed the advice of Dr Rebecca Allen who told the government that if they wanted to report on ‘low, middle and high’ ability groups of students then those groups should be comparable across schools.  The DfE did not listen.  In my blog I made the case that this means comparisons across schools are unfair.
Several journalist colleagues therefore declared they will not misuse the stastics. Unfortunately the Telegraph did not comply and wrote a story making the exact mistake I warned against prompting an outcry on Twitter from people using the initial LKMCo blog as evidence.
To further support my point Rebecca Allen ran the figures comparing the DfE’s version of her measure to her more accurate one. The results are fascinating and can be found on her website here, showing that the DfE figure vastly favours schools where students have a high ability profile on entry.
The initial defence was that this was because the data was not readily available to the DfE. Rebecca Allen disagreed. The Department are now reviewing the case. I am slightly concerned somewhere a statistician is about to be shot.

The Chilean Change: What happened when they extended the school day?

Michael Gove is either purposely trying to upset the teaching unions or he genuinely believes that a longer school day is essential in ensuring a quality education for all young people.  If it’s the latter, one must ask: Is that belief justified?
In my latest @LKMCo blog I discuss studies on Chile’s 30% time increase in the school day undertaken in the late 90s.  For many years schools had run a 2-shift system with students attending either morning or afternoon sessions only.  What happened when all students switched to one longer session?
Find the full story here.

The Best Books About Teaching

When faced with problems my go-to position is to find a book on the issue and read it.  In teaching I have faced a lot of problems and read a lot of books.  Whenever PGCE students come to me in tears there is usually a book waiting.  Here is a list of my favourites:

Teaching Outside the Box – LouAnn Johnson:  I still try to read this at least once a year.  The first half-term as a TeachFirster is an emotional rollercoaster and I spent most of October convinced I would spend the next two years as a mediocre teacher taking abuse from children and ruining their lives.  This book knocked some sense into me through its humour, practical ideas, cleverly crafted inspirational stories and just a down-right telling-to that you will be fine if you just work at becoming a better teacher every single day.  This book is now battered and worn as I have photocopied so many pages for people and read it on so many holidays.  Without LouAnn I sometimes wonder if I’d have survived that first year at all.

Fred Jones Tools for Teaching Fred Jones: Packed resource full of tips on behaviour, learning, classroom management: you name it, it’s here. There are colourful illustrations, there is amusing text, there is even a DVD so you can *see* how to implement ideas. Jones is like a massive brick of help that you can turn to whenever things are going really wrong but no-one in your school seems to be helping, particularly with behaviour.
Teacher’s Toolkit
– Paul Ginnis: It’s practically the law to own this book if you are a teacher. Always have it to hand when planning. There are parts on learning activities, behaviour, classroom organisation. It’s fantastic. Looks expensive compared to other books but like a coat that you wear for a decade you will definitely get your monies worth on this one.

Cracking the Hard Class: Strategies for Managing the Harder Than Average Class – Bill Rogers:  In the first year of teaching NQTs/PGCEs are always most tired out because the burden of managing behaviour is emotionally and physically difficult.  This book helps them remember that being in charge of 30 teenage minds 6 hours a day is challenging and requires skill. Rogers gives needed insight into the students’ minds and gives specific things you can do to harness their energies.  He’s a no-nonsense kind of writer, and he’s funny which is always a bonus.

Updated December 2017
I’ve taken some books off that have dated badly and here’s a newer one that I liked a lot recently….
When The Adults Change, Everything Changes: Seismic Shifts In Behaviour – Paul Dix: This book is subtle and brilliant. It goes over the tiny, strange things that children do and gets you to see them in new light. For example, why is that one teacher can raise an eyebrow and stop a crowd while you can’t? It’s not that your eyebrow isn’t adequately arched, it’s about the certainty of the signal and its consequences. These, and endless other ideas, add up to a brilliant way to take your behaviour skills to the next level.

Does Time Perspective Influence Your Favoured Education Policy?

There are two huge fashions in education at the moment. On the one side there are the Ken Robinson followers waxing lyrical about ’21st century skills’ which seem to involve being creative, passionate and using lots of iPads.  On the other hand are those tsk-ing at the frivolity of ‘creativity’ when everyone knows that what you need is knowledge about a bunch of traditional subjects before you can do anything and if you don’t believe them they will undoubtedly point you to Daniel Willingham and some other cognitive scientists backing them up.
When trying to decide whose side you’re on for the future of education, it’s worth pondering the possibility that (a) students need both of these things – skills and facts, and (b) why do some people have a preference for one side over the other?  Sometimes it seems people jump on one side because they don’t like the ‘consequences’ that might occur if the other side ‘wins’. I.e. if the 21st century people win kids will know nothing when they leave; but if the traditionalists win then tomorrow’s childrens are destined to 10 years of rote learning about kings and queens.
Or maybe the side of the camp you fall on is affected by your innate preference for looking forward or back?  Philip Zimbardo – famous psychologist of the Stanford Prison Experiment – devised a tool known as the Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI). Zimbardo found that there are different ways that people think about time: we vary in the amount of time we spend thinking about the past, present and future, and we see each of these in a more or less positive light.  Where one person might have a past-positive view, someone else may rarely think about the past and instead puts their energy into the future.
The ZTPI is a frequently validated tool and research has found that one’s Time Perspective has influence on political values.  It is therefore entirely possible that TP also influences the side people take on the ‘traditional’ versus ’21st century’ axiom.  If you’re a past-positive kind of person it makes sense that you will want things to stay as they are and not race ‘ahead’ to some unknown land; if you never entertain the past in your thoughts it might well seem irrelevant.
The truth – most likely – lies somewhere in between.  Would be a great one for a dissertation project though.

Why I Am Fascinated By Learning Analytics

At the turn of the 20th century, if a person lay dying in bed few options were open to the doctor charged with saving their life.  Though stethoscopes captured some information about the heart and the internal organs that information was extremely limited. The introduction of electrocardiography machines (ECG) in 1904 meant the heart could suddenly be monitored easily and in-depth. Doctors could continually record the various rhythm patterns causing arrests or murmurs and in doing so gained a clearer picture of the interventions required to treat different types of heart stoppage. Myocardial infarctions (no blood getting to the heart) require a very different pattern of treatment to issues of Cardial Tamponade (fluid pressing on the heart) but where doctors previously intervened based only on what they could see and hear their interventions were far more hit and miss; and a miss, for a cardiac arrest patient, usually means death.
Subsequent technologies are equally remarkable in what they have enabled doctors to understand. Before the introduction of Ultrasounds in 1965 no-one saw a baby before its birth. The Thalidomide scandal would never have occurred if their commercial use had been introduced just one decade earlier. MRI scans – a spin-off from ultrasound technology – now means surgeon routinely provide brain surgery on an organ once considered entirely unfathomable.
But why does this matter for education?  At present the classroom teacher is akin to the turn-of-the-century doctor. Though teachers can use their senses to see if students are becoming bored or perplexed – just as doctors could diagnose measles or coughs by sense – teachers are largely limited to what can be seen, heard or intuited.  Sure,  experience develops intuition – like any teacher, I now have a weird knack for knowing a fight will break out 10 seconds before it actually does – but I also believe the research that shows teachers only ever see 5-10% of happenings in their classroom. Other tasks divert our attention: taking registers, visitors at the door, dealing with new students, closing windows, fiddling with the computer. Attention can rarely be fully attuned to a class and when it is our senses can only register the expressions of 30 children for short periods of time before we are once again drawn back to the particular needs of the most demanding child.
Having more information about our students – how they learn and where they are struggling – would be useful in diagnosing misconceptions and enabling timely intervention.  At school the Rosetta Stone computer programme is used with students arriving from abroad with little English language skill.  The programme gathers information about their progress and adjusts tasks so it is just above their current ability. The EAL mentors can enforce a specified % of correctness before students move to the next task and by using the detailed dashboard of their progress in various skills (reading, speaking, spelling, etc) we can give personalised 1:1 follow-up or small group lessons focused on their greatest areas of need. Rosetta Stone acts as the ‘eyes of the whole classroom’ while we can focus on individuals as required.
Beyond the use of ‘computer games’ in school there is also potential in analysing the datatrails learners leave of their past behaviours. This isn’t advocating snooping on Facebook as a new form of pedagogy; it’s more about thinking through what technology can do to enhance teaching. Let’s go for a much more mundane example.  Imagine: Every student in a class has a multiple choice pad – maybe on an ipad, mobile phone, clicker, whatever!  – and at certain points throughout the lesson students answer multiple choice questions using their tool.  Over the lesson the teacher can see if the % of correct answers is going up (a good sign!), or if patterns in understanding are emerging (Table 1 is acing the test; Table 3 not so much), or – and this is my favourite – once answered the technology could show a tick or cross enabling the teacher to re-arrange students so those with correct answers discuss their answer with the ‘incorrect’ students and then run a second task to see if things have now sunk in.
This is a tiny example of what becomes possible as technology provides instant detailed data on what is going on in learner’s minds.  Below is a slideshare showing way more exciting ideas.
Inevitably I hear the doomsdayers tutting, so let me forestall a little: I KNOW THIS IS NOT NEW. In my first year of teaching we had weird multiple choice contraptions purporting to do something similar and they were rubbish. They were difficult to use and took ages to set up BUT at that time my mobile phone could barely muster a non-mono ringtone and the iPad was something akin to ‘futuristic magic’.  The technology has to be correct but let’s not abandon the idea that it won’t be there at all as we move forward.
When digital technologies entered medicine many practitioners yelped fearing it would undermine their natural instincts and professional skill.  When I look at the slideshare show I can see so much potential but it also makes me anxious as it’s human nature to be sceptical of change. But any feelings I have about how wonderful I am and that ‘intuition is enough’ disappears when I realise that doctors at the turn of the 20th century probably were really great at what they did and they managed to do a lot without machines, but heck am I grateful that those machines are there now. Medical technology helps doctors make better informed decisions. The machines do not make the decision; occasionally doctors use professional judgement and intuition before overriding the data, but having that accurate information doesn’t half help point action in the right direction. Our fear of being shown that experience alone is inadequate is not a good enough reason to throw away the possible future provided by Learning Analytics
Learning Analytics -Towards a New Discipline-

2011 Top Reads: Education Bookshelf

I’ve added a new page to the menu entitled ‘Bookshelf’.
Click on it and you will uncover a list of books I’ve read and enjoyed this year.  To be included a book had to either change my perspective on an issue or be one I have recommended to a colleague in the past 12 months.
Look out for future updates.