Sunday, 26 October 2014

Making The Group Work - Envoying

There has been much debate about whether group work is an effective learning strategy. Harry Webb (@webofsubstance) wrote an excellent post about it recently. For me, the main consideration when teachers are deciding to use group work is whether working in a group will mean that the children will achieve more than if they were working individually.

This was brought home to me in a Y6 class I was in. The children were building Mindstorm robots in readiness for programming them in groups. It was a complicated building process. The group that made the most progress with the robots was the group where different individuals within the group had specific tasks that were then put together at the end to finish the group task effectively. The groups that made the least progress were those groups where the members behaved as individuals just doing their own thing. The result of this was that they achieved no more than if one pupil had tried to build the robots on their own.

If the group work task is set up in a way that this doesn't happen, why bother? Of course there are the possible social benefits of allowing children to work together i na group. However, I would argue that time spent on this should be minimal and probably done at the start of the school year when relationships between the children need to be renewed.

In Harry Webb's post, he suggests that group work is only effective if there is individual accountability. I couldn't agree more. If not, children can either dominate (hogs) or coast (logs).

A technique that I was introduced to by a fantastic headteacher I have worked with on numerous occasions (Kathryn Coiffait) is 'Envoying'. I believe that enjoying meets both of the considerations mentioned above. Please bear with me and I'll explain one example of how this technique could work in a primary classroom.

First of all the children are organised into groups of mixed ability. The groups don't need to be the same size which allows for flexibility in managing potential disputes between children that don't get along. Then the teacher introduces the task, say for example, writing a multi-sensory story setting (an Alan Peat technique). Each group is given the task of collecting words/phrases for a given sense e.g. one group would be doing smell, another sounds etc. Obviously, an engaging stimulus will be given for the children to draw on. Before the children start to work in their groups, the teacher says that one of them is going to be an envoy. As the children don't know who it is going to be at this stage, they know they must all make sure they have the full range of words/phrases collected by the group therefore they cannot coast or dominate. This should take about 10 minutes.

After a period of time, the teacher selects an envoy from each group. This envoy then visits the other groups sharing his or her group's words/phrases and at the same time collecting words/phrases from the group he/she has visited. The members of the group being visited by the envoy have to record for themselves the information the envoy is providing. This is repeated until all the envoys have visited all the groups. This part of the process should only take about 10 minutes.

Finally the envoys return to their groups with a wealth of information for themselves and all the other group members have a wealth of information from the other envoys. The children can then move to individual work to complete their setting descriptions. For this to work, the dividing up of the task for each group has to be thought out carefully. I have also seen it work well in maths where a class were asked to investigate properties of 3D shapes. Each group was given a couple of shapes to investigate in detail. The teacher then used enjoying as a quick way of transferring each group's learning to all of the children in the class.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Embedding Mathematical Vocabulary Using Writing

The idea for this post came from a few bad puns in a Twitter conversation I was having with @grahamandre and +Mike Watson . We were including mathematical words in our tweets. This gave me and idea for how to embed mathematical vocabulary in the classroom.

It is important that children understand key mathematical vocabulary. Often in classrooms this is displayed on working walls as decontextualised lists. Sometimes it is even too small for the naked eye to see from anything more than 3 inches away! I'm not sure how this helps children to get to grips with the vocabulary.

How about asking children to complete a short (or long) piece of writing that contains given mathematical vocabulary that you would like them to focus on? Very much like a writing constraint at the same time. There are some excellent ideas for using writing constraints on @IctMrP's blog and Alan Peat often talks of using writing constraints. If the the children are to use the mathematical vocabulary in their writing, they must understand what it means for the writing to make sense to the reader. Therefore, it should help to embed their understanding in a more meaningful way than a group of microscopic words used to fill a space on a classroom wall.

The genre of the writing doesn't matter. It is more about challenging the children to use the mathematical vocabulary in the correct context. For example, you could provide the children with some form of stimulus for writing a setting description. If the children had been learning about perimeter, the description could include a sentence such as:

The rocky, overgrown garden was surrounded on all sides by a perimeter of thorny bushes.

This is just one example. If you are inclined to give this a try in your own classrooms, please let me know how it went. You can tweet me at @bryngoodman. Hopefully, this could be a way of developing children's written vocabulary as well as their understanding of mathematical concepts. Two birds, one stone. Could tick the cross-curricular box too.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

My Father - An Art Education Pioneer

I am afraid that this post is a bit of a personal indulgence but it does have educational relevance. My father (Ernest Goodman) sadly passed away in September 2007. He was 89 years old and had been in hospital for a short while. In the years since his passing, I have thought about writing about his life and career as I experienced it. However, I never felt quite ready to think too deeply about it as emotion soon took over.

Having become more reflective recently, I began to realise that he had quite an impressive life and career and that if I achieve half the things he did, I would be very proud.

During the Second World War, he served as a soldier and then officer in Britain and Kenya. During his time in Kenya he became fluent in Swahili as he commanded Kenyan soldiers and wanted to be able to communicate effectively with them.

On leaving the army at the end of the war, being art trained, he began teaching at Salford Grammar. While there he met LS Lowry at Salford Art Club, which he founded in 1947 and served on hanging committees with Lowry. I remember my dad telling me that Lowry often doubted himself, saying things like "Why do I do it, Ernest?" Also at Salford Grammar school he directed Albert Finney in a school play and taught the artist Harold Riley.

Leaving Salford Grammar school, he became head teacher at Manchester High School of Art in 1950 This was a secondary school that admitted as normal at 11 but also admitted children who showed a particular talent for the arts at 13+. The school was a pioneering school with regular visitors from around the UK and overseas. During his time at MHSofA, in 1969,  he was awarded an MBE for services to education. For ten years (1971-81) he served as Chairman of The Art Committee of the Schools Council. He lectured extensively on Art education and Aesthetics. He wrote many educational papers on art education that were published here and in the USA.

The MHSofA faced serious threat of closure when I was very young due to budgeting cuts. There were marches through Manchester with Tony Wilson (of Hacienda fame) becoming involved in supporting the school. That battle was won but unfortunately some years after my dad retired, the school was 'closed' under local authority reorganisation and re-opened under another guise.

I remember him once telling me that he had leant some of his drawings to a friend to help that friend gain admission to the Royal College of Arts. Late into his retirement, he began to paint again and one of his paintings has pride of place above our fireplace. In a strange coincidence, when I was on my final teaching practice, I met a semi-retired teacher who had been one of my dad's first pupils when he became head teacher. This led to a happy reunion which pleased my dad greatly.

If you have read this to the end, thank you for indulging me. I am proud and sometimes in awe of what my dad achieved in education and he was a pretty amazing dad too.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Making Planning Work For You

There has been some discussion recently on Twitter about planning. It seems that trainee teachers are expected to plan to the nth degree which in my view is unnecessary and actually demoralising for the poor students that have to do it. Universities clearly want their students to consider every possible angle of every lesson. This is unrealistic and does not prepare student teachers for the their first teaching post. If it did, no qualified teachers would last more than a year as they would have been swamped in planning and probably gone insane.

Having said this, of course I do think that planning is a vital part of the teaching process. I just think that with a little thought, it can be made less of a burden and actually become a useful part of the creative process.

First of all, planning must come from assessment and these assessments must be accurate. This assessment could be in the form of marking and/or assessed pieces of work. I am often wary of commercially produced schemes of work that are set out lesson by lesson, unit by unit. The problem with teaching directly from such a scheme is that you might be teaching things that your children can already do.My advice with schemes like these is to pick and choose the bits that fit in with what you have assessed that your children need to learn.

Secondly, once your assessments have identified which areas you need to teach next, the next step should be to consider what will be the outcomes of your planning. Never start with activities. The outcomes should be the first thought then decide on which activities will best lead to those outcomes being achieved.

Thirdly, the amount of written planning should be decided by you in that it should be the minimum that you need to write down in order to deliver effective lessons. In the schools I have worked in, there has been a great disparity in the amount of planning required. The amount usually being decided by the head teacher. The best system for me is the one detailed below as it allows you to stagger planning and also have a better view of where you are going with a series of lessons. It also allows for a little more freedom.

Maths and English
Planned in two week blocks. With three basic columns - outcomes, objectives and activities. The outcomes for the two weeks are identified from previous assessments. The objectives are how the outcomes are broken down into manageable lesson-sized chinks. Finally the activities for each day are recorded in small boxes with as much detail as the individual teacher requires. If you stagger the Maths and English planning then each week(end) you only need to plan one or the other.

Foundation Subjects
One sheet per half-term which again details required outcomes, objectives and activities.

For all subjects, the planning acts as both medium and short term planning. Evaluations can be written on the back or create a box for them.

I hope this post is helpful as although planning is a vital part of what we do as teachers, it should not take more time than it takes the children to do the activities.