Sunday, 25 January 2015

BETT 2015 - My experience

On Friday I attended the BETT show for the first time. Staff from the school where I work had been in previous years and I was looking forward to going. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

Entering the show, I was quickly accosted by a rep from a major IT company, badgering me about managed printer services or something. He then told me in hushed tones something that he said he shouldn't be telling me but... No doubt, he had probably told the same information to thousands of people over the previous two days. It turned out that the 'secret' information was the fact that a new model of the firm's printers was due to be released. Great.

Continuing my walk around the dizzying array of exhibitors, I continued to be approached/accosted by reps. It reminded me of an 18-30 holiday I went on in my early twenties when reps would try to entice you into the 'best bar in town'. At BETT this phrase was replaced with 'the market leader'. I adopted the same approach I did on that dusty road in Corfu, I shuffled along with my head down trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

Some of the products/ideas I saw were fascinating and a smaller number could even prove useful in our school. In fact I jotted down quite a few app ideas from +ICTEvangelist during his presentation. There was also the ubiquitous range of companies promising to solve the problem of assessment after levels. All of these seemed scarily complicated to me and I consider myself quite good with assessment. I would imagine they weren't exactly cheap either even if they were the market leaders.

The BETT arena was a sectioned off area of the show where a quick-fire programme of presentations took place. These were compered by someone who gleefully told us he was the voice of Siri in the UK and had been the voice of the Weakest Link for 11 years. The presentations were too short to be of any real value considering the large issues being discussed in them. I left each presentation I sat there for feeling a little cheated as I wanted to know more. The presentations taking place in other areas of the show were more useful as they were more specific and included ideas to be used directly in the classroom.

I was glad that I didn't have any school money to spend as it would have been easy to be taken in by the shiny, precious things. Having said this, I did enjoy my visit to BETT as I saw enough ideas that I liked and will hopefully return next year.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Homework: What's the point?

Having read some comments and discussion around the piece in The Telegraph quoting Tom Bennet's article about most homework being pointless, I thought I would write about my thoughts on the subject.

When I was an NQT our school had an OFSTED inspection. Some parents duly filled in the parent questionnaire. One thing many of them asked for apparently was more homework. In response to this,  my very experienced year group partner promptly printed off masses of homework sheets to send home the following week. This pile of work would have taken most adults a week to complete never mind 8 year olds! Did it have any positive impact on the children's learning? No, not one jot. Parents also began to complain that their children were getting too much homework!

Therein lies the crux of the matter. Homework is in many ways a no-win situation. Set too much and parents, teachers, children buckle under the strain. Set too little and parents, OFSTED think you aren't doing your job properly. So what to do?

I recently read Harry Webb 's (@webofsubstance) blog post about preparing the children we teach for the future. He argues, quite correctly in my opinion, that we should teach that children "that which endures" rather than trying to second guess the knowledge that children may need in the distant future. I think this approach could be applied to homework. In primary this could be just asking the children to work on reading, spelling and times tables when at home. These are key skills that are the foundations for learning. This is the approach taken at the school of Angela Bell (@bell111_a) as she was determined to look for a way to reduce teacher workload without having a negative effect on learning.

Then I started to consider something that Rob Smith (@redgierob) of Literacy Shed fame said about homework. He suggested that any activities that get children and parents discussing learning in some way must be beneficial. I have to agree with this. The problem comes when 'project' homework becomes a competition between the parents.  One way round this is maybe not to mark the project homework but instead give children equal credit for handing it in. Another alternative, which is used at my wife's school is to give the children a range of suggested activities that they can choose from. Therefore, cutting out the competition over one project.

The danger with setting times tables and spellings for homework is that teachers will rely on this as the children's main method of learning these things. For it to be effective, the homework needs to be practise of skills taught in class. After all, it is our job as teachers to teach this stuff. That is what we are paid for.

In conclusion, I don't think there is an easy answer to the homework conundrum. Avoiding pointless tasks is certainly a must. Also avoiding making homework an onerous task for parents, teachers and most importantly, children is also a must.