Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Problems With Peer and Self Assessment

Self and peer assessment is very fashionable and has been for a while. Ofsted seem to like it, teachers seem to like it and SLTs seem to like it too. Having used a variety of types of methods of peer and self assessment in my teaching career, I am yet to be convinced of the impact they have.

As teachers look for ways to cope under the crushing weight of complicated marking and assessment policies, peer and self assessment can offer a helping hand. If the children mark the work then the teacher doesn't have to. Crazily, I know teachers who mark it themselves as well. Why would you do that, defeats the object surely. This brings me onto the first problem with self/peer assessment. Teachers, who are under massive pressure to prove they are doing a good job, are scared to leave any piece unmarked by them. This means that the marking by the pupil during peer/self assessment becomes largely irrelevant.

Secondly, there is the issue of time. Time has to be taken from lessons to complete self/peer assessment tasks. With the raised demands that come with the new curriculum, there is simply no time to waste. Ten minutes taken from a lesson to self/peer assess could be ten minutes used to further master the learning objective of the lesson.

Teachers have spent a lot of time training to be a teacher, they are professionals with a sound understanding of the subjects they teach. They are best placed to make decisions about whether a child has achieved a learning objective and what the next steps should be. I would argue that a pupil is not capable of making these decisions effectively or efficiently. A pupil can tell you whether they have found a particular activity easy or difficult. Does this matter? Does it tell you anything about their achievement? If you are teaching a child something they have not come across before, how can they decide whether they have learned it? Surely, this is judgement that must be made by a well-trained professional. Children can find evidence in their work to show they have met certain 'success criteria' but they cannot decide whether this means that they have achieved the objective.

Peer/self assessment forms part of a larger issue around pupil voice. I am not a fan of pupil voice even though it seems to be fashionable. In terms of assessment, that should be done by the teacher as the professional or if you really want to involve pupils as a discussion between pupil and teacher with the teacher explaining to the pupil what their performance in an activity means with regard to their  achievement/progress.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Using F.E.A.R. As A Stimulus For Poetry

The song F.E.A.R. by Ian Brown has long been a favourite of mine. I thought that the structure of the song would mean that it would be good to use as a stimulus for developing poetry writing in the primary classroom. For those of you that don't know the song, thee verses and chorus all spell out the word FEAR e.g. Fantastic Expectations Amazing Revelations. The idea is that the children could replicate this in their poetry by generating their own words to fit FEAR. Also, it is a pretty cool song!

The lesson went something like this, with Year 4.

First of all, we listened to the song and I asked the children if they noticed anything about the lyrics. We quickly established what I mentioned earlier. Then we listened to the song a second time with the children jotting down on whiteboards any of the verses (or chorus) that they could pick out. Some of these were then written on the board as a scaffold. Next, the children generated their own four line verses to match F.E.A.R. This led to some silly attempts e.g. Fat Elephants Are Red. This in turn led to a worthwhile discussion about the mood of the poem and how we would try to choose words that would match the mood of the poem/song.

Once this had been established, the children came up with some fantastic choices e.g. Find Enemies and Ruin. The children put their ideas together to make a poem of several verses interspersed with the chorus from the song (For Everything A Reason). This could be extended by giving the children other words e.g. love, hate, excite etc. Some children performed their poems and filmed them, creating a movie in iMovie.

All in all, the vocabulary generate by the children was better than they had produced before and I think the structure and mood of the song helped with this. They also developed a better understanding of creating a mood in their writing.

A word of warning. If you are going to use the official video to the song, stop it after about 2 minutes as there is a dodgy bit after that. There are also videos made of the song where the lyrics are displayed on the screen. You may or may not find this helpful.

Friday, 6 February 2015

There's An App For That.

There is much debate as to whether schools should spend large amounts of money on buying iPads. Some schools have 1:1 devices while others have very few devices at all. This post is not about making the case for iPads in school, rather it is written with the intention of providing some hopefully useful ideas. 

Having used iPads in the school where I teach for a couple of years now, I have been able to experiment with a range of apps. My aim has always been to use iPads in order to complete tasks that could not be done without them rather than copying a task that could be done with pen/pencil and paper.

A comment made by a presenter at the Google stand at BETT recently made me reflect on the apps we use in school. He said that rather than looking for a Science app or a Geography app, we should look for apps that can be used across many subject disciplines. To me this makes sense for at least two reasons. 

First of all from a purely financial point of view. You would buy one app that can serve many purposes instead of a whole myriad of subject-related apps that may only be used within that subject. Secondly, subject-related apps tend to tend us and children into 'consumers' of technology rather gazn really using it to enhance learning and achieve what I stated earlier was my aim. Having said this, there are some very useful 'consumer' apps such as Battle Times - a free times table app. Times tables are probably best learnt through regular practise and testing. This app enables you to do this with a competitive element. Indeed the are also certain subject specialist apps that can be used to enhance learning effectively.

Going back to my aim, I have put together what I think would be an ideal gathering of a few apps that could help to enhance learning across the curriculum and allow our pupils to complete tasks that, if used thoughtfully, could not be done without such technology. My collection is by no means exhaustive but will hopefully be useful to those starting out on the iPad journey. 

I must note hear that all the apps below are apps that have been recommended to me by people such as Lee Parkinson (@ictmrp) and Mark Anderson (@ictevangelist) both of whom write excellent blog posts about using technology to enhance learning. Here are five apps I have found very useful.

1. Explain Everything - A superb app that is very versatile. It is a bit like having an interactive whiteboard on your device. Many, many used across all subjects.

2. Book Creator - Can be used to create books incorporating sound, images and video. Books can be added to iBook store. Very easy to use.

3. Comic Life - Creates eye-catching comic style documents. Can be used ina variety of ways in many subjects e.g presenting research of key historical figures. 

4. Minecraft - This app has so many uses it is impossible to list them all here. It also taps into children's interests as many play it at home anyway.

5. Tellagami  and iMovie - These are both brilliant film-making tools. Free version of Tellagami only allows 30 second recording so iMovie can be used to collect a few of these together which can them be edited into a film.

If you have these apps on your iPads at school you will certainly be able to make a start on your journey into iPad use.