Friday, 29 October 2010

The Education Buzz Carnival #7

An "eclectic smattering of things buzzing about in the EduSphere" is to be found at Bellringers.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Backfiring: Assessment of Administrators

The management course

My head of house aspires to be a school manager. A week ago she sent me a form which I filled in with my feedback, cautiously, as personal trainers somewhere were going to use my assessment to judge on her proceedings in a management course. I bet she asked me because she knows I am versed in the lingo. Of course I was highly complimentary, which was not too difficult, because she really is doing a fine job, and I commented on something which could be worked on, as I know that you have to give something to the vultures.
This was the first time in my career as a teacher that I had been formally requested to comment on an administrator's performance, even then only for a course outside the school's remit.

Why do we let off our administrators scot-free?

What struck me was that the leader of our team was quite amazed that I had observed some flaw she was fully aware of but had been able to hush up so far while communicating with her superiors, who take her to be excelling in this particular management tool. In fact all of the teachers who attend the meetings she presides over have noted her proclivity for ad lib performances. Being a teacher she could have known that, we all know that our students spot immediately that we failed to prepare our lesson thoroughly, and those students accept such a lesson only if the improvisation is brilliant. If not it will be mayhem. My head of house has a radiant intelligence which make us teachers accept her poorly prepared meetings, we let her get away with it. In fact we like her a lot, which is fine. It would be better though to have well prepared meetings which offer us meaningful content instead of wasting our time with material that could have been delivered on paper beforehand as well.

It is time to backfire

I consider it grossly unfair that teachers are assessed by administrators, in which students' feedback and results are pivotal, while administrators are assessed by their superiors only. This highly corrupt system leads to administrators asking teachers to perform at an unattainable level. If only we produced the yardstick with which to measure our administrators, that would be a wholly different kettle of fish! It is about time we backfire using the same techniques and ideas we are being buffeted with all the time.

Foolish goals

For example: if administrators are asking us to differentiate our instructions for different learning styles, then they should realise that this logically entails allowing teachers different teaching styles. This would forbid them to issue a format for all. Instead they would have to observe our lessons, find out what we are good at, and what we could improve, and what just is out of reach given the limitations of our individual personalities. It certainly would make them more realistic. Assessment of administrators by their target audience, teachers, would close the gap between school leaders' aspirations and our daily grind.


By the way, there is no scientific evidence for such a thing as "learning style." Differences in "teaching style" can be observed in schools everywhere, but it seems to me to be something to overcome, it is not a fixture. I've chosen these terms only as they represent the otherwordly atmosphere of educational buzz quite well.
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Friday, 8 October 2010

The Ruler

After some weeks the first formers have settled in the new school. They have learnt that this new system predominantly is based on very short meetings with adults, lessons lasting only fifty minutes. All these teachers seem to have different ideas about what can be tolerated, and most of them are not too strict. Some give a lot of leeway. So it's time to see what you can get away with. In the art room you even are allowed to walk around.
A boy complains to me about an incident in which a mate broke his ruler. Unfortunately this happened behind my back. I ask him, what he expects me to do. He can't name the perpetrator, neither can I. That's it, isn't it? Take it as a thing in your experience. He smiles benignly. So I ask the class, nobody fesses up. Then the bell rings and the lesson is over. I forget about it.
Now this boy keeps returning to it every so often. Not every lesson, he doesn't nag. He isn't being insolent, he just smiles: “What about my ruler?” He holds me accountable, that's clear.
Most students learn quickly that the new school is a jungle in which minor infringements of rules that were severely implemented in primary school not even are observed. You'd better keep track of your belongings in such a dangerous world. If the behaviour doesn't obstruct the teacher's aims, you seem to be let of scot-free. The kids have to learn yet that bullying will backfire. Some teacher will notice, inform the class tutor, another teacher will complain, some casual talk in the staff room and things start rolling. But just a broken ruler in the art room will not do.
So this boy keeps reminding me: “What about my ruler?” Somehow his busted ruler has grown in his mind, I guess, and he surely makes it grow in my mind. This isn't any longer about a ruler, it is about the ruler. I am supposed to rule. I am the ruler.
Next lesson I will donate him a new ruler. It will break the ice to for a conversation about his role in the peer group.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Education Buzz Edition #5

Bellringers' Carnival of Education Buzz #5 offers a florid pattern in gaudy colours from which I pick a flower to soothe my worried mind: there is zero scientific evidence for the Learning Styles Fad. Treat yourself at Bellringers'!

Randomisation of responses

How do you single out students who are to answer to your intriguing questions? Professor Dylan William proposes six novelties in the class room to boost teaching, one of which is to abolish the hands-up habit. Instead we are to choose students at random to reach out to the lazy ones in the back of the classroom.
Some sort of randomisation process is required, Wiliam long ago decided, and his unorthodox solution, as demonstrated in a new BBC2 series, The Classroom Experiment (part of the channel's very welcome School Season of programmes), is to write the pupils' names down on lollipop sticks, the teacher then pulling them at random from a pot. No one can hide – everyone is potentially in the firing line.
Such an idea doesn't seem ground-breaking to me. I am sure that any seasoned teacher has his own nice tricks to circumvent the active clever kids who are so eager to spout the right answer, some highly idiosyncratic pranks to attract the attention of any one and to get every one involved in thinking.
These are my favourite ones:
  • The nursery rhyme.
    Any form of poetry will do, but I prefer silly rhymes like
    Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, / catch a tinker by the toe / if he squeals so let him go / eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Of course you are to point at a student at each syllable, actually you can feel the attention of the class mount nearing the end of the lines. The student who is put on the stage never refuses to co-operate as it is completely clear that he has been chosen at random. I have lots of rhymes stored in my memory over the years, to prevent boredom by repetition, Dutch poetry for most classes, and English nursery rhymes for my immersion classes. A spin-off is that it convincingly demonstrates that learning stuff by heart pays off. Also you can use the jape to inculcate your students with wisdom using quotes like Shakespeare's "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
  • The Roulette
    I put my pen or pencil or whatever pointed object at hand on the ground and give it a twist. While it swivels students often raise their buttocks to see what's happening and when the object rests, I extend its direction to the student. Dodging kids are severely punished of course. The teacher has to accept all ramifications and in case he is singled out he has to produce the correct answer himself.
  • The Countdown
    Just ask some student to give a number lower than the amount of students in the class and perform a countdown. Frequently this is used by clever kids to place the onus on some friend, but as a teacher you observe the rapid eye movements, and you have the right to go left or right, at any moment, only to end at the culprit's desk. This takes high-speed calculation and if you make a mistake, you end with the perpetrator's neighbour, which is fine, as the complete class is aware what you were trying to do, and nothing is more suited to attract the students' attention than a teacher fooled by his own histrionics.
  • The Lottery Price
    If you have established the procedures listed before then you could try this one: Just single out a student whose voice hasn't been heard too much lately, ask him/her " Give me a number lower than [number of students in the group]", and react being surprised: "That's right!!!" to any number the student comes up with. This one never fails to raise laughter, and, what is more important, it makes clear that you are never subject to any procedure what so ever, not even to the ones you invented yourself. You are the alpha person in the room, aren't you?
I' am curious about your ruses. By all means, please, publish them in a comment to this blog

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