Controlled Assessments

We have just finished completing our controlled assessment in geography to mixed reviews. Have other schools felt the same?

As a department we have a very successful record of doing well across all types of learners and is something as teachers we are proud of. Like any job/role this has taking a lot of time and effort to put in place. But I recently felt from completing the controlled assessment that it is stretching the higher ability students and maybe not so helpful or beneficial for the less able students. Whereas before you could push and motivate a C/D student to gain a C, now with the examination high level control they get a D. The higher ability students though have really enjoyed the expereince. With a busy stressful year, many of our Year 11 students have not enjoyed their experience due to the following factors:

  • Students are less than enthused with more exams
  • Increase in pressure/stress on Year 11
  • Teacher/Student free time is lost when time is lost due to trips/absences
  • They have to complete certain sections in exam conditions
  • Completion of the CAT is across several weeks when other committments happen
  • They can’t complete the work in the time periods set

I would like to hear other schools’ experiences of the controlled assessment. Is it working in your centre? I am sure with time the experience will be more positive, but it does not feel like the experience we were first told about.

Classroom Antics

What are the tools and key things a teacher needs?

This was a question I posed last week on my blog. It is quite tricky as every teacher has different views on what they need to be successful and to help their everyday lives. So I have come up with my own list. Enjoy!

  • Blogs

For the last few years I have found blogs a great source to further my understanding and learn new skills as a teacher. I have always said that a teacher never stops learning. Just like our students we as teaching practitioners are constantly learning new techniques on improving our methods we use in the classroom. This is part of the reason why I love teaching, it is never dull and is a challenge I relish on a daily basis. Out on the ‘Blogosphere’ are some brilliant writers who share their teaching experiences, daily routines, ideas, schemes of work, lessons…you name it and teachers are writing about it! Reading about someone elses experience can create and add to your armoury of activities. Some of the best writers out there are Ollie Bray, Dave Rogers and Alan Parkinson who I wholly recommend on reading.

  •  Google Earth/Google Maps

As a geographer Google Earth and Google Maps have the best free Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software available. For students who need to include GIS in their coursework at Key Stage 4 and 5, this is the best start and easiest solution. Most students have access in some format to a computer and Google Earth/Google Maps can be used from a very early age giving them the skills and presentation techniques they need later on in their school career. Simple activities like spinning the globe round or locating places in the world from your location can make a young person make a sense of their place in the world.

  • Working as a Team

Teaching can sometimes be a lonely job, with yourself up against thirty students challenging you. It can sometimes feel you are the Lone Ranger but that is not so. Using people around you can make your life much easier especially when you need help or guidance. For a young teacher this is possibly the best tip I can pass on…talk to those around you. I have worked in some great Departments where working together and sharing ideas/work loads makes everybody feel important and better about themselves. The success of a Department should improve too with more minds working together then one. The work – life balance is very important and should never be forgotten! 

  • Thinking Outside the Box

Being innovative and brave within a classroom can bring enjoyment, success and respect. I admit not every idea I have tried has worked but those that do can enhance the student’s experience of your subject. Trialling new ideas improve your lessons and enjoyment as a teacher. It is not always easy trying out new ideas. It is very easy to stay in the comfort zone but without trying out new ideas we do not develop ourselves as teachers and will not improve.

  • Enjoy your lessons

As teachers we work long hours and spend many lessons preparing and planning work. We have the aim of teaching the National Curriculum and working with our students on achieving their personal best and gaining the grades they deserve. But…we must enjoy our working life. There are many pressures in the education industry and targets to achieve. Teaching in my opinion is the greatest role in life that someone can do. To actually see the look of wonder and understanding on someone’s face is something that cannot be bought. To pass on knowledge and see where it takes a young person in life is amazing. To actually help young people in life choose a path in the life with your encouragement and guidance is breathtaking. There is much to enjoy from teaching, just don’t forget the positives!

Personal, Learning & Thinking Skills

I am slowly catching up with my blogs at the moment as it seems to be a very busy term so far. Recently I went on a course run by Dorset County Council. This was my first course in my new county having previously worked in Hampshire and Surrey. The course itself was based on ‘Focusing on Skills in Foundation Subjects’ particularly personal, learning and thinking skills and run by Katie Ashcroft, Foundation Subjects Consultant. Personal learning and thinking skills (PLTS), together with functional English, mathematics, and ICT, cover the areas of competence that are most often demanded by employers. Integrating these skills into the curriculum and qualifications will provide learners with a platform for employability and further learning. PLTS involve:

  • team working
  • independent enquiry
  • self-management
  • reflective learning
  • effective participation
  • creative thinking.

The course itself was split into three sessions;

  • Session 1 – Developing pupils’ independent enquiry skills
  • Session 2 – Developing pupils’ team work skills
  • Session 3 – Developing a cross-curricular approach in foundation subjects

It is was a very informative and enjoyable course. It was great that they re-emphasised the importance of PLTS in lessons. PLTS help prepare pupils for the future, in and out of school. They develop the essential skills and qualities for to be a life long learner, life and future employment. They also provide a common focus for learning across subjects and provides great opportunities for cross curricular collaboration. PLTS use functional, transferable and creative skills which can be applied to real life scenarios.

It was pleasing to be given the opportunity during the course to identify the skills our department might want to develop in geography and reflect. With the new GCSEs and A’Level syallbus’ this course has come at a good time for reviewing the schemes of work we have developed so far and want to develop in the future. As teachers we sometimes forget about the skills the pupils require and focus on the content we need to teach. It has to be a balance of both and is something we feel at Gillingham we are achieving. It is also vitally very important that the pupils are clear about the skills they need to be successful in your subject area.

There was particular emphasis on cross curricular links and their importance within schools. This is a requirement within the new Secondary Curriculum for all subjects to explore connections with other subjects. Cross-curricular links provide a more coherent and relevant experience for the learner. It enables all pupils to understand the importance of different subjects and in helping them make a sense of the world. It provides pupils with the opportunity to apply the knowledge, understanding and skills they have acquired in one subject to a different context. For those of you investigating to develop cross-curricular links I recommend looking at the subject comparison web-page provided by the National Curriculum, which can be accessed here.  

The course linked the theory of skills to what Ofsted are looking for within schools. This is key for any school to have an awareness of what Ofsted expect from us as practitioners. I have quoted below Ofsted’s expectations;

‘The school’s curriculum provides memorable experiences and rich opportunities for high-quality learning…The school may be at the forefront of successful, innovative curriculum design in some areas…A curriculum with overall breath and balance provides pupils with their full entitlement and is customised to meet the changing needs of individuals and groups…Cross-curricular provision…is mainly outstanding and there is nothing less than good. As a result, all groups of pupils benefit from a highly coherent and relevant curriculum which promotes outstanding outcomes.’

These are skills I feel all schools’ are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, they do not happen over night and they do take time to develop and integrate in the school community. By sharing good practice, an understanding of what we want to achieve and hard work these skills will start to appear in all schools.

Learning from Films

It was not long into my education career as a teacher that I started to realise the importance and usefulness of film in my lessons. I had always been using documentaries and footage from DVDs and videos in my lessons but I had not realised what films could offer. It got my mind racing on different aspects of films that could be shown to pupils within different subject areas. I soon realised that films could enhance and develop a pupils learning and encourage them to be life long learners.

In April 2009 I wrote an article for Sec-Ed regarding the usefulness of films in education called Learning from Films. I have used films in the classroom and have found they have a lasting impression on a young students mind. Films are a successful way of engaging and stimulating young people.

Films can enhance a lesson and excite a young mind with their powerful and thought provoking subject matter. Dr. Pietari Kaapa of the University of Nottingham has stated that, “cinema as both a popular form of entertainment and a means of artistic and political expression, is a crucial area of classroom teaching. The pedagogical potential of film provides an immediate and invigorating addition to established lesson plans, while the history of the medium and its contextual socio-cultural relevance function as sources of study in their own right.”

As a Geography Teacher I have used a wide variety of different films to help show and back up key terminology or sometimes complex geographical features. The world today has created a generation of young people with very active minds. The days of a teacher in a classroom talking for 50 minutes are long gone and would not generate much enthusiasm from today’s young learners. Interaction and variety is what is needed to engage learners and film is one medium that can grip a young person’s attention. Film can enthuse and generate much debate and help a learner.

Pupils are requested to use and take part in different types of media within their learning from the National Curriculum. Films like music should be encouraged to be used within the classroom. Nick Hargreaves of Radipole Primary School in Weymouth, Dorset, believes that ‘‘films are a really valid text as much as books. With the National Curriculum we have to look at various types of media within a child’s learning and film is one way. Films are not always easy to understand and it does take time sometimes for a young learner to fully understand the complexities of a film like the music changing in relation to the mood of the film.’’ As we are aware there are three types of learners; visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. A film is one medium that incorporates all three learning styles and can hold the attention and pass on knowledge and understanding to all three main learning styles.  Nick Hargreaves says ‘film takes into account how a learner learns…it attracts the three main types of learners and engages all of them in one sitting. It reaches out to all target levels especially boys’.

It is not only watching films but using/making films within a lesson. This is sometimes difficult to do with budgets and time constraints but can be a worthwhile exercise. Young people like to be more involved in classes and using digital film recorders is one way. Pupils should be encouraged to produce news reports, presentations or stop motion modelling to help their knowledge and understanding. The technology and resources are out there and we as teachers must start to use them for the benefit of our pupils and ourselves as practitioners.

It may be uncomfortable for some of us to film ourselves in a lesson and to watch our mannerisms but would it further develop ourselves as teachers? I think the answer would be yes and should be encouraged with any teacher new or old. Filiming ourselves could be way of encourging our own development as teachers.

I remember reading Great Expectations at school and found watching the David Lean adaption a much needed guiding hand when it came to revising for the GCSE. A film may not always be true or correct, but in the right hands, us as teachers, we can filter out the bad and use the great pieces of film there is out there waiting to be used.