Practising Formative Assessment

Friday 3 November
I've been trying to improve my understanding of formative assessment by reading
Assessment for Learning – Putting it into Practice by Black and others . This is a whole area that wasn't covered when I trained – but that's probably true of most teachers too. The excellent
Moray House Returning to Teach course provided an introduction, but it's not a subject you can learn in an hour or two. I tried the
Assessment is for Learning web site, but found that it jumped quickly from key points to supporting case studies – but without explaining much more about the underlying thinking. This isn't a criticism of the web site; it's just that books are better, I think, for explaining some things.

Today I tried one of the ideas from the book (p35) of using different questioning to get a better understanding of where students were starting from. The idea is to move away from limited factual questions. I tried using a so-called "big question"; "How come if cells are living things, so take in food, and get rid of waste, that they don't have any organs to do that?" The topic of the lesson was diffusion, and this proved a much better lead in than to start in the textbook manner with a discussion of what diffusion was. By posing the question, then asking the class to discuss in pairs, a surprising range of ideas was put forward. This, as the book claimed, definitely provides a better understanding of individual learning needs.


More phone calls

Thursday 3 November
Received a couple of phone calls from schools wanting to know if I was available for supply work in Physics. It's reassuring to know there is a demand out there, and Physics is one of my subjects, but I'm already too committed.

Doing a day's cover in Edinburgh this week has made me aware that I've been fortunate to be able to work in the one school for a long period. It takes time to get to know the students, the staff and the systems in a new school. That's an overhead that I think it makes sense to minimise at the probation stage if you can.


Good Website Guide for Parents?

Back to Preston Lodge today to teach science for the rest of the week. I'm sharing responsibility for a timetable with a very experienced supply biology teacher. Helpful information in the desk planner eases the handover, and a few notes highlight particular issues needing dealt with today.

She had suggested using some video material on cells, but as usual it's a time-consuming problem to track down an appropriate video. Although there's a range of material on video-cassette and as PC video files, the only way to know what's on them is to sit through the whole thing – and there's seldom time for that. It's at times like this you appreciate how easy it is to browse paper information and get a very quick idea of content. Perhaps the
Scottish Schools Digital Network will help solve this problem?

Ended the day with a well-attended S1 parents' night. It's becoming clear that students, and parents, are using the internet to complement information provided by the school. Sometimes it's to help with homework, but I was especially interested to hear from parents about children who were using the web to investigate a bit more on their own. In both cases, it seems that some sort of guidance on good web sites would be appreciated. Even the ones that are well-known in schools, such as
BBC Bitesize, are clearly completely unknown to some interested parents. Maybe schools could do more here? Must find out if anything's been tried.

Boroughmuir High School

Spent today teaching at
Boroughmuir High School in
Edinburgh . It's taken a long time for my name to find its way on to the Edinburgh supply list; this was the first time I've been approached to work there. It was good to get a chance to see how another school works, and I was made very welcome by the teachers there, especially Peter Shannon and Graeme Findlay in Maths. There was also a comprehansive introductory pack with all the essentials for visiting teachers – right down to a "permission to visit the toilet" pass.

One of the advantages of the alternative probation route (i.e. not following the Teacher Induction Scheme) is the possibility of working in a range of different schools as a supply teacher. The downside, of course, is that if you're just in for the day you can't gain in-depth experience in your subject area. You're also much less likely to have non-teaching periods available for any kind of planning – you're an extra pair of hands, and can expect to be fully employed… Today's timetable ended up including English and personal and social development, where I was in trouble trying to identify a range of recreational drugs from photographs. It turned out there was some uncertainty over whether the text book was right, so a visit from the police was planned to sort it out.

Found out from a poster about the Royal Navy's Maths and Engineering in Action web site, This looks like it should help in my efforts to make maths seem relevant. I plan to have a look and see what's there.

Navigating The Alternative Route to Registration

Friday 28 October

Not needed in school today, so decided to review where I'd got to with clocking up the teaching days required for full registration, which is 270 if you're not on the
Teacher Induction Scheme . I've got the wrong personality for this sort of thing, so have been putting it off. I covered a Maths maternity vacancy from January 05 till the summer, and the original idea was to do a review when I moved to another school. As I'm still there, although now in Science, it never happened. A careful trawl through the diary showed I'm now over the 100 day mark. Maybe I should be celebrating milestones like that?

Decided to ring the
General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) in the afternoon to try to clarify what exactly is expected of me. You get a lot of very high-quality documentation as part of the registration process, but inevitably it's geared to the standard route, and the more you read it, the more things you realise aren't as tidy when you're on the
alternative supply-teaching route; things like numbers of observed lessons, number of interim reports, mentoring arrangements aren't prescribed.

Heather in the GTC's Probation Support office was very helpful, and spent a large chunk of her afternoon answering my endless questions. Clearly the thing to do is get reports in to the GTC after each chunk of work. They then know what experience you've gained – there's no other feedback system – then they can write to you with a "bank statement" to let you know how far they think you've got. It's certainly not a box-ticking system: there's clearly a careful check being made that only appropriate experience is counted. I can't remember when I last phoned up any organisation and got such a comprehensive and helpful response. The care taken over the whole process is impressive; as a parent, it's reassuring.

Had a look at the
SCRAN web site using a school logon. This is a huge resource, and will be a great help in getting good-quality images and much more for teaching purposes.

Here's an extract from their "About SCRAN" page:

Scran is part of the Scran Trust – a registered charity – whose aim is to provide educational access to digital materials representing our material culture and history. The learning resource service hosts over 300,000 images, movies and sounds from museums, galleries, archives and the media. It can be used generically – as a substitute for clip art – or for particular learning applications. So, if you need a picture of a tiger, Charlie Chaplin, Sean Connery, a Degas, a Dali, images of war or whaling, standing stones, a pint of beer, an integrated circuit, or line drawings of an acorn or an adrenal gland – to name a few – try Scran first. In addition, the educational environment supports 3,000 learning Pathfinder Packs for your instant use; and there are tools such as Navigator, Stuff, Create and Albums to let you locate, keep, design and assemble your own learning resources. A quick poster or worksheet is just a couple of clicks from any image and an instant printed page or mini website are equally easy to produce from a Pathfinder Pack.




Teaching Is Attracting Career-Changers

This morning I attended a
half-day training session on Learning and Teaching in Musselburgh, part of
East Lothian Education's year-long. probationer training programme. This is a varied selection of 18 or so training sessions covering topics including: teacher wellbeing; behaviour management; child protection; additional support needs and reporting to parents.

This was yet another piece of the teaching jigsaw I didn't know about until recently. Because I'm a trained-years-ago returner, and not on the
Teacher Induction Scheme , I'm employed as a supply teacher. That has meant I've been out of the loop, and just didn't know these events were available. Neither, it seems, did Liz Surridge, who runs the programme, know that I was around. Having discovered that they were on, from another TIS probationer, I was pleased to get a warm welcome to attend.

There was a larger number there than I'd expected, probably over 50, although I didn't count. At one point
Don Ledingham , who was running the session, asked how many had come into teaching from a previous career. I guess about 2/3 put their hands up, which surprised me – and him. Maybe the
drive to recruit new teachers is now pulling people in from other careers in bigger numbers than before?

Today's Agenda included:

  • a discussion of an observed lesson report
  • a quiz about what we thought made a good teacher
  • a debate on student motivation
  • a personality self-assessment about key teaching characteristics
  • a self-evaluation, using a lesson evaluation support sheet from
    Dunbar Grammar School, of strengths and development needs – all based on the lesson we were teaching at 10.15 on Tuesday!
  • an intro to
    A Curriculum for Excellence, and East Lothian's
    initial ideas in response

There was an opportunity to contribute to the curriculum debate, which seemed to surprise some participants, who didn't seem to feel qualified, or experienced enough, to contribute. There's no question about it: education has become so complex, so fast-changing and so unpredictable that it's simply not possible – if it ever was – for a small group of senior managers, no matter how experienced, to make all the right decisions and solve all the messy problems. I plan to spend some more time reading up on this change…

Not working this afternoon, but got a phone call over lunch from the other, very experienced, supply teacher covering the same timetable to check what days would suit me to work next week. Felt a bit reassured, somehow, to hear that her morning hadn't been trouble-free – it's not just me!

In today's Guardian read a piece,
Sounds Like Teen Spirit , about a new website,
SoundJunction, designed to let young people with no access to instruments or tuition have an opportunity to explore and create music. Made the mistake of showing it to my son, who then took over the PC… It also mentions
Boom! children's music video project. I must talk to Jim Cramb about this; it's possibly another thing he could use for Preston Lodge's PLTV.