ResearchEd review of presentations

Praxis – a new platform to promote professional development through research inquiry.
Chris Brown A teacher of Science as well as an academic research at Cambridge University
 
Speaker discusses a possible mechanism for enhancing teacher led researcher into the classroom. The website Praxis has been developed to act as a forum for teacher research to be shared across a wider field as well as facilitating access and engagement in the praxis reflective cycle.
 
My Thoughts – What is being suggested is anecdotal and highly subjective due to large discrepancy on how individual research is conduct and reviewed. Therefore, work is valueless as no institutions will accredit or validate findings. Teachers do not feel valued when completing this kind of research. We need close, working, academic relationships with educational researchers. 
 
Chain effects? Impacts of academy chains on performance of disadvantaged students. 
Becky Francis, educational and statistical researcher at kings college.
 
A systematic review of academy chains from 2012 to 2015, measuring impact on disadvantaged pupils relative to peers in  mainstream schools. Conclusion, in general more academy chains are having a negative effect on the progress of their students in comparison to mainstream (LEA led schools). How did this situation arise? Many academy chains were allowed to expand far too quickly on unjustified evidence. Why was this permitted? London chains, improved returns for pupils, therefore policy makers assumed that this would also be reflect for the rest of the UK. What happened? Policy makers did not anticipate the huge variation of context across the country.
 
My Thoughts – Concerning trend of acting too early due to the short time frames between the electoral period. The damage of these reforms is likely to exacerbate the educational inequality within communities as resources and students can no longer be evenly distributed. We need a context driven approach where teachers and schools let other know what they need.
 
Flip the system 
Rene Kneyber, teacher, policy consultant, academic researcher and author (He says, all teachers should have these options)
 
A theoretical and philosophical discussion about how our educational system should be structure. Speaker opens by showing a the EduPolitical system where all information, how to teach, learn and manage schools is all disseminated from the top. This results in the de-professionalisation of the teachers as they have no freedom or mobility to explore their role. Therefore, in general returns for students are poor. Rene suggests that ,like Holland, the UK needs an educational system that is informed by those people stood at the chalk board who understand the context. When they ask or identify weakness, leaders then respond and government does what it can to support them. Subsequently, bring professionalism back to profession and empowering all teachers to take ownership of their own profession because what they do has real value.
 
My Thoughts – An inspiring speaker who made the point very clear. If education is so subjective and context specific, what we need is information directly from the chalk board. So, why are there no teachers currently in the whitehall to inform policy? I feel a bit tired of listening to the continual changes to the educational system which come from political ideologies as opposed to what is need in the class.
 
Using behavioural insights to improve education 
Raj Chande, researcher at PhD students for the behaviour team.
 
Research identifies how small changes in the patterns of behaviour can result in huge returns. The behaviour teacher have recently focused on sending a text home to parents when there child has an assessment coming up a week later. They found that simply sending a text home to parents saw performance increase by 10-20%. So, simply texting parents to let them know there son or daughter has an assessment costing £2 saw progress accelerate by 2 months, with greater returns for low ability students. 
 
My Thoughts – Very inspirational speaker who showed the power of changing the small things. The investment required per pupil to receive the level of gains that were being made was very impressive. I am dubious as to who is going to take the administrative role of the whole process. 
 
The five big policy changes for the new government 
Sam Freedman, Senior advisor to Michael Gove and Executive director at Teach First.
 
  • Resources: £3 Billion cuts to schools funding over 5 years. LEAs will disappear, early years and 16-19 interventions squeezed the hardest and will most likely disappear.
  • Infrastructure: More regional school commissioners – targets more academies and chains, lift coasting schools, not sure on other roles yet. Results so far suggest that they have had a poor impact.
  • Teacher supply: Teacher shortage, falling grad numbers, weak wages in education push potential teachers elsewhere. Crude incentives system which does’t support recruitment or retention. Student loans for PGCE is wasted money, all training should be free.
  • Leadership: 50% of heads will retire in the next 10 years. No good training provided to train people to become outstanding heads.
  • Expertise: Lack of quality professional development, teaching has suffered massive de-professionalisation. Lack of management training means people squeeze rather than effective manage makes working conditions worse. 
My Thoughts – High expectations, no resources; a dwindling recruitment field which lacks the ability to produce future leaders. Not great, expect to be squeezed as 25% of the education budget is being wiped away! Every school will feel this. 
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How does the sole focus on outcome measures affect our students?

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Who we are, what we do and how we behave is exclusively determined by the way which we are nurtured into world. Most of us have, at one point, studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With most being involved in the debate, “nature vs nurture.” For all, including myself, this was one of the first concepts of the reason I am who I am because of the way I was raised. So who decides who I am and how I think? Do my parents have free and conscious choice over the decision they make when raising me? Or is that already predetermined?

So where do we begin when deciding? The best place is to start is by defining what education is and the outcomes we want from it? As a teacher I’m not even aware of what we want, as a society, for young individual. When I think of a good education for students educational performance springs to mind. For example 5 A*-Cs, number of A-levels, degree above a 2.1. No educational establishment is monitored for the type of students it is developing. Why not? Mainly due to difficulty (Labb & Loeb: 2010).

Some definitions of philosophical outcomes of education:

  • “An adequate education may be conceived of as one that is sufficient for someone to participate fully in both the economic and political life of a country” (Ladd & Lobe: 2010)
  • “Humans have an ability to praxis, [a process of conscious engagement and reflection on the application of knowledge to problems.]” (Freire, 2013).
  • Students have a desire for life long learning.
  • Possibly, students achieve at least 5 A*-C’s GCSE’s including maths and english.

In reality most people would like to hear that our students are receiving a diverse, culturally enriching education that prepares every individual for future success, but I think that most know this isn’t the case. I say this last one light heartedly, because this is an outcome measure not an ideology – I don’t think anyone sees having 5 A*-C inc M&E grades defining them as a person. However, the gravitas this measure has over the education of our students means that it might as well be an ideology.

This measure was originally introduced into the classroom to summarise what a pupil new academically and then translate this into a future job position (also known as a proxy). This provided useful economic data, indicative school quality information, but provides absolutely no information on the non-academic value that students are being provided with. As a result, classrooms have shifted from providing a “whole, enriching, culturally diverse etc” education to one where, inadvertently, is solely focused on pushing out results for one proxy.

If who we are is determined by how we are raised and educated, how will the inadvertent over emphasis on examinations in our lives affect us? If asked to define your education, would you discuss how culturally enriching it was or your grades and the institutions you went to?

References

Labb & Loeb: 2010 – https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/The%20Challenges%20of%20Measuring%20School%20Quality.pdf

Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything

“Education is what remains when you have forgotten everything”person-optical-illusions-018

What do you perceive?

Perceptions on the world are dependent on how we process the information which enters through one’s senses. The analysis of this information is dependent on a predetermined subconscious response. We are not aware of how we are perceiving a scenario because this analysis is ingrained, intrenched and programmed through systematic conditioning to the world around us. Yet, this conflicts with our perspective of ourselves. It conflicts because we believe that all decisions are independent. We are aware that our conscious feels transient, or not real and it doesn’t feel as if “someone else” can influence it, because of this trait. So, if we are unaware about how we perceive the objective is it possible to ‘truly’ perceive the objective?

To truly perceive the objective suggests that every observer will be able to view the subject and remove the same inference. Therefore a person has to be told how to think, leading them to build the same conclusion as someone else. For example, didactic education means that information is pre-digested and regurgitated to students, removing true conscious engagement and only enables thinking by the means of someone else. Yet, this isn’t always the case. Art shows a physical expression of a perspective, but observers take a variety of inferences. These inferences are influenced by historical and societal experiences that influence how they perceive the objective. Therefore, our perspectives on the world are based on the experiences in our life to date. But isn’t this a false dichotomy? The very nature of development results from predetermined thinking, so thought can never be truly authentic.

It’s at this moment of realising this paradox that true conscious thinkers are able to influence how a society cultivates thinking within itself. If how we think is based on prior experiences, then are experiences should be free from the thoughts and influences of others. Therefore, we should be provided with opportunities to build our own understanding of the world, by solving our own problems, investigating our own questions and developing our own method of understanding the information that we are processing. But, there are limits to this. We cannot freely learn to walk, talk and operate in society without guidance. Therefore, during our development a balance must be struck between opportunities for free thought and guidance when learning basic grammar, we must be able to interpret the grammar through which we require to transform the world. So, what is required from education?

Education should be an environment where individuals are encourage to critically evaluate, solve problems and bring meaning to their own questions about the world and the reality which surrounds them. Assessments and exams should be a thing of the past, they are a means to quantify attainment they do not provide an opportunity to develop as an individual. Will we be able to assess students? Not quantitatively. Will we be able to quantify what our students look like? Probably not. We should see education as the qualitative development of individuals who will be able transform the world around. Through the freedom of their own thoughts students will be empowered, independent and leaders of their own world.

Knowledge is the Key

knowledge-exchange

Knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. The benefit of having knowledge is one’s ability to apply this knowledge to abstract scenarios. For example, a satirical comedian applies their knowledge of current affairs for comic value. When problem solving a lack of knowledge will render the problem unsolvable. In both cases, a poor understanding of the knowledge required will result in poor mastery.

The cognitive stuff

“Make it Stick” (Brown et. al; 2014) is possibly the most influential educational book that I, and many others in the educational world, have read. It provides a understanding of how we learn, linking cognitive neuroscience to classroom practice.

The book focuses on:

Learning is misunderstanding – Generating an enhanced of self-awareness, what do I know and not know?
To Learn, Retrieve – Increasing retrievel and experiencing difficulties when retrieving information enhances retention.
Mix Up Your Practice – Cramming doesn’t work, practice multiple skills, subjects and activites simultaneously.
Embrace Difficulties – The more difficult it is to recall information the better.
Avoid Illusions of Knowing
Get Beyond Learning Styles
Increase Your Abilities –
Make It Stick

My teaching, before reading making it stick was episodical, regimented and centred around the teachers performance. This made in the moment learning, known as encoding, a priority. But, despite outstanding lessons, student progress at the end of a unit on knowledge would always be good, but not outstanding. The power of retrieval, highlighted in Brown’s book, stands out as the most effective tool to develop mastery in a subject.

Recollection of information is, “on-the-fly reconstruction of elements scattered throughout various areas of our brains.” (Mastin; 2010). Thus, the difficulties associated with memory recollection is one’s ability to piece together the jigsaw of random memories that scattered throughout one’s brain. If we can enhance the process of constructing these puzzles then we can enhance recollection and mastery.

A study by Brown et al (2005) on the effects of frequent testing show its benefits. For those students who recalled knowledge on a regular basis retained more information over a six week period in comparison to the control group. So, by increasing the demand on pupils to recall information increases the retention of knowledge. In simple, what can be done in the classroom?

Recollection focused activities.

Crossword, simple question based game – Fun, simple, engaging and solely focused on incorporating enjoyment with recollection of information.

Who, what, when, where, why, how. – An opening activity that provides students with an opportunity to discuss previously encoded information with their peers. This increases strength and neural density of connections between different hemispheres of the brain.

Google sheets – An online platform for students to complete prepared multiple choice questions on a certain topic (refer to Joe Kirby’s questioning techniques to increase rigour of questions). The students can view the responses of the entire class, this information can be used by the students as a form of reflection or by the teacher to inform future practice.

Weekly quiz. When visiting Long Road Sixth Form College some great practice was being carried out. At the start of each week sixth form students would be expected to answer 10 questions that were linked to any lesson over the prior 4 weeks.

References:

Brown et. al. (2005) – Make it Stick

Mastin, 2010 – http://www.human-memory.net/processes_encoding.html).

Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…