About Me

Anxieties, worries, stressing, resources, ideas, lessons. Moments of upset and moments of learning brilliance.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Speaking and Listening Removed: My "Summary of Findings"

I would not be a teacher if it wasn't for speaking and listening in school. 

Okay, this may be a slight exaggeration, but at school in the early years (KS3) I loved the discussion, project and presentation side of English. I decided I wanted to teach English because I was fully engaged with the subject, I loved being creative and I loved discussing and reading books. However all that being said, I was not the best at analysis and writing technically. 

For me, English all fell into place during GCSE - an exceptional teacher and the texts we studied helped it all "click" for me. But I still thrived off the speaking and listening elements, and I loved linking role-play into Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls. I am looking forward to teaching these texts this year for my NQT year - but an announcement today has literally appalled me - I will not be teaching speaking and listening. 

I will not express the importance of communicating. 
I will not expect my pupils to be able to confidently present. 
I will not help my pupils to improve how they talk to others. 
- I will, obviously, and I will assess these things, and it will all be reported in their GCSE, but it won't count towards their actual grade.

The announcement of Ofqual today did not shock me, it just disappointed me. And as I read through the 'summary of findings' my anger increased. My favourite part:
"Overall, respondents strongly disagreed with the proposals, with many supporting their views with specific examples. Comments provided were often detailed and extensive, drawing on respondents’ experience and wider evidence to exemplify the ways in which speaking and listening skills and their assessment have benefited students and indeed wider society"
They may as well have finished the paragraph "not that we listened, or cared what anyone had to say, we had already made our mind up..."

Brace yourself - it gets worse. If your anger is boiling like mine, here is the clincher

"Most respondents, (92 per cent or 841 respondents), disagreed with Proposal 1, whilst 8 per cent (69 respondents) agreed."

The issue is becoming a matter that does not involve speaking and listening, but a question as to why the consultation took place at all if all responses were completely disregarded. 92% is not a small percentage. Not only does this "summary" acknowledge that no-one agreed with the findings, it acknowledges that many respondents offered a more fair and equal alternative.

"School or college: ‘If Ofqual do not feel that schools are assessing correctly why not move to address this? Increase moderation visits; include some recording of assessments as there is at MFL and in the IB.' 
School or college: ‘Speaking and Listening is a vital part of English alongside Reading and Writing. MFL qualifications have an oral communication element as part of their assessment; why shouldn't English?’"

It makes depressing reading, if I am completely honest. Every single proposal is disagreed by a large majority. 

If you agree or disagree with speaking and listening being a component in English GCSE, your opinion is irrelevant. I am not sure how many people may read this blog and think "what is she on about? I wanted it gone" - your opinion is irrelevant. My opinion (as one of only 917 responses to the consultation) is also irrelevant. 

This is my issue with this entire debacle. My anger is a response not entirely to the loss of speaking and listening. It is to the fact that 92% of respondents were ignored. It is that the "consultation", as @Gwenelope mentioned on Twitter, was completely farcical.

I despair that I responded myself (in anger, of course) and what a waste of time it was to sit at my computer and click submit. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Acronym to acronym: Ten things to remember from PGCE to NQT.

As next week approaches, I am filled with an immense sense of trepidation. I am fearful for so much that as I type my stomach is tangling itself into knots. I am terribly excited too, but I feel like it is hard to truly feel that excitement whilst the cloud of doom hangs over me. 

"What cloud of doom!?" I hear you cry in response to my terrifying opening. The cloud of doom is a long list of questions and fears buzzing around my brain every second I turn myself to school work. Planning to do, new classes to know, names to learn (not only students, teachers too!), routines to grasp, policies to understand, teachers to impress, pupils to teach. It literally terrifies me. And yet, it has been my dream for the past ten years, so I mentally slap myself for being stupid and try to turn my mind to planning... 

I decided that last year was the best and yet most difficult year of my educational life. So in a sense I want to constantly ensure that I learnt from it, and I mean really learnt from it - not just filled a folder (or two) full of paperwork and evidence to tick boxes (read as: standards). I want to really think about what I have learnt in the past year and how I am going to really use what I have learnt from last year to this year. 

Rule 1: Silence is golden.
This is of course rule 1, because I really need to remember it. I remember reading this in every book I read before my PGCE started, and hearing it from a lecturer, and my mentor mentioning it... and it just seemed so obvious. But - it needs to be absolute. Do not talk unless the entire class are listening. That includes little Connor who never shuts up for anyone. I need to remember this for next year - during the PGCE you float into a class for eight weeks never to be seen again - this will not happen anymore

Rule 2: You can not do everything. Deal with it. 
I'm not sure how specific this is to me, but I learnt last year that from the minute the PGCE started I would never have "nothing to do". What is that anyway? What I need to learn (still) is that it is okay to leave something half done if there is time to finish it the next day. Even writing that sentence I'm not sure I agree with it just yet... 

Rule 3: It is okay that you haven't reinvented the wheel. You can't. It is already there - see. A wheel. 
Everyone said it. Did I listen? No. I still made my own resources. I still wrote my own lesson plans. I still did everything on my own: a constant resource-making-lesson-plan-writing-never-sleeping machine. Oh right, I didn't sleep, because I had to do everything myself. Then when it dawned on me that I could be up all night planning amazing lessons but not have the energy to teach them, it clicked. It is okay to magpie. In fact, it is sensible to do so. 

Rule 4: Never forget what it was like in school.
This is an odd one, and perhaps one that isn't as mentioned/obvious as the first three. Whenever I do anything, I think about the mixed up ball of angst and hormones and downright moodiness I was at 13. And I remember that even though I went to an outstanding school, I still had lessons where I was bored and learnt nothing. I remember the teachers that did interesting things, and fun things, but most of all I remember the teachers who really cared about me. I want to make sure my pupils know I feel the same way. 

Rule 5: Be yourself. 
Don't try and be their old teacher. Don't try and be their old colleague. Don't try and be what you think they want you to be. Don't try and be what you think you want to be. Just be the best you can be, and the person you actually are will do just fine. Even if you don't like yourself most of the time, it is unlikely anyone else will dislike you for being you. And if they do, stuff them :)

Rule 6: There is no such thing as perfection. 
This one is still a slight issue in my mind, but all the same it is time I faced the fact that I am a perfectionist. And that realistically it needs to stop. It is good to want the best out of everything I do, but perhaps not good to spend 40 minutes stressing over the box that doesn't look quite right on the worksheet and Word won't let me move it. Because by the end of tomorrow it won't matter, and the kids won't even notice, and if they do - so what? It is only a box. 

Rule 7: Make a note of everything. Make a note that I should make a note... 
Sometimes, my memory is not the best. Sometimes, I have the best intentions to finish something and then something slightly more urgent pops up and is completed, but the first something has completely erased from my mind as if the thought had never crossed my mind anyway. I need to use my love of post-it notes and make a note of everything - no matter how trivial. 

Rule 8: Marking is just as (if not more) important as planning.
So get on top of it. Write the planning timetable you planned on doing and stick to it for as long as possible. Use everything you have read in blogs and on twitter; do it in chunks, turn the books round, mark in order to plan, make pupils reflect on the marking, give them DIRT time, make them progress, be a good teacher. It all makes sense now... 

Rule 9: Those terrible lessons are better than those amazing ones. 
Now I know this makes no sense at all, but come on. Remember those wonderful year 9s who started to test you? And after the lesson (despite them being your favourite group) you never wanted to see them again? Remember discussing with your mentor how important it was to reinforce expectations and show them that you are in charge? Remember doing that and having an incredible last few weeks with them? I would never have learnt any of that had I not had the terrible lesson in the first place. And in a sense, I would not have been able to carry out the creative and wacky ideas I had later on with them if there had not been that dreadful "what are they doing" moment which pushed me into really telling them that I was not happy and forcing them to question their behaviour. I learnt more from the horrible lessons than the amazing ones. But of course, I need to remember the amazing ones. They will keep me more sane than the terrible ones.. 

Rule 10: Make time for everything else. You are not only a teacher, you are also a wife, daughter and a friend. 
I sometimes rage at myself for how little time I spent with friends and family last year. It is a wonder they are all still around. They have probably got used to my face - actually seeing my face - over summer. I don't want to deprive them of that joy again. All modesty aside, my friends and family knew last year was hard, and know this one will be too, but that is not an excuse to take their understanding for granted. They still all need to know they are important. Especially that husband - he would do anything for me, so it is time to make him know I would do the same. If that means lesson 3 with year 9 not being 100% perfect, than perhaps that lesson someone else wrote will be enough. (It will, it really will. And they won't even notice. But he will).

I will perhaps have a check on these rules at half term (if I have made it...) and see how I am going. Final rule: Sort out the body clock before Sunday, or you are really stuffed. It is 4am and you aren't even tired. Why aren't you concerned? 

Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Establishing my space: my blog and my classroom.

It is with extreme caution and fear that I start my first blog post. There are an exhaustive amount of reasons why it has taken me a long time to start blogging and why still, whilst writing this post I do not feel quite ready to do so. A selection of the more prominent reasons are:

1. Top reason: I am only an NQT. I have just finished my PGCE and I wonder what I have to offer? When I read other educational blogs my mind is often shaped and my opinions change; Am I too naive to really offer my less-justified/experienced opinion?

2. What is my purpose? Are these posts merely a self-indulgent experience of letting out some of my stress/worries/anger - or do I actually want someone to read them? If I don't want anyone to read them, what is my purpose? Right - so maybe I might have to actually let people read them...

3. Who will want to read my rambles anyway?

With my head buried in the sand and my decisions not really made, I came across a blog post by Freya Odell in which she shared her new classroom called Setting the tone. I enjoyed the points she made about the importance of your own space in the classroom, and she had also used my resource in her room. After sharing a few resources on Twitter/tes I was amazed by the lovely responses I recieved from my AF bunting and word wall flashcards (more on these later). Reading Freya's blog and actually feeling I had made something worthwhile has pushed me into writing this blog and perhaps believing that I may have something to share. Even if that something is just a couple of resources, at least it is something.

My classroom

I was extremely excited about getting my own classroom for this year. During my time at University I have worked in Early Years and have loved creating fun and interesting displays and I literally could not wait to have my own space to devote to English and my own classes. I decided to have five displays. One is a Shakespeare display (I read on a tes post a while ago about showing the students that you have a love for English, and Shakespeare is my top choice. Of course...). And the rest are all working walls. I am also looking forward to creating mobiles (with the help of the students, of course) and getting some washing lines up for more work to be displayed. Here are some pictures! (Apologies for poor quality!)

The Shakespeare display

The APP bunting (available here) in action

My interactive 'Word Wall'. I plan to take words off that will be a focus of the lesson, use them as starters/plenaries, target setting - anything really! Also available here!

 My heroes and villains display - with timeline and pictures ready to be joined by opinionated pieces of paper (I hope).

 Clearly I like bunting. What are you reading bunting!

More of the bunting above the Sherlock Holmes display. This will be a working wall so just the title needed!

Lastly my 'Teacher's Dead' display ready to be a working wall.

And there we have it. I kind of realised (whilst I spent hours laminating and cutting things out in my new room) that a large portion of my time is going to spent there. It is worth putting the extra hours in in the hope that my new wonderful students in Septmber really believe that I care about them and the school and my classroom - and I'm ready to work hard for them if they work hard for me!

More blogging coming soon....