We learn at school and we learn at home.

Life is constant change. Learning through change is what we need to support our children to do. As adults we can continue to learn only through formal classes and formalised institutions but that will never be sufficient. I believe learning happens everywhere and anywhere. The boundaries between formal learning in schools and informal learning at home will be blurred, challenged and reshaped to suit every individual. It is time to change the mindset “I learn at school and rest at home” into “I learn at home and I lean at home”. Redefine education beyond the classroom walls and the curriculum outlines.

The fears about the future of our children, about the future of education are turning into a panic. The “lost time” and the “gap” between groups of children seems daunting. These are fears about loosing what we have, but I am exited about what we will gain. Online adult education has already re-shaped the idea of education and learning, we lean at work, we learn at home and we learn in a classroom. We will have to implement the same strategy for our children- see the learning as a every-day process in our simple life. The power of education is in it’s flexibility.

Through the conversation with my students i realise most of them are missing the school they knew. They recognise that they need time and space to sit down and focus their mental abilities on learning. That is undeniable basic need for learning. As a teachers we spend a lot of effort and time to remove any distractions from the learners and force them to think about the topic we would like to teach them. There is varied success between schools and between teachers in establishing environment for learning. This can not be easily achieved in a busy household with completing needs between household members. Formative learning needs to happen in time and space without distractions. Schools will have to stay strong as establishments for quiet learning, offering children access to room and a book and time and place of quiet.

Learning it is not only formative. The education with it’s flexibility and looseness has embraced learning thorough experience. Schools trips are organised to expand the horizon of the children. Educational visits and conversation with professionals are used to inspire and educate children. Finances are invested for children to be able to “work” in a safe school kitchen, or wood work or science laboratory. This is where collaboration with parents can enrich this part of education. Trips can still be organised by the school, but also families can be encouraged to visit museum/theatres/parks. This learning does not have to happen only through school, but schools can facilitate it. Build strong collaboration between the providers of educational experience and the children.

The curriculum is based on learning just because it might be needed. Students are always questioning “Why are we learning this?”. I think “Why” will be more obvious to everyone once we solve the “How are we going to learn this?”. Basing curriculum learning in a classroom with 30 children limits the ways a topic can be delivered/ explained. The time limit imposed on teachers by the length of the lessons and the number of lessons available impairs that wonderful flexibility of the education. As teachers, we need to make sure students know the curriculum. Students need to have an overview of what they need to learn, but give them the power the learn it in different ways.

Students can use various resources to learn parts of the curriculum. They can watch a good program on TV and experiment in their own safe way. They can create revision cards or posters or use exam questions. Students can take time outside school to repeat/revisit the part of the curriculum that they need to. Teachers should be more of a coach/mentor to guide the students through the curriculum, check their understanding and encourage them. But students should have the power to choose how they are learning with that why are they learning it is more obvious. Let the flexibility of learning be enriched with the input students can choose.

The fear about the “lost time” is unfounded because every experience is learning, even if it is not linked to the curriculum. The fear about “closing the gap” can be easily addressed by offering the children that need safe learning environment by giving them access to school premises when they need it, but at the same time not to stop children learning outside the school. Work with the parents as partners. Share the idea that parent is an educator and teacher is a parent in absence. We are working for the better future of our children. Involve other agencies and embrace their educational impact. Design a truthfully flexible education to fit each student and each family.

Flexibility can create error-tolerant education where if children do not learn a particular topic in year 9 term 1, they can easily catch up later. Flexibility will allow children to spend different amount of time on particular topic, depending on their understanding. Flexibility will not allow loosing time and loosing education for our children. Children demand that flexibility because they are unique in every way.

Retrieval Practice – How to implement it?

Retrieval practice is a strategy used to create a habit of retrieving information from long term memory. The retrieval practice is low level questions that can be answered with simple facts, such as : What is?; What will?; What does?.

Retrieval practice is just another learning tool that can be used, but how is used is more important than just the fact that is effective. In growing literature of research about the effectiveness of retrieval practice and even more web sites promoting it. The following web sites offer ideas and guidance :

Why does retrieval practice work?

When we teach a new concept we place it in sequence of events, as part of a story. In the books pieces of information are grouped on the same page. When asked to retrieve the information, students are trying to remember the lesson or visualise the page they have seen the information. Dissecting the story, the concept or the page with simple questions that require the identification of one simple fact (that is part of the story), helps for that fact to be seen as stand alone information. It will be still stored with similar facts in a concept that is created by the student but with a direct pathway fro retrieval.

How to make retrieval effective?

I have implemented retrieval practice in my lessons as a starter activity. Questions were displayed on the board as they come in with the expectation that they will try to answer them in the first 10 minutes of the lesson.

I tried three versions of this approach:

  1. Using questions from more than one topic that has been previously taught. – This activity took more than 10 minutes for the students to complete. Quite often the observer feedback of my lesson was that the starter took too long. With this approach my starter was either long either students would not be able to complete it and left them with disappointment at the start of the lesson.
  2. Using questions only from one topic directly related to the lesson- This was something that students can easily achieve. They can self-assess their answers by comparing their answers with the answers on the flowing slide. I was not happy with the engagement of the lower ability students that only waited for the answers to be displayed.
  3. As I am taking the register for each name I call I ask a simple questions: “What do you remember from previous lessons?”. – This ensured all the students gave an answer and there was no opting out. It encourage them to look into their books and notebooks to remind themselves of previous content. This approach was quick and served the best because I could detect misconceptions in the answers and correct them. It gave me an opportunity to assess the quality of the notes students were taking (without marking the books after the lesson) and students were more likely to take careful notes that lesson. Couple of students started bringing their own notebooks to make notes for the lesson and for home. Some students started taking their school books home without asking me because they knew the school policy was to leave the books in the classroom.
Starter retrieval practice with questions from more than one topic.
Starter retrieval practice with questions from one topic.

How to make it work even better?

I would keep the retrieval practice as a learning episode in my lesson. I will continue to use the third version of retrieval practice insisting on everyone participation while taking the register. I will have a picture starter to help with recall , the books and the notebooks will be available for students. .

I will use white boards to check class understanding in the middle of the lesson on the new topic.

I will plan the core questions for each lesson and build up a roulette database. This will be used at the end of the lesson as plenary of the lesson. This will have a direct impact on the structure of my lesson. I will need to leave more than 10 minutes for the plenary at the end, I will call it independent practice.

In all this I would like to implement the use of knowledge organisers, but that would be the topic of some other reflection.

How is opening of the school going to solve the problems ?

The UK government would like to open school against the advice of the teachers, doctors and health professionals. It is seen as solution to society problems, that have and will have long term effects.

The schools can not be open because they were never closed. School welcomed the children that needed them, the teachers continued to act as distant parents and keep open channels of communication. That is not a closed school. Schools have been acting as safe heaven for the ones that need it and now they are asked to open their doors even wider for more students that might or might not need that safe heaven. But even heaven is selective of who should be granted entrance, so who should enter and why?

When the newspapers are using the phrase “opening the schools” they are given the false impression that school will be the same as they were before they were “closed”. Once schools “open” all current problems will become solutions. Let me list number of illusions.

1. “Open” school so children will not be stuck in council block

Illusion: The children are stuck at home while schools are “closed” they will be free when school are “open”.

In reality when schools “open” children will be contained in one/two rooms that they will share with group of 14 other children and 2 adults. They will be asked to complete all the work that is set up for them through online. If they were stuck at home because school was “closed” , now they will be stuck in a room, or possibly in a chair, without soft furnishing in the “open” school. They will be told when to have a break, and they will be closely monitored when going to the toilets.

2. “Open” schools because children are not having enough fresh air and exercise

Illusion: Children do not have enough fresh aid and exercise while school is “closed” they will be more active and spend more time outside when schools is “open”.

The children will be held for 4 hours a day in two rooms and 15 minutes break time. “Open” schools does not mean that they kids will be outside running and playing for most of the school time. They will be in a classroom, expecting them to do more mental than physical work. Don’t wait for schools to “open” so kids can have fresh aid and exercise. Even when the schools were fully functioning, kids were spending more time in a chair in a classroom than outside. Parents and children have the choice to go for a walk or exercise while schools are “closed”. This will not change when schools “open”.

3. “Open” schools because children have little or no nutritious food

Illusion: Children do not have enough food while schools are “closed ” when the schools are “open” there will be the opposite scenario.

Food has been distributed by the schools, council and charities during schools “closure”. When schools “open” the children will have access to “lunch to go” at the end of the 4 hour school day. This provision will not change if schools change the status from “closed” to “open”.

4. “Open” schools because disadvantage children will be harmed from missing school

Illusion: if schools are “closed ” and disadvantaged children are harmed because of lack of education, they will be supported when school “open”.

Not all disadvantaged children are asked to return to schools. The schools are not “open” for children that are disadvantaged but for children in certain years. The fact that 5 out of possible 13 year cohorts are invited to return to school means that when schools “open” disadvantaged children will still suffer because they are either not in the year group that the school is open for or they may choose no to attend school. Even if the disadvantage children attend the “open” school they will be asked to complete the same work set up for the children that are not at school. They will not have any special arrangements in place in the “open” school to address the harm to these children.

5. “Open” schools because children will be able to socialise

Illusion: “Closed” schools means that children do not talk or see their friends. The “open” school will mean that children can spend more time with their friends.

“Closed” school only means that children are not meeting each other but they have other forms of socialising. “Open” schools will not be a socialising hub. Children will be isolated from one another as much as humanly possible.They will not be touched by anyone, and there will be minimal amount of material things exchanged. In the “open” school children will be sitting 2 meters away from anyone else, just like we do when we go out in the parks. When instead of greeting each other we make sure there is 2 meters between us. We don’t go to the parks to socialise, and children will not socialise in schools. “Closed” school offers the opportunity children to call their friends on the phone whenever they want to, meet one friend in the park or just sit and talk with family. If they are not doing this while schools are “closed”, “opening” the schools will not change this.

6. “Open” schools because parents need to go to work

“Closed” schools conditions require parents to stay at home and with “opening” the schools there will be more workforce.

Majority of parent will not be lucky enough to have all children eligible to return to school. Therefore the “open” and the “closed ” school is not so much different for them. Families tend to have one “satay at home” parent. For those families “opening” schools does not solve any problem. Business closed and it will stay closed because of lack of customers. “Opening” school will not “open” business.

Summary

“Closed” schools or “open” schools. The only difference is the place and the individuals children will spend their time with. There is no such thing as “closed” school. Schools are there to support children and families and the labels “open” and “closed” do not mean anything in the school life. Do not wait for schools to “open” because they are never “closed”.

This is written in response to the following two news articles:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52669441

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52641757

Creating the Chemistry AQA curriculum

I have been teaching Chemistry for 2 years. We followed one book the first year, another book the following year. The order of topics in the books was the same. The first book had more “text” than the second one. The more concise book was cheaper to buy for the school and apparently easier for the children to read.

Personally I did not see any difference in student understanding of the topics between the books. The flow of the topics was the same as the AQA chemistry specification.

The reasons for restructuring the curriculum are:

The flow of topics in AQA specification

The scaffolding between the topic in the AQA curriculum in non- existent. As an illustration: the lesson of states of matter and particles is between topic 2 – Bonding. The topics children are familiar with such as global warming and atmosphere are at the end of the AQA specification. The start of AQA specification is on abstract topics, which children would have not encountered before. I think we need to start with a topic that is easier to understand and offers practical work. I think particle theory and mixture should be the starting topic

Local assessment policy and purchased AQA Scheme of Work

I also noticed that the layout of the lessons did not the match the assessment policy in out school. According to the assessment policy we need to have one summative assessment per term. Which means every topic needs to be completed in 7 lessons, with assessment and time for improvement in the 8th and 9th lesson of the term. Following the schemes of work from the two different books put us in position where we have not completed a topic in order to use the assessments that are available. Therefore I started planning schemes of work where small topics are deliver in 6-7 lessons.

Interleaving

Teaching from the book, following the order of chapters did not allow us to revisit lessons and use interweaving. In the new schemes of work every new topic starts with revisit of older lessons from precious topics , to repeat core material, and help students make links in the curriculum.

Flexible learning outcomes

Each lesson has 9 learning outcomes. It offers the flexibility of the teacher to adjust the lesson to the group that is taught. The lesson about mixtures will use different outcomes for teaching it in year 7 and every time is repeated in subsequent years can be tailored a bit differently.

To solve the outlined problems I have drafted the attached flow of lessons that I am going to start to work on.

Do children suffer?

I didn’t want to be stay at home parent and I always wanted someone else to teach my kids. My simple phylosophy was that my kids can learn more from others: teachers, friends, visiting other relatives. I don’t want them knowing only what I know. I want them to learn things I don’t know. And school did that. They would come home from school and tell me things I’ve never known.

With Covid 19 isolation I am not just stay at home mum, home educator I am still full time worker. I have observed and analysed my own situation. I will continue to write this post on the assumption that most parents are like me – they care about their children. And I will make another strong assumption : the children that do not have the support from their parents are minority.

The prevailing though in society is that kids suffer at home, their education is impaired, they have to go back to school. This sweeping statement does not take into account that parents are the most important influence in child’s life. Schools do step in and help where parents fail (which I assume is minority) but more often parents pick up and excell where schools fail. When a pupil misbehaves and the school behaviour system does not make any difference – calling the parent, having a chat and getting their support always leads to improved learning behaviour. Without parents support the school behaviour system does not work. Now kids are under parental responsibility all day and the government assumes that the generation education is at risk? 100% of children do not learn 100% of the time when they are in school. Therefore kids are not loosing education if they are at home following their own learning requirements. The assumption that children are not learning at home can only be proven with data, which does not exist at the moment. But with the assumption that I am an average parent, I can list number of benefits of the isolation and the system of learning at home.

1. The best thing about online learning is the fact that children that engage in it are intrested, motivated therefore there is no interruptions to the learning time. In a group of 30 children that are forced to be in a class there will always be at least one that does not want to be there. That one will interrupt the learning of others. With the online learning it is easier to remove the particular individual. Therefore the time invested in learning is more during online lessons compared to school classrooms .

3. The power of learning is placed in the students hands. Online lessons can be reviewed at later date at a time when is convenient for the learner. In the school the lesson has to happen at the allocated time regardless of the emotional state of the learner. Pupils are not even aloud to visit the toilet during school lesson time, but during online learning the minor needs of the students ( drink, snack, break or toilet) can easily be fulfilled and the online lessons not interupted.

2. The transition time between online lessons is minimised to seconds. Students can easily log out of one lesson and join the next one. There is no need to navigate through busy coridors and worry about loosing belongings as transitioning between lessons. This leads to more calmer and prompt start of the online lessons.

4. If the explanation of the teacher , or the parent are not sufficient a plethora of resourses are available in the house from variety of books, Web sites, materials for modeling, or walking and observing the environment outside in the garden or the neighbourhood. Older siblings, that are learning themselves, can act as role models.

5. At home leaning takes place in an environment that is controlled by the child. It is designed with the child in mind from the colour of the wall to he type of toys and resourses. It has been build up for years to fit with the child intrested and passions. School classrooms do not offer that level of empowerment and support.

6. Parents have been educating and teaching their children from the day they were born. Children are more comfortable giving feedback to their parents about their role as a teacher than the teachers at school. The parent as a teacher at home can adjust the learning paste/time/task to match the child individual needs better than any teacher. Teachers are striving to get to know their school children as parents do in order to achieve effective differentiation in the classroom. But differentiating is always easier with smaller group of children.

7. The child is not limited by the parents knowledge and education because parents are using the expertise of teachers during the isolation. Teachers from the school that give resourses and guidance or teachers from the online community.

As a summary : children at home have more effective learning time, less stress and more support not just from the parents but teachers and community too. Children learn and their learning is only impared by the limitations that society will place on the parents. Limitations like the statement that all children suffer because they are at home with their parents 24 hours a day. Or limitations such as expecting parents to continue to work while taking care of their own families.

Give parents the means to educate this generation of children. Give parents the trust and the oportunity to show that they can teach and take care of their children in the same time. The world can crumble down but the future of the children is safe in the hands of their parents.

New GCSE exams

The change in circumstances is the best test to assess if practices and policies are flexible enough to change and adapt or if they are too rigid and it is time to drop them.

The current GCSE exam system did not witstand the pandemic. It is a system that could not have been easily adapted to the changing circumstances. Should we drop them? I think it is time for GCSE system that will allow more flexibility for the people taking them but still offer the quality of data for the individual, the school and the exam board when needed.

I have not worked in a lot of schools but I believe most schools are already doing what I will propose in some form. If this practice can be standardised across schools , then whatever happens grades will not be decided only once during their 5 year of study.

The reason GCSE could not be taken during pandemic was because the have to be taken under exam conditions at that one moment of time during the 5 years of secondary school. I think this could be easily adjusted by allowing students to take their GCSE any time during the 5 years of secondary school. Schools are already running “mock exam” based on old papers. If GCSE mock exams are actually a standardised national exams that students can re-take during the 5 years of study then in similar pandemic case there will be a reliable standardised data about the student performance and progression.

The grades should be based on progression. The schools are ranked on student progress, it should be logical that the grade student is awarded reflects their progress in that subject. This means there should be a baseline test at the start in year 7. The final grade for the student should be based on the improvement student has made between year 7 baseline test and their final test.

The students should be allowed to re- take the GCSE as many times as they feel aproproate when they feel ready. This does not mean all final test will be at the end of year 11 with 2 exams per day. It means that the exams can be spaced out. For example at the end of year 7 students can take 2 final GCSE exam and during year 8 they can be directed toward different 3 subject. If a student has achieved the highest possible grade in a math exam in year 8, he should be directed to invest his time in other subject during year 9.

There should be two GCSE exam session in the year. The data from the exams, not just the final grade but also analysis of the common misconception that show in the exams should be shared with the school so teachers can tailor their lesson and the school can use the Data to improve student progress.

If student’s education is cut short ( for any rason) they can leave secondary school with a grade that can be compared between schools .

The amount of work to organise GCSE EXAMS two times a year will be in colavorative between schools and the exam boards. Introducing computer marked sections of the exam papers will elevate the workload for the examiners.

The teacher voice should be heard. I believe teachers should write a descriptive grade for the student that will inform the final GCSE exam result. It is important to know students attitude towards learning and working because grade ( as a number or a letter) never tells the full story. This can be supported by a portfolio that student can build during their studies. The portfolio will describe the details of the progress students have made between exams.

The proposed changes are not new , BTEC offers exams two times in the year with unlimited options for retake. Exams are written and practical work supported by assingment work graded by the teacher. The proposed changes are not radical – just a shift in the role that the exam board has for assessing progress during the 5 years of education.

My favourite proveb ” When wind of change blow,build windmills not walls” summarises the need for flexible structure that will accept that schange is the only constant and work to evolve with the times and aim to measure the metamorphosis in student knowledge through their secondary education.