Archive for the ‘Teaching and Learning’ Category

The Importance of Employability Skills: Let’s Create a Nation of Edupreneurs!

January 5, 2015

I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity this morning to listen to a motivational speaker: Richard Gerver.  His speech resonated so strongly with my current thinking that I have dusted off my blog to add this entry.  This led to a password reset because its been so long since by last entry that I’ve forgotten it!  I’m ditching my insecurities about Blogging.  You’ll either enjoy my blog and overlook any grammatical errors (I’m a fiend with the comma) or you won’t.

Richard started with the expected jovial warm up, which was so entertaining that he could have said anything and I would have continued to laugh.  He then want on to share a number of experiences, which illustrated key points that he wanted to share. Each of the challenges that he posed, I’ll type in bold.  I have included a subsection ‘Clarity’, which is based on my opinion.  This is aimed at adding some additional thoughts, to reduce misunderstanding.

Richard talked about a discussion that he had with Sebastian Foucan, founder of ‘Free Running’.  As Richard remarked to Sebastian, as he stood admiring the Church of the Savior on Blood, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he was astounded that Sebastian hadn’t noticed the buildings. The conversation progressed to reveal Sebastian’s obsession with the space between objects.  He sees himself as water, rather than a ‘rock’, which he believes many people represent themselves as due to the way they view the world, in particular obstacles in their way. Water in contrast is fluid, adaptable and always finds its way around obstacles.   People can be categorised as rocks or water due to their mindset.  Most people are ‘rocks’ who spend their time obsessing over the obstacles, reeling off the reasons why they can’t do things.

We shouldn’t expect to be treated like a professional but to behave like a professional. Professionals find solutions.

Richard went on to talk to us about a topic that has been bogged about a lot over the Christmas holiday.  Many educated people believe that if we work hard enough then things will work out.  If they don’t work out then they interpret it to mean that we didn’t try hard enough.  Most teachers believe that the harder that you work, as in the number of extra hours that you put into your working day, the more successful you will become.  This was very much in accord with what people have been blogging about over Christmas that many of us have fallen foul to this thinking ourselves, at some point (usually the start and middle) of our careers.  Many have blogged about their personal points of realisation of how this impacted on other relationships, often their children. One teacher openly blogged that during an English lesson, a poem that he identified with moved him to tears because he realised that he had damaged the relationship with his son and couldn’t regain the years he had missed due to the long days and weekends that he had worked with stern instructions to his family that he wasn’t to be uninterrupted, and the type household that his had become: one where his son’s friends didn’t want to go because they had to keep so quiet .  After this, he went on to build a very strong relationship with his son but it was a lesson to us readers.

Clarity: do not confuse Richard’s advice with ideas of ‘working to rule’ or think this means that deliberate practice isn’t effective.  Deliberate practice is effective for learning new skills.  The point Richard made is not to equate things not working out at work with not having not worked hard enough.  Rather to take time to consider how to do things differently for more successful outcomes.

Teaching has never been a 9-5 job, it is a vocation that involves planning and marking some evenings, during weekends and holidays. However, it is important to maintain a healthy work life balance. This involves developing the art of keeping your values clear and close, being discerning and organising yourself.   The latter, I believe is vital for a successful and happy life.

I made a claim in August 2014, which I have repeated a number of times: ‘I am 100% confident’ and I believe this too!  This does not mean that I am perfect or have nothing to learn.  Indeed, I see myself as a lifelong learner and seek to continually improve.  Being 100% confident is based on the premise that I do my best in all I do with the time, information and resources that I have.  It doesn’t guarantee me anything but I can deal with the consequences when things don’t work out, without self-flagellation and a negative impact on my self-esteem.   My attitude of 100% has led me to greater success, more risk taking and feeling happier.  I love my job even more that I did before.

Richard asked us to consider how can we tackle problems in a different way to this 20th century industrial model of working.

Richard suggest that we identify your own answers to these questions:

  • What’s your personal vision?
  • Why did you come into this profession?
  • What makes a good day for you?
  • What makes your heart pump faster?
  • What happens om your teaching day or interaction with learners that makes you go home thinking ‘this is all worth while’?

Eric Schmidt (Google) pleasantly surprised Richard during a lunch by stating that ‘technology will never replace the teacher’.  Eric expanded that he believes that education is the development of human intention and human interaction is fundamental to this. Computers cannot replace human relationships and the interaction that teachers provide.  Eric made the point that Google can provide the information, which replaces the type of teacher who stands at the front to impact knowledge.  This was music to my ears, when Richard shared this with us.  I strongly believe that there is a clear value of technology and it’s key that we embrace it with all of its uses, to enhance the learning experience but will never replace the teacher.  All of the research that I have read on this matter concurs, making it clear that inter student relationships. the rapport with the teacher and the collaborative climate that the teacher creates is vital for learning with technology.

Eric had shared with Richard that at one time Google became less successful, when it changed from a being vibrant environment with a clear vision and values when all meetings consisted of sharing ideas: ifs.  The meetings became fearful places, when the focus turned to what their competitors were doing.  This anecdote is a warning that we must never stop trusting our own vision, values and purpose  This simply leads to reactionary action when people copy what others are doing.  This is disastrous but sadly what many people are keen to do throughout the educational sectors.  We believe that the answer is out there by identifying and copying what’s working for others.

Don’t stop thinking and never stop trusting your own values, vision and purpose.

Richards penultimate point is vital and one that is very much at the heart of Derby College: the link between education and employability.

  • We must not teach students to pass tests but develop their employability skills.
  • Qualifications are becoming less important, it is vital that we develop people.
  • Interpersonal skills are the most desirable skill set for employers. We must contextualise everything that we teach in developing our learners interpersonal skills, or there is no point to what they know.
  • The key ability for success is to be able to continually adapt and change, with a hunger to learn.
  • We must all strive to develop an even better link between the world of work and education.

Richard shared his believe that he had met the man who has changed the world, and explained why.  The man is Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.  Steve had shared his own story with Richard, which included that he had been labelled at the age of eight, as dysfunctional, because he couldn’t build relationships with other children.  Having encountered an exceptional teacher, who made him feel that he could achieve anything, he fostered a desire to teach.  After Steve’s success with Apple, following an Engineering pathway, he fulfilled his second ambition and became a full-time teacher.  Steve believed that what you teach is irrelevant, it is how you learn, which is most important.

He told Richard  that Steve Jobs and himself had stated right at the start of their entrepreneurial career that ‘We need a company that invents stuff, rather than a company that makes stuff’, or words to that effect.  They made themselves a promise that they kept: ‘At Apple we will never employ anyone who needs managing’.

How do we create a climate where students can become this time of individual?  How can we create a Nation of Edupreneurs?


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April 15, 2014

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Formative Assessment

January 10, 2014

Nash in a Nutshell: The gift of formative assessment: mistakes transformed into an abundance of personalised, challenging learning for all students by establishing clearly defined goals,  the options to achieve them and assess the success specific to them.

I appreciate that formative assessment is something that we have different levels of understanding of so I will build this guide from the foundations.

The Essentials of Formative Assessment:

Formative Assessment is assessment for learning; summative assessment is assessment of learning.

Summative Assessment: students have learnt something and we are testing this, which will result in a measure e.g. grade, score or level. This is important for tracking progress but for the learners it leaves them with a ‘so what?’, confusion and lack of clarity as to why they worked really hard but have only achieved a ‘pass’ grade instead of anything higher or what they need to do to improve and achieve a higher grade.

You may be able to relate to this if at some point in your career you have experienced an observation grade but haven’t received clear information and an explanation about how to improve your teaching or to have achieved an ‘Outstanding’ but cannot qualify to someone else what it was about the lesson that made it so. This leaves you mystified and nervous about the next observation. How could you be confident that you can maintain your outstanding teaching and learning or improve to achieve ‘outstanding’, if you don’t have this information.

Formative Assessment: prior knowledge which has been acquired during previous learning is assessed and (the important bit, which makes the distinction) the information gathered from the assessment is used to share with the students HOW they can progress their learning. Also, it should inform lesson planning by using this assessment data as the starting point for further learning, designing homework and the assessment etc. Hey presto! The result of this is true differentiation, personalisation and inclusion.

Myth Busting

It doesn’t have to be onerous or time consuming. In fact effective formative assessment will result in the equivalent of up to eight months of deep learning for your learners. Wow!

Formative assessment includes much more than simply marking learners’ work and providing detailed written feedback.

Feedback does not need to be presented to all learners in the same way so that it replicates the formal assessments that they need to take to pass their unit(s)/course.

Nash in a Nutshell:

Formative assessment should inform students how to improve their work and inform your planning, which will result in personalised learning and exceptional progress.

Students love it! It results in them developing a real love of learning and them feeling special! Learners are quick to complain if they aren’t getting detailed feedback and they want it regularly. Of course, when we assess them they complain because it takes effort, which they aren’t a fan of. Learners need clear feedback and can’t wait for it after they have completed their assessment. They will expect you to mark and feedback by their next lesson, they are so keen! In the real world, this isn’t practical but it is vital that their returned assessment is worth the wait. The key is it ensure that they understand the feedback and feed forward. Factor into your feedback an activity, which ensures that the learner has to engage with the feedback too for you to assess their understanding of it. Ideas for this will be included at a later date but it could be something as simple as: for each point you have raised they have to state what they will do to achieve this improvement or ask students to identify the feedback which belongs to their work and explain why.

It is the most efficient use of your time for planning exceptional learning for all learners.

It is the most effective way to facilitate progress of learning for all learners, no matter what their level and with appropriate challenge. Wow, so much achieved already!

Prove it:

A wealth of scientific research demonstrates that the effect size for feedback is 0.73, which is colossal.  It is one of the most effective teaching strategies that is proven to dramatically increase learning and achievement….if it it carried out effectively….yes, I will explain how you can….

How to:

Formative Questioning

Skilful, probing, challenging and responsive questioning allows teachers to effectively achieve formative assessment throughout learning episodes to ensure that all learning is relevant, challenging and scaffolding progress for all.  There are a variety of methods that I will discuss in an upcoming blog and there are others that you can access today.  Click here to access Matt Bromley’s comprehensive blog posts on formative feedback and here to read his posts on effective questioning to extend learning.  If that is too much effort then in a nutshell they key features of effective questioning are:

  • Appropriate questioning strategy to achieve the purposeful goal that they questioning is setting out to achieve.
  • Ensure that thinking time is provided; when you think they have had enough: allow a bit longer!
  • Ensure that questioning is inclusive by developing a culture that of curiosity and hunger for learning, whereby learners cannot afford to ‘switch off’ if they aren’t the person being directly questioned.
  • Allow inclusive learning opportunities to develop in response to the learners’ answers, instead of steering them on a pre-determined, set path but with the clear goal in mind.
  • Continue to question learners when they ‘get stuck’ by breaking down the questioning to identify their understanding, misunderstandings to build their understanding before bouncing the question to other learners.
  • Utilise peer assessment of answers and of course, develop and utilise learners’ ability to design and ask questions of each other.

Formative Marking

The Learning Spy, David Didau, blogged that ‘marking is an act of love’ (click here for link to his informative blog).  I heartily agree because it provides us with the opportunity to provide all of our learners with 1:1 support that really makes a difference to developing their enjoyment of learning; value of learning and understanding of the role they have in maximising their learning.  The focused feedback will enabling your learners to make exceptional progress, which is sustained over time.

For you: the understanding that you have gained from marking their work will ensure that your starting point for lesson planning is every learners’ current understanding and importantly misunderstandings! You will have a clear picture of where each learner is currently at, where you anticipate their learning will progress to next with a utopian idea of where they could be if all of the variables in place and the winds are blowing in the right direction.  You are now fully informed to effectively and flexibly plan based on this assessment for their next stages of learning to facilitate such achievement.  This will result in identifying a clear framework to promote the next stage of learning for all learners; appropriate teaching and learning strategies for each learner, the expected challenging individualised outcomes for the next learning sessions; short term, mid term and long term targets; success criteria; formative assessment strategies that can be utilised throughout the lesson; measured risks that could launch learning; the best way of sharing the outcomes of the session; grouping of the learners and the list goes on…..

Formative Self-Assessment

This requires the teacher to develop a genuine belief in learners of their ability to accurately assess their progress in relation to clearly defined success criteria.  If this is not achieved then the learner will not place any value on this type of assessment, their will be little learning progress made as a result of it and could lead to disengagement of the learner and definitely frustration.  It is important that the teacher clearly and patiently shares the success criteria, which is broken down to each learner’s current level of understanding.  Avoid the trap of simply handing out ‘assignment briefs’ or past exam papers’ mark schemes.  Of course, do not avoid these either if the learners understanding of success criteria has reached the point of understanding it.  My experience as an examiner and the debates that used to take place around the table during the moderation meetings (in the good ol’ days) showed me that even experienced teachers can struggle to interpret clearly the acceptable criteria for each grade.  The key ingredient here is that the learner can identify clearly their success and their mistakes and importantly how they learnt what they succeeded with and how they can improve their work, especially the parts that they had misunderstood or hadn’t achieved full success with.

Again there is a plethora of ideas that you can access to ensure that you are employing a variety of self-assessment strategies that engage your leaners.

Formative Peer Assessment

Develop a collaborative, supportive environment underpinned by clear rules and structure that encourages and facilitates peer assessment.  This can take a variety of forms, which will be discussed in great detail  in a future blog post.  You can access lots of ideas via the T.E.S. website; Passion for Learning Moodle page’s database (Derby College staff only)….contact me for more resource sites.

Vital Ingredients to Ensure Formative Assessment for Learning is Successful:
Spelling and grammar must be assessed in all pieces of work with an appropriate expectation linked to the learner’s current level. Their is nothing worse than red pen corrections for every word spelt incorrectly, if nearly all of them are! Oh there is something just as bad: no spelling corrections on mistakes because the learner has dyslexia and the teacher doesn’t think they can improve. They can! Of course, assessing spelling and grammar by writing the correct answer isn’t very helpful. Codes on work are more helpful for students to spot their mistakes to correct their mistakes. Provide strategies to help them get it right in the future or without sounding like too much like our ‘Guru Gove’: explain the origins of words so they understand their composition.

Learners must be involved in setting their own aspirational targets with high self-efficacy in all areas, especially those that they may initially find it hard to believe that they can improve.

Students must engage with the feedback that they receive from all sources; teacher, peers, self and others.  The likelihood of this will increase if it is relevant to their learning progression, is succinct and very clear.

Variety of strategies must be utilised, which develop specific skills in particular learning episodes/sessions.

Ensure that all feedback is focused, specific to the task /activity to avoid general unclear comments e.g. ‘well done, try harder’.

A supportive, trusting, collaborative learning culture whereby learners are not fearful of failure; expect mistakes; confidently accept and seek constructive feedback; self-reflection is developed and learners willingly provide supportive feedback to their peers with discernment and without ‘fear or favour’.  Importantly, teachers must be seen as ‘fair’ by their learners and there is a fair weighting between , genuine, positive and negative comments.

Learners must believe that they can improve and achieve their potential.  The feedback shared with learners and the next learning steps that we plan for develop their study skills, learning habits and ability to identify their own formative feedback.  This will enable each learner to identify what they want to learn and develop, how they can achieve this, how they can self-assess to identify whether they have achieved their clearly defined goals etc.

Tip:  Zoe Elder (click here to access her superb blog) suggests that as part of your own self assessment for learning consider ‘what aspect of AfL do you know you avoid?’

Then identify how you can learn more about this strategy, why you avoid it, how you an best try it and how will you know whether you have achieved success with it….go on!

Summary of Hattie and Gan’s observations gained from their review of the vast array of evidence based research, as cited in Hattie and Yates (2014. p. 70) into the ‘effectiveness of feedback principles within the process of instruction’.

  1. It is important to focus on how feedback is received rather than how it is given
  2. Feedback is powerful when it renders criteria for success in achieving learning goals transparent to  the learner.
  3. Feedback becomes powerful when it cues a learner’s attention onto the task, and effective task-related strategies, but away from self-focus.
  4. Feedback needs to engage learners at, or just above, their current level of functioning.
  5. Feedback should challenge the learner to invest effort in setting challenging goals.
  6. The learning environment must be open to errors and to disconfirmation.
  7. Peer feedback provides a valuable platform for elaborative discourse.  Given opportunities, students readily learn appropriate methods and rules by which respectful peer feedback can be harnessed.
  8. Feedback cues teachers to deficiencies within their instructional management and can lead to efforts to improve teaching practices.

I hope that there is something that has been of use here.  If you would like to access more information please read the blog that I have linked above and talk to me on twitter.  I am happy to answer your questions, share ideas and point you in the direction of further information. @shanie_nash