Friday, 17 March 2017

Teaching provides an amazing, varied, irresistible career – Dame Alison Peacock


I became a teacher because I realised that I wanted to be free to plan my days, to work with young people in a vibrant ever-changing environment and because I wanted to do something that might make a positive difference.

I have worked in primary and secondary schools and have also spoken at hundreds of conferences, so you could say I have taught teachers too. Essentially, the job has many similarities throughout all age ranges. The key characteristic is one of connecting with others, engaging them in a compelling process that helps them to think, enabling them to learn something new.

When I started teaching I worked in a large secondary school. Every day was different and exciting but there were plenty of challenges too. When I look back, I remember the highs and lows of exhilaration when things went well as well as the exhaustion that came just before a holiday. I remember pupils that I taught and their delight and excitement when we produced a school play in the summer term. I recall my first parents’ evening in the school hall feeling very young and yet full of optimism and pride about the children in my class. I also recall being invited to dinner with my Head of Department who seemed ancient but now that I look back realize was probably only in her thirties.

Every school that I have worked in has felt like an important micro-community. Each school has encouraged huge loyalty and closeness - working as a teacher is like joining a large, diverse family. There have always been particular colleagues who I have formed close friendships with, families that I have connected with and supported and children that I have cared deeply about. To teach is to become emotionally engaged. This is why the job can feel all-consuming at times. Teachers care.

I chose to become a headteacher of a primary school that was in special measures. The school was a place where hope had been lost and I took on the challenge of turning it into a school that inspired teachers across England. The story of this Learning without Limits approach is captured in a series of books that I have authored in partnership with colleagues from the University of Cambridge. My role as a teacher became one as researcher and writer whilst also working as a headteacher. Ultimately, before leaving my school last year, I became one of the few headteachers also working as a professor at university.

Throughout my career I have been inspired by the importance of ‘big ideas’ that seek to improve life and educational opportunities for all. This inspiration has been fuelled by my love of engagement with professional learning and research. From my earliest days as a student teacher, I was fascinated by the lectures on my PGCE and soon went on to seek out further opportunities to study.

Having received a Damehood from the Queen, I can honestly say that I am amazed by the wonderful experience that teaching has offered me. I have never regretted choosing this career path for a single moment. Driven by a passion to support all schools to offer inspiration both for children and for teachers, I took the decision last year to leave headship to establish a new professional body. The new Chartered College of Teaching has been set up to provide a membership organisation for all teachers that will support career pathways, connect teachers across the country and provide a study path towards Chartered Teacher status. We aim to enhance the status of the teaching profession and to offer an authoritative, credible voice that will be respected by government and wider society.  This is the next stage of my career and it feels incredibly important.

I hope that you will join our profession, inspire others and gain the true satisfaction that comes from knowing your efforts will change lives for the better.

Dame Alison Peacock
Chief Executive, Chartered College of Teaching

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Feeling inspired?

Find out more about becoming a teacher.

There’s more to assessment than meets the eye - Andy Chandler-Grevatt


In this blog I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to one of the key themes you’re likely to encounter in your teacher training - assessment.

When we think of assessment, we think of tests and exams, however the most important assessment takes place every day in classrooms.

There are of course examinations that most students will sit, whether they are government standardised tests such as SATs or exam board GCSE or A-level examinations. It is worth having a read through the National Curriculum and an exam board specification to see what is covered and what questions are asked. These exams and tests are known as summative assessments, which summarise learning, usually in the form of a grade.

However, summative assessment can dominate schools and classrooms, where there is over-emphasis on grades, feedback is managerial rather than on learning and shallow rote-learning can lead to demotivation in students. Formative assessment on the other hand, is an interaction between the teacher and their students, which focusses on feedback and improvement through clear learning intentions, skilled questioning and a range of feedback and improvement opportunities. In England, these strategies are known as Assessment for Learning (AfL). To understand the origin of this important aspect of classroom teaching, it is worth reading the short seminal work by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam called Inside the Black Box, and if you want to take it further, Working Inside the Black Box.

Good formative assessment can be subtle. When you first start observing classrooms, look out for the following features of classroom assessment and ask yourself these questions:

Questioning - How does the teacher pose questions? What does it achieve? What types of questions are used? Open (How? Why?) or closed questions (What is? Tell me the name of?)? Do they use alternative forms of questioning such as ‘Big Questions’, Traffic light cards, thumbs up or down?
Learning objectives and outcomes - Does the teacher share what the lesson will cover? How? Do the children understand what to do? Do they know how well they need to do it? Do they know what success looks like? How does the teacher communicate this?
Peer-assessment and self-assessment - Do the students have an opportunity to assess or check their own work? Do students have the opportunity to assess each other’s work? What learning opportunities come from this?
Feedback - How do teachers feedback to students verbally and in writing? What is feedback about, the work or the behaviour?
Making improvements - Do the students have targets? How are these decided? Are the student’s given time to improve? If so, how do they do this? What support do student’s get?

Note that not all teachers use formative assessment strategies routinely. Good formative assessment is more than a set of skills, it is a classroom culture. When I did my doctorate into how teachers used formative assessment activities, I identified some features of summative and formative cultures. A summative-focussed classroom usually values outcomes in the forms of grades, gives one chance opportunities at learning, assessment is an add-on such as a test at an end of a topic or unit of work. A formative-focussed classroom has assessment as a thread of each lesson, where teachers and students focus on the process of learning, feedback and improvements; assessment is a process rather than an end-point. Often you’ll find a combination of both.

When you observe lessons, decide what type of assessment culture dominates. Find out what summative tests take place and how often, what the purpose of the summative assessments are and how they are communicated to students, other teachers and parents.

Once you start teaching, you will start to develop assessment strategies that help you and your students understand what they know already, what they should be aiming for and how to get there. It takes time and professional skill and you’ll find there’s a lot more to assessment than just tests and examinations.

Andy

Dr Andy Chandler-Grevatt has an EdD in school assessment and a real passion for teaching and learning. Andy is Teaching Fellow in Science Education at the University of Sussex where he is a tutor on the PGCE, School Direct, and MA in Education courses. An author and assessment editor, his new book How to Assess Your Students is coming out next year. Follow him on Twitter @Grevster73
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Further reading

National Curriculum 2014 - read both primary (Key Stage 1 and 2) and secondary (Key Stage 3 and 4) so you can understand what the students should know when they come to you, or what they will learn when they leave you.

Summative assessment - have a look at National Curriculum tests and GCSE awarding body specifications and exemplar exam papers: STA, AQA, Edexcel and OCR
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If you liked this…

It’s one of a series of blogs to help make your introduction to teacher training a little easier. Get up-to-speed with some of the topics you’re likely to encounter in your training:
Common myths about the brain and learning

Common myths about the brain and learning – James Williams


Part of becoming a teacher is observing teachers and children in schools. If you’re on a teacher training degree programme, this will happen on a regular basis. But, is everything you see good teaching?

Neuroscientists have been trying to figure out how our brains work for decades. This includes how we learn. Some teachers will tell you they use ‘neuroscience’ based techniques. But beware, there are some bad teaching methods and brain myths still being used in some schools that aren’t backed by any scientific evidence.

In this blog I’ll look at some myths about the brain, look at those discredited teaching methods and explain how we know they don’t work.

We only use 10% of our brain!

This is a common ‘fact’ that’s false. We use all of our brain nearly all of the time. How do we know?

Studies of brain damage - If only 10% of the brain is normally used, then damage to other areas shouldn’t cause us any problems.
Brain scans - These show that all brain areas are always active.
Evolution - If we only need 10% of our brain, why did we evolve a much larger brain?
Energy use - Our brain requires up to 20% percent of the body's energy – that’s a lot for just 10% of the brain.
Brain imaging (neuroimaging) - Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) reveal that even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity. The brain has distinct regions for information processing. No functionless areas exist.

Left Brain Right Brain differences

Have you heard that the left hand side of your brain controls rational, logical thinking and the right hand side controls your emotional responses? It’s completely wrong. How do we know?

In 2013 a research team looked at brain scans of over 7,000 different regions of the brain and how they were connected in people while they were resting, they found:

Heavy ‘neural traffic’ (messages being passed) in different regions
On average, both sides of the brain were equal in their neural networks and connectivity.

The learning pyramid

Have you come across the ‘learning pyramid’ before? None of the information in the pyramid is evidence based. How do we know?



The percentages are just ‘too’ neat and rounded. Experiments and research rarely, if ever, give such clear results.
Nobody can track down where this first appeared and who made these claims
We all use a combination of ways of taking in information so this doesn’t make much sense.

Brain Gym

Brain Gym is a teaching system that uses movement to ‘stimulate’ brain function. For example it claims that placing your fingers on your ‘brain buttons’ (the rounded ends of your collar bone) and rubbing them gently while placing one hand over your belly button and looking left then right, will ‘wake up’ your brain. Drinking water, it’s claimed, ‘gives you energy’. Gently folding and ‘unrolling’ your ears ‘switches on’ your hearing. It’s all pseudoscientific nonsense. How do we know?

There is no direct linking pathway in the nervous system between your collar-bones, belly button, eyes and brain.
Water is essential, but contains no ‘energy’ that can be released in the body.
We ‘hear’ with our inner ear as electrical impulses are transmitted from the inner ear to the brain to be interpreted. Our pinna (the outer ear) simply collects sound waves and channels them towards the ear drum.

Learning Styles

Many teachers still believe that children ‘learn better’ if they are taught in their ‘preferred’ learning style – using either visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (movement) techniques, commonly known as VAK. There’s no evidence to back this up. It’s true that we may state that we prefer to learn using one style over another, but the evidence shows we use many different senses to gather information as we learn. How do we know?

How good food tastes depends not just on our taste buds, but also on what the food looks likes, smells like and feels like when we eat it.
Different contexts for learning require different dominant senses e.g. you can’t easily pass your driving test if you only learn by looking and listening you also have to turn the steering wheel and control the pedals.
Lots of studies have shown that ‘learning styles’ is a myth and shouldn’t be used in teaching.

James

James Williams was a science teacher in secondary schools for 12 years and has twenty years’ experience as a lecturer in education. His current post, at Sussex University, involves teaching on undergraduate education, postgraduate teacher training and MA programmes. He has authored science textbooks, writes for national and regional newspapers, and magazines on education. His current interest is looking at how myths in neuroscience spread between schools.

Further reading

The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education (2005) by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Uta Frith (Blackwell publishing)

Urban Myths about Learning and Education (2015) by Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A. Kirschner and Casper D. Hulshof (Academic Press)

Neuromyths in Education, Canadian Education Association (CEA) 

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If you liked this…

It’s one of a series of blogs to help make your introduction to teacher training a little easier. Get up-to-speed with some of the topics you’re likely to encounter in your training:

There’s more to assessment than meets the eye


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Professional skills tests

If you're applying for teacher training programmes, you may have seen that some providers ask for professional skills tests as one of the entry requirements. In this blog, we’ll answer three of the most frequently asked questions our advisers receive.

1. Do I need to take a professional skills test?
To study for a teacher training programme in England you need to pass the numeracy and literacy skills tests. Some training providers may require you to complete them before your interview, or ask you to complete them by a certain date as a condition of your offer – check with your chosen training providers to confirm. If you’re applying for training programmes in Wales then you’re not required to pass the skills tests.

2. When can I book a professional skills test?
You cannot sit your professional skills test until you have completed and submitted your application. When filling in your application, you only need to include a date if you have previously sat your skills tests. If you haven’t, you should select ‘no’ and leave the date blank.


You can book your skills tests through learndirect, but places are on a first-come, first- served basis so it’s worth trying to book a space as soon as you have made your application. You can book a test up to three months in advance.

3. Who do I contact if I can’t find a suitable booking slot? 
The learndirect helpdesk is open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 16:00. Call them on 0300 303 9613 or email support@sta.learndirect.com.


We’ve got lots of advice about entry requirements on ucas.com. If you have any questions about your chosen training programmes, get in touch with the training providers you're interested in - some training programmes have many more applications than places available, so their requirements might be higher.

There’s also plenty of support to help you get ready, including practice tests, on the Get Into Teaching website.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

In at the deep end: top five tips for stepping into the classroom - Alex Nicholson

Stepping into the classroom as a trainee teacher for the first time can be daunting, and if you've signed up for a school direct course – it is a feeling you are going to get used to. From one trainee to another, here are five things I've learnt about life inside the classroom over the past six months of being in at the deep end.

1. Whatever you do, do it with passion
Hate maths? Find history boring? Worried about teaching English? It doesn’t matter, whatever subject you are delivering, give it a big dollop of passion. If you don't find the subject interesting – how you expect your students to? I've discovered that finding something within the topic or subject I'm teaching that captures my imagination, and sharing this with the class, has a great impact on how they respond to it. I don't know about you, but when I think back to my favourite teachers from my own childhood – they were the ones who loved the subjects they taught. And if you can't love it? Fake it, that enthusiasm can bring a lesson to life.

2. Flying solo
As scary as it seems, occasionally being left alone with a class is a great opportunity. Not only does it give you a chance to teach without the worry of being judged by another teacher, but it can also serve as your testing ground. This is the perfect place to try out new methods, tips and techniques you’ve learnt in your theory based lessons, and if they go a bit wrong, or don’t work, it doesn’t matter (play it cool and the students won’t even realise). If it worked you can tweak and refine whatever you tried out, ready for next time. Some of my most successful learning games and zany ideas were given an airing this way, and it proved massively useful.

3. Confidence is the key
I’ve heard people joke that children are like dogs...they can smell fear. There is definitely something in that! If you step into the classroom without confidence, the children won't have confidence in you. This applies to the knowledge you impart in your lessons and the same goes for the tougher side of behaviour management too. Children like to know where they stand, so draw a line in the sand by making your classroom rules - and the consequences for not sticking to them - crystal clear. Although it can be easier said than done, don't make threats you won't (or can't) stick to. If you say, “This is your last chance, if you do that again, you will have to stay in a break time,” you need to have the confidence to follow through, or in the future the children will disbelieve any warnings.

4. Be a Chameleon
Adapt to your surroundings, to be the best teacher you can be. This really comes with a bit of practice, but know that it is ok to go off-plan during your lessons. This can be really tricky, especially when you are being observed. Picture this: for your lesson you've handed over your carefully crafted lesson plan, you spent untold hours slaving over. The lesson is going fine to begin with, but suddenly – you realise the children just aren't getting it. You have two choices – plough on, or stop and rethink. The thought of having to throw your beautiful plan out of the window and freestyle brings you out in a cold sweat, what will you do? How will you cope? Know this – DO NOT plough on. If your lesson needs to take a different direction to help the children progress, then that is the path you have to take. Thankfully, the more you teach, the less of a scary prospect adapting as-you-go becomes. I’m still getting there, but with experience it is getting easier.

5. Keep it positive
It can be really tricky to be positive when fidget Freddy won't sit still, little Lucy is taking a stroll around the classroom for the fifth time in an hour, or chatty Charlie keeps calling out. When managing classroom behaviour though, positivity can go a long way. Do your best to ignore those who are making the wrong choices, and instead praise those who are making the right ones; "Well done to Sophie, you are sitting so beautifully," "Thank you James for patiently waiting your turn to speak," and "I can see Oliver is working really hard, I love how he has taken charge of his own learning by helping himself to a dictionary". It takes some practice, but giving out effort points, stickers or rewards to children who are doing the right thing will encourage others who are not, it will also create a more pleasant atmosphere in your classroom and in turn, you'll feel more positive too.

I hope these nuggets may be of use to those of you taking your first steps into the classroom.  Some of them may seem obvious, or cliché, but from my own experience, these are the buoyancy aids that I have to remember are lifesaving to have on me. Now it is your turn, so arm yourself and jump right in!

Alex