Behaviour

I believe that behaviour is the most important thing for schools to get right and the success or failure of this will be a big determiner of pupil achievement and teacher morale. There seems, to me, little point spending hours in after school meetings about, for example, literacy strategies or formative assessment until each teacher can have a reasonable expectation of an organised and controlled classroom. Despite this, I haven’t heard very much talk about schools which have great discipline procedures and I’m not even sure what one would look like. So I’d like to share how things are like in my school in order to compare with others.

I’m currently working in a school which has significant behaviour problems, but where classroom teachers don’t have the authority to set detentions. This seems strange to me so I’m trying to get a better understanding of why this is. As detentions can only be set by department heads or above, classroom teachers must rely on the school’s other sanction procedures :

Non verbal warning.
First verbal warning.
Second verbal warning.
Time out.
Re-room.
Parental alert.

It’s good that the school has a definitive behaviour policy (I’ve taught in one school which had no formal policy whatsoever) but I think there are slight problems at each stage.

Firstly, I think three warnings are too many. If ten pupils are disruptive at the start of a lesson, that’s thirty warnings before any real action can be taken (and because the rules are up on the wall the pupils know they have the ‘right’ to disrupt three times before being sent out). It also creates a negative classroom atmosphere and feels like I’m constantly drawing attention to negative behaviour through these verbal warnings, when I’d rather be teaching content or praising good behaviour.

For ‘time outs’ the pupil is asked to stand in the corridor for a few minutes to calm down and wait until the I’m able to speak to them. The major problem with this is that only one pupil can be there at a time, so if lots of kids are disrupting then it’s really hard to get a grip on things. Even with one pupil out, it can often end up with them wandering off, peering into other classrooms or arguing with pupils sent out from other classrooms. I also have to find a point where I can give pupils work to carry on with while I stand in the doorway to speak to the pupil, which can be tricky to do during the teacher lead stages of a lesson. Despite these problems, time out is a mandatory stage before any further sanctions can be dealt.

Re-room. This is the worst one for me. Good because it removes the disruptive pupil from the class and lets the others carry on with work, but bad because I have to stop teaching the class to write out a slip (pupil name, teacher name, date, class, period), then have to I check a re-rooming rota to see which classrooms are available, then I have to choose a ‘good’ pupil to leave the room and the re-rooming slip to the designated re-rooming teacher, then I have to wait for the slip to come back and for the other teacher to decide whether he or she would like to accept this pupil or not. Because of where my classroom is, the slip often has to travel the length of the building and back again, during which time no meaningful learning is taking place in the classroom. The disruptive pupil already knows they’re getting sent out so figures they may as we’ll make the most of it before they go. And sometimes the re-rooming slip comes back with the answer ‘No’ (usually because that teacher already has too many pupils re-roomed from other classes) and it means the whole process has to be repeated with a note being sent to a different classroom! Other times the pupil, who’s been having a great time during this note passing stage, will refuse to go. When this happens a deputy head has to be called for via, of course, another note.

Parental alerts are white cards for the pupil to write what they did wrong and how to improve in future, plus an apology and a comment from a parent. I quite like these and think this can be effective if used sparingly, but the school seems to turn a blind eye to the number of obviously forged signatures.

I can’t help thinking it would be easier if I could just give pupils detentions and use the time outs, re-rooming and parental notes for special cases. I’ve been told that the main reason why classroom teachers can’t give detentions is because pupils often don’t attend them. Another teacher told me that the school doesn’t favour detentions because of after school busses and because detentions at break time and lunchtime “would contravene the UN convention on the child’s right to play”.

I know actually carrying out detentions can be a huge drain on time, so it would be good to hear from other teachers (especially new teachers) who do use detentions to hear if they work and why / why not.

I don’t mean to be too critical of the school either, because there is a feeling that everyone is working together to agree an effective discipline policy. I’m just interested to hear what people think that would look like.

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Reading list

I do feel like a bit of a fraud for posting opinions on education when I haven’t even started my NQT year. To try to justify myself, here’s a list of excellent education books that have informed my opinions.

‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ Daniel Willingham.

‘Seven Myths About Education’. Daisy Christodoulou.

Progressively Worse’. Robert Peal.

Trivium 21c’. Martin Robinson.

Teach Like a Champion’. Doug Lemov.

‘The Secret of Literacy‘. David Didau.

These are the ones that have had the biggest impact on me and I’d recommend them to anyone starting out.

‘A Common Weal Education’ review

In February the Reid Foundation published a report on Scotland’s education system written by Professor Brian Boyd from the University of Strathclyde. Having been to a few Reid Foundation events, I get the feeling that they might become more influential over the coming months and years, so it was with much interest that I read their report. To be honest I haven’t fully digested its 22 pages, but a few things jumped out at me.

1). I don’t have enough experience to know whether or not the Finnish system is really the one we should be modelling ours on. It sounds utopian but I’d guess other teachers might have suggestions about why what works in Finland might not necessarily work in Scotland. If we’re looking for models of excellent education systems, from what I’ve heard, the KIPP Public Charter schools in the U.S and the ARK academy chain in England seem to have been getting excellent results in a relatively short space of time.

2). Get rid of yearly exams? Switch to a single, final year, ‘exit ticket’ exam? It sounds extreme, but could work. I think we have to be careful about demonising exams. Daniel Willingham and Joe Kirby have both written about how regular quizzes and tests are important in helping pupils remember new information and I suspect they might also be helpful for boosting motivation. Moving towards a system with fewer high stakes tests and more frequent low stakes tests could definitely be a good strategy for teaching. This might also nudge schools away from focusing on league tables and back to making pupil prospects their top priority.

3.). The report cautiously suggests that “Perhaps we need to ask…what is it that we want our children and young people to learn” (p13.). Sorry Professor, but I believe there’s no ‘perhaps’ about it. It seems to me that this is absolutely where we should start when designing ANY curriculum. I think we’d benefit hugely from coming up with a Scottish version of ‘Core Knowledge’ founded by E.D Hirsch Jr. Hirsch has been labelled right wing because Gove was a fan, but really his philosophy is all about equity and would be hugely compatible with the Reid Foundation’s aims.

I’d love to hear what other teachers think, including those from outside Scotland looking in.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Some teachers on twitter have criticised these early blog posts because I’ve “never taught”. Apart from from 14 weeks teaching practice, that’s true, but my writing (so far) hasn’t been about teaching. It’s been about my attempts, as a newbie, to understand the theories and philosophies behind the Scottish education system. Firstly I don’t think the CfE materials we’re given during our training year are user friendly enough.

I said in my first post that I didn’t like the way the Experiences and Outcomes are written. On reflection maybe there isn’t that much wrong with them. Maybe, years from now, I’ll see that there is a significant difference between (random example) :

– Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning at first reading. LIT 3-23a

and

– Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing independently to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning at first reading. LIT 4-23a

My real problem is that as a new teacher starting out these aren’t helpful at all. For us, right at the start of our careers, we need everything to be laid out as simply and succinctly as possible. Planning lessons for the first time, dealing with behaviour and completing coursework for university takes up pretty much 100% of our time and attention. Seriously, who has time to sit and commit to memory 317 pages of Curriculum guidelines?

Please Education Scotland / teacher training colleges – just tell us what to teach and how to teach it. Let us master the basics before we move on. Tell us how to deal with the kids who laugh at us, swear at us, talk over us. Tell us the small things we can do that get big results. Teach us routines that work, and have been proven to work over time.

Honestly, all the other stuff, the stuff about the Effective Contributors and the Responsible Citizens and whatever, we ignore it. It’s not meaningful for us. Save that for after we’ve been teaching for five years and are starting to have a clue about what we’re doing. Our stressed wee brains can only take in so much information at a time. What’s the analogy comparing an NQT to a medical student performing heart surgery after one year’s training? Help us out. Keep it simple, then build.

Does CfE English need a set text list?

I’ve just received the list of texts that I’ll be teaching this year.  Lots of Theresa Breslin, lots of Joan Lingard, lots of Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games). I’d really been hoping to be teaching more ‘classic’ texts, similar to ones listed here : http://www.learningspy.co.uk/english-gcse/principled-curriculum-design-teach-english/

In what’s almost becoming cliche on English teacher blogs, I’d be happy for students to read these books in their spare time, but I think there are better choices for the classroom. Graduate teachers shouldn’t have to waste their time teaching children’s books. They should be able to use their expertise to make difficult texts accessible – texts all students will come across in their adult lives (Shakespeare, Dickens, Burns, etc). I asked my PT Shakespeare was on a different page, one still to be printed? She told me they “don’t teach Shakespeare here, the kids wouldn’t understand it.” Is this normal? Maybe I just want the moon on a stick. 

http://youtu.be/ERDUbAv8Qz0

Curriculum for Ignorance?

Tomorrow I’m visiting my new school for a meeting with the person who’ll mentor me through my NQT year, which starts in August. This should be an exciting time as I prepare to start my first job of a career which I’d hope to commit a serious amount of time, effort and passion to over the next however many years. In spite of this, I’m currently debating with myself whether I should share with my mentor the fact that I have serious doubts over the likelihood of me completing the year. This doubt isn’t based on the fact that I find teaching difficult – I find it incredibly difficult, but so far I’ve enjoyed that challenge and I’ve managed to deal with it pretty well – but because during my PGDE year I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence to the extent that I’m not sure whether I can put myself through another year of guaranteed frustration.

My issues with CfE include :

1.  Confusing, vague and meaningless Experiences and Outcomes.

2.  A focus on skills over knowledge.

3.  Hero worship of John Dewey.

4.  Insistence on progressive, child centred teaching methods.

Funnily enough a year ago, before starting teacher training, I’d have completely agreed with numbers 2-4 (probably that’s what what gained me my place on the course). So what changed? Well, as much as I hate to blow my own bugle, I’ve done some reading.  A lot of reading.  Over the last twelve months I’ve read a ridiculously huge number of blogs, research articles, books and essays on the topic of education, to the point where it’s been in danger of taking over my life (just ask my girlfriend). As a result my definition of what makes good teaching has changed significantly.

There’s loads I’ve learnt during my PGDE, and I’m bursting to put it into practice. But the vast majority of what I’ve learnt hasn’t been taught to me by the university, but I’ve learnt through reading books and communicating with experienced teachers online.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll be given the freedom to teach in the way I see best for my pupils, or whether I’ll be forced to comply with a system I don’t believe in.