Monthly Archives: August 2011

Positive Learning⤴

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eAssessment Scotland was definitely a successful first conference. I left exhausted but excited and inspired; we really could make a difference. I came away with hundreds of questions that only continued to multiply- the sure sign of lessons learned. From everything I absorbed one word stands out like a Times Square billboard: Feedback.
Every aspect of the conference, whether intentional or not, spoke of the importance of feedback. Specifically positive feedback. Children are taught that failing is failing, rather than being encouraged that everything is a learning curve, failing is always learning. In the adult world mistakes will almost always have consequences, sometimes grave ones, but at the end of the day it’s how we deal with these mistakes that defines us, it’s the lessons taken from the errors that count. If we keep saying WRONG WRONG INCORRECT INCORRECT children will never learn.
I have been taking my Yorkshire Terrier puppy to training classes, and the first thing we learned was never shout at the puppy, never tell it off for doing something wrong. Why? Because it doesn’t understand; shouting at your puppy only has the effect of scaring it and builds negative connotations towards you, the owner. The second thing we learned was praise. Every time the puppy does something well you give it a treat, if it does something wrong you encourage it, very enthusiastically, to do the correct action; positive feedback. Gradually my puppy is learning, he understands the treat process and enjoys the praise to the point he now follows me around the house to perform tricks for me. People do this with their animals every day.  I have an extremely hard time understanding why schools are incapable of doing the same for their students. Negative feedback makes no sense to a child other than I’m in trouble, but more than that, nothing a child does in the classroom should be considered wrong, they are in school to learn, to make errors in a controlled environment and learn how to turn a mistake around.
‘Fail’ should be removed from educators’ vocabulary- better yet all vocabulary. It’s an ugly word and it teaches nothing; except failure.

Schooling Policy In Wales Fail Exams⤴

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This years crop of GCSE and A Level exams taken by children in Wales has shown an alarming decline in performance. This has  stranded many students wanting to take degree courses at university. But the real concern is the change in the educational policy introduced in Wales that abandoned annual exams and tests which monitored learning progress which seems to have created the downfall.

The ideal seemed well founded. Scrap the tests which previously involved extensive periods of grooming and practice in how to pass the exams. Instead allocate this time – estimated at nine weeks per year, towards further learning. The concept seemed ideal, it made logical sense and in theory should have improved the range of education for Welsh children. But something has gone wrong in the equation. By not honing children in exam technique and assessing their performance annually seems to interrupted the ability to pass exams. Results are poorer than in England which maintained the status quo.

The experiment is an eye opener but maybe should not be abandoned wholeheartedly. This pedagogical conundrum need further investigation. The bench mark of exam performance in England is far from  ideal. Exam results have been manipulated by children taking the easier subjects. The need for Maths and the sciences, which could help students in future careers in this changing world, have swapped for and abundance of courses in media studies etc.

Wales had a problem which needs significant soul searching to modify the measured outcome in final exams. The Educational authourities must accept that the educational benefit of allocating those precious nine weeks into learning rather than exam techniques. But for the sake of good order  they also have to come up with a better measure of ability and academic progress. Now is not the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   more..the implications for Wales’ school system

Becka Colley – Please Sir, May I Have More Exams?⤴

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The second keynote of the morning blended perfectly into where Steve had left off. In keeping with the light-hearted nature of first keynote, Becka was funny and easy to warm to; but still there was an in-depth passion to her presentation and fire in her eyes. Put simply she can only be described as an avid campaigner for assessment evolution; exam and assessment environments need to change for student progression.
Aiming high for a future of exams taken on a Smartphone while doing the shopping, I instantly liked Becka’s angle; 21st Century learning, something we currently lack in the worst way.

Citing studies that prove students need real life learning situations, Becka deplored regimental exams (I will forever have a fear of rickety wooden table filed rooms) and begged for continuous assessment that focuses on the skills students are meant to gain from school- something they are currently missing the point of. In school you are expected to perform well, so you study, you cram and you get the grades, but there is always the nag of why are we doing this? This needs to change. Students need to be briefed on why they are being examined, how they should prepare, and what they should take away from the experience, otherwise learning becomes short-term. Continuous assessment, based on the day to day performance and improvement of students is the only way to move forward.

Why does the current exam and assessment method not work? Because it ignores improvement, creativity, effort, individualism, thought process, opinion… the list could go on and on. The current mode of assessment fails to see the person sitting the paper. This is why that person is failing. Not because they do not understand, but because the examiner, the educator, has failed to understand.

The skills gained at school are essential. The knowledge is important, but the skills to find that knowledge will follow you through life; they are what should be assessed. Because anyone could memorise a textbook; that doesn’t mean they can apply the information to a real life situation.   

Steve Wheeler- Assessment in the Digital Age⤴

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Mocking a broad Teuchtar accent, Steve Wheeler opened the eAssessment Scotland Conference in Dundee with a light-hearted humour that had the room instantly engrossed in the first keynote of the day. Of course the accent was not just a fun antidote; soon Steve was drawing witty parallels between international miscommunications and growing language barrier between the Digital Generation and the rest of the world. Education needs to change, this is widely agreed, but assessment appears to have missed the revolution movement. Teach the way they learn; assess the way they learn.
Borrowing from the greats, Steve firmly made his point that today’s schooling is not working:
 I have never let my schooling interfere with my educationMark Twain.
Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind – Plato.
We are preparing today’s children for a largely unknown future – David Warlick (Cathy Davidson, in her new book Now You See It also purports that 65% of careers do not exist yet).
One-size-fits-all is almost a thing of the past within education (or at least educators are trying very hard to make it so), therefore one begs the question, why is assessment still so standardised?! I read recently that the Scottish education system is one of the best in the world (see OECD, Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland), our Secondary school assessment process is largely successful (foundation, general credit, intermediate, higher etc) but still we see a huge lack of personality. Knowledge is being assessed on how much you can remember in a two hour period for unknown questions under extreme stress (I should know after several near melt downs during my education). The student is not being assessed on their ability, they are being measured against others to a sheet of neatly prepared answers that they must know almost telepathically or they fail. One thing that really struck me during Steve’s keynote was his philosophical wisdom v knowledge; knowing everything at the drop of a hat is not the point, knowing where to find the information is. Digital wisdom is the new learning capital.
As an obsessive learner I was thrilled when a term came up that I had never come across before; Ipsative Assessment. My basic understanding of this term is bettering oneself, i.e. competing against your own past marks and improving. As far as I am concerned this is how assessment should always be carried out, after all the purpose of school and education is surely to expand one’s own learning sphere. No one should be considered smarter, or dumber than anyone else, we all learn at different rates, we all take in different things; why? Because we are all different! Schooling needs to take hold of the fact that no one is the same, and that’s not a bad thing. If we were all the same and had the same learning curve we would all be doctors, or lawyers, or pilots, and the world would be a very dull place.  
I love the idea of Ipsative Assessment (just so we are clear on that). Since last Friday my brain has been working overtime with everything I heard and saw at eAssessment, but this has definitely been at the forefront of my mind. I don’t understand why the education sector didn’t jump on this 10, 20 years ago! 

School Term At Free Schools Starts With Low Attendance⤴

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The success of the new Free Schools to be run by parents and teachers is off to a wobbly start. These new educational establishments were set to change the face of the our teaching resources in the UK. Freed from the normal controls instilled in the state sector they were heralded by educational secretary Micheal Gove as the way of the future.  But there is a flaw. It required  local parents to take a gamble with these schools with no pedigree and enlist their children. But they are not.

The Free schools are to draw funds from the government based on a fee per student. It is essential these schools have a full compliment to make ends meet. The operating and payroll costs would have set in the budgets assuming a 80 per cent occupancy but some are falling desperately short of their targets. This poses an awful conundrum. No erstwhile teacher will want to work for a reduced salary or even nothing. The chances of the free school taking off during the first critical years will be severely impaired if the better teachers abandon ship and leave. Schools Freed From Educational Authority Could Flounder

The scheme has a further vulnerability. Set up by interested parents they will inevitably have a finite interest. A concern is the whether these parent’s will maintain the operational energy  after their children have moved away from the school, and the headteacher retires. Many a parents group or parent-teacher interface folds when the driving force moves away or their children leave the school. Although their are supposed  safeguards the fallibility of the free school structure is yet to be proven.

The schooling journey of a child is 15 years. This critical time is made perilous enough with government initiatives, many of which fail or are heavily criticised by the teachers who are required to operate them. As the clock moves on interruptions to this valuable learning time lost can never really be recovered. Let us hope that the Free School experiment does not implode and leave countless children stranded by parents who were led to believe it to be a good idea or a solution to the failing local state school.

eAssessment Scotland. Friday 26th August. Dundee. My first ever conference.⤴

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New suit on- tags only removed that morning- briefcase complete with multiple pens, highlighters, notebooks and laptop, and handbag full to the brim with just-in-case essentials; water, tissues, snacks, filofax, smartphone, more pens… I was over prepared. But it was my first conference. I had no idea what to expect. The free coffee on tap was a welcome surprise.

The first half hour was… daunting. The words small fish in a big pond had never meant more to me. I picked up some leaflets to fill the third bag I had accumulated on arrival. I made a mental note of those I wanted to speak with when my confidence finally kicked in and I made sure I knew where I was going before I had to go there.

09.30; show time. I must admit I was excited. Giddy, you might say; a child thrown from University into the adult world. Entering Lecture Theatre 3 was like being embrace in a safety blanket, lecture theatres were my turf. I did have to endure the odd “You must be the youngest person in the room” and yes I was intimidated by the professionals surrounding me, until Steve Wheeler started to speak. I was enthralled instantly, having loved the eloquence and wit of his Blog I was thrilled to see the same shine through in his presentation. When he asked the room if they had heard of Cathy Davidson’s new book, Now You See It, I knew I had earned my seat, while most around me had furrowed brows that could only mean ‘no’, I raised my hand timidly, smiling proudly, that not only had I heard of the book I had done a great deal of research on it and its author. Confidence was building, doubt was easing.

11.00; Lego time! I had signed up to the Lego NXT Robot workshop, and I was very excited about it. Living Marc Prensky’s Digital Immigrants I was quickly put to IT shame by the 10 year old helpers within the group. My robot would do nothing I wanted it to; my helper had it moving in a perfect square and declaring “Good job” in no time. The curriculum possibilities that these robots allowed for amazed me just as much as the children who programmed them.

12.30. After having my Lego robot prised from my unwilling hands it was time for lunch. As everyone mingled I knew I had to ignore the fear and discover. Working my way around the stalls, PebblePad, Televic Education, Question Mark (headline sponsor), eCom Scotland etc etc, I talked, I perused, I learned, I made contacts. Then I ate; lunch was really good!

13.30; back to the lecture theatre. Pamela Kato’s keynote was the highlight of the conference for me (topped only by her following me on Twitter!). Her presentation was funny, engaging and surprising. Never would I have thought that Serious Games for student doctors could relate so much to the needs of primary and secondary education in Scotland.

14.10; ePortfolios. Disappointed that I never secured a spot in the App App and Away workshop I went into the afternoon seminars with little expectation. I came out buzzing with hundreds of new ideas and the opportunities that ePortfolios offer. Shane Sutherland, PebblePad, and Gordon McLeod, Mahara, offered enthusiastic, informative presentations.

Unfortunately at 15.30 I had to leave; train to catch. I left the conference exhausted but highly enthused. My brand new suit was well worn in, the jacket long abandoned and stuffed in one of my many bags; I was strongly regretting taking my laptop (and several other contents of my bags) but still I was smiling. I got on the train looking a little worse for wear but the notebook was straight back out and the ideas were flowing….
Detailed Blogs of all events to follow.

Are We Learning From Our Mistakes In Education Policy?⤴

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We like to think we’re developing as a nation but as our educational prowess has just taken its annual hammering with the GCSE and Advanced level exam results. Despite the supposed improvement in results much is linked to the popularity of easier subjects. The quality of our teaching resources and schooling system languishes in the “could do better” zone. Such criticism would not merit respect except it comes from the very Head teachers responsible for our children’s education.

Despite state and private education being around for 100’s of years it has fundamentally failed to track with economic, social and technical developments. Countless secretaries of state for education have come and gone. Many leaving behind turmoil and failed educational initiatives that have cost billions of pounds. Their policies have been short-lived, created by short-term government ministers who hold the post for a desperately brief tenure leaving behind confusion, frustration and a deep-seated concern for the future of our children. We are slipping down the international educational league tables at an alarming rate and as yet do not have a concerted policy that can address this trend. Exam Results Reveal failure in Educational System

Accepting the strategic importance of education it seems crass to hand this vital role to a government minister who inevitably is equipped with an Eton and Oxford background. Having therefore benefited from a pinnacle of education being expected to empathise with the overall failings of the education system that serves millions of our children seems remote. Countless schemes and national initiatives have been introduced that are openly criticised and condemned by the very head teachers responsible for their implementation. Failed or abandoned trials leave hundreds of thousands of children stranded or robbed of the education they deserve. The policies cause undue stress within our teaching resources and having a negative influence on new teachers 50 per cent of who abandon the role within five years. This staggering waste of expensive educational resource remains an unresolved indictment of the educational sector.

Key performance indices (KPI) introduced by the bureaucrats to measure performance have been duly manipulated by the more savvy head teachers and clouded the true results and trends. Yet government educational departments busy handling the introduction and measurable the next initiative seems bereft of prior consultation with the unions, colleges and teaching resources. The fate of well meaning radical reforms and learning schemes could be vastly improved and the doomed schemes aborted before they damage our schooling systems.

Above all politicians zest for glory could be muted. As the average tenure of an educational Secretary is around 18 short months they hardly have time to get to grips with the status quo let alone develop and in depth strategic plan.

Our children deserve to be among the best educated in the world. Educational traditions of quality extend back hundreds of years for very few institutions. And over the next 10 years the numbers attending primary school will swell by a further 300,000 children. We have a UK wide problem that should take precedence in government planning. We must invest in these children after all they will run the economic recovery of the UK and replace the government of today, hopefully, from a much wider platform.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival!⤴

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So last year I was Directing a production for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival… which received great press… and this year I have been working for MTM:UK as an assessor for the Music Theatre Matters:UK Awards for Musical Theatre in the fringe. As the fringe comes to an end I have seen 44 shows!

This year has been incredible as I have seen some wonderful productions including Hamlet House of Horror  , From the Fire, Thirsty,   and I have been super excited about seeing Action To The Word theatre company and their productions of Constance and Sinestra and A Clockwork Orange . As a teacher of the Arts I always find the fringe exciting and stimulating… I’m just sad that it still on when we go back to school.

I managed to get one of my students, Neil, an audition for Tumult in the Clouds theatre production of Fleeto and Wee Andy at The Pleasance. He was cast as Wee Andy and has been working with some amazing Scottish Actors. I’m really proud of him. This is an amazing experience for someone his age and the production is striking and harrowing! (and he’s been getting brilliant reviews!)

So as the festival draws to an end… I ask myself… why aren’t more Scottish school students involved… and how can we change this?

Curriculum for Excellence⤴

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So we are now into the second year of Curriculum for Excellence at secondary level and I am so excited to be working with a fabulous department and faculty.

Our first year and second years are rotated in the Expressive Arts; each pupil gaining 3 periods a week for ten weeks in Drama, Music and Art… This year we have introduced an exciting new area into our curriculum for S2 pupils. Pupils will still gain their core experience in Drama, Music and Art on the rota for but they choose two ‘Creative Industries’ electives throughout the year to attend. These electives will last for 15 weeks each and will give the pupil an alternative insight into the Expressive Arts through the Creative Industries. Students are able to choose from Physical Theatre and Stage Combat, Animation, Theatrical Design, Musical Theatre, Rock Band, Sound Engineering and Puppet Making .

We hope this gives our pupils a chance to see what the Expressive Arts has to offer and how skills cane be transferred from one curriculum area to the other.

Exciting times ahead at Knox!

Five Minute Theatre!⤴

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So at the end of last term Knox Academy took part in an amazing day of theatre to celebrate the fifth birthday of the National Theatre of Scotland. We were so honoured to be taking part in what became an incredible day in the Drama Department. All the Standard Grade classes took part and received so much praise for the work that they created… we even got a mention in the Scotsman from acclaimed arts journalist Joyce McMillian…

 For some shows, there is nothing more than a single camera pointing at a distant stage, across the heads of the audience; in others – like Knox Academy’s astonishing multiple one-on-one drama Secrets And Lies, broadcast live on Wednesday morning – the camera almost becomes one of the actors.

Full review can be seen here

So here we are… the finished pieces of work that was created by our talented students at Knox Academy… to say we are proud is an understatement!

Hold Onto Hope Love – S3 

 Flesh – S3

Cook – S4

Barry’s Ballad – S4

Secret’s and Lies – S4

So from everyone at Knox Academy… Happy Birthday National Theatre of Scotland!