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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pace and expectations

I am having a pretty great day - very good lesson observation with some great feedback, fixed the door on my greenhouse - finally, collected some pots and cacti via freecycle, found a tenner in my wallet and I have had smoked fish for dinner.

So feeling very smug and content.

Now a few things  came up during the course of the day and I think this post is going to reflect that (no wine tonight though).

I will split the blog into two parts - the first part will concern assessment of work and the second part will concern PVC (which I shall explain later).

Now before I go much further I will just clear one thing up. I am not writing another teaching based blog post because I think I am a great teacher or have the answers or anything overly big headed like that. It is simply that they seem to get more hits than my more science based blog posts and these were things I have had on my mind today.

Yup I am that simple!

Right first up is assessment.

A conversation between two members of the department this morning went like this;

'I want to run a CDP on assessment'
'I am not sure we need it as assessment is pretty obvious'
'Oh thought it might help our NQTs'
'Chris what do you think?'

I am paraphrasing but that is the gist of it. Right here is the basics of what I remember being told when I was an NQT;

Level 4 - List
Level 5 - Describe
Level 6 - Explain
Level 7 - Link
Level 8 - Synthesise

The rest of levelling was based on APP tasks which had levelled outcomes (my current school uses end of unit tests predominantly).

And I found it hard. Really hard. And I got scared. Really scared. The reason? So much pressure is on getting levels right what if, in my inexperience, I graded students wrong, what if their parents complained.

Now I am not saying I have it cracked. I am not saying my marking is amazing - it really is not - but I do find it easier now. I think that is partially down to experience but it is also down to confidence in my ability (something which I felt took a kicking on my NQT). Would I have benefited from formal training/CPD? Absolutely! So what advice do I have? Well the level guides I listed above are a pretty good starting point. If a student is clearly linking different ideas in science together in order to make a coherent argument/point to fully explain an answer the chances are they are a higher level than someone who just offers and description and nothing deeper.

However there are also lots of other factors age/topic/question that can affect the level you give a student. So here are three things that I have felt really helped my marking since the dark days of agony;

  1. Talk to other teachers and show them work. Most people will be more than happy to agree/disagree with what you might think is worthy of a level. The more you IV your marking then the more comfortable you will be with the marks you are awarding.
  2. Use levelled success criteria/WILFs that allow you to link the activity done to the level expected. Again ask but if you start with the level ideas above e.g. 'Level 5 - Accurately describe the structure of the heart' and have an activity where students draw and label a heart diagram. Then you can link the two together to give you an idea where the student might be - this also helps when you do peer and self assessment of work!
  3. Mark regularly. I do not mean go mental with marking but if you pick a lesson and fully mark it and do this regularly (once a fortnight for example) you will gain a good idea of where that student is working. Especially if you regularly just 'once over' other class work - something I am still poor at doing if I am honest. This will also help feed into future planning so that you can focus on specific things different groups of students need in order to progress - e.g. how to link ideas together. In other words when your marking improves it can also help improve the standard of teaching and learning (or something like that!).

You may disagree or you may agree but they are things I have found helped my marking no end.



Which moves me on to PVC.

Or Pace, Variety, Challenge.

This was one of the best pieces of advice I was given on my NQT year - along with find something they can do as a starter to get them involved and try to do one really outstanding lesson a week with each group to keep them on side - and one that I work on a lot. Following on from my obs today these were three areas I got praised on so I thought it worth mentioning it here.

Pace does not have to mean leaving students behind or rushing about. What it means is making sure you are setting timings for activities, having confidence in yourself to move forward after a suitable amount of time and having enough work to remove 'slack time' from lessons. It is also a great way of dealing with low level disruption because if there are plenty of tasks students won't have time for talking or disrupting each other. Time lines and countdown timers help with this, it can also give your lessons a good structure so that you fit your plenaries etc in. It is also something OFSTED are very focused on apparently!

Variety for me means mixing research, writing, drawing, talking, practicals and allowing for the production of work in different forms. I get bored if I am doing the same task again and again so I don't expect my students to be able to deal with monotony.

Challenge can help show high expectations. The work needs to stretch the students without being impossible. At first this can be difficult to achieve but it links in to what I said above about marking and assessment. Very quickly (and it gets quicker each time you do it) you get an idea what students can do and what they struggle with. By having a variety of activities, by offering different route through and by having levelled tasks you can ensure students will be able to find an appropriate challenge in each task. This also allows you to push students who may be surprised with what they can achieve.


Again this a personal thing but I find when planning or teaching remembering PVC really helps my teaching.

As I said before this post has come from things that have been mentioned today and have been on my mind. It is not a be all end all but just some things that I have found helped my teaching develop and I hope someone can find something useful in what I have written. If you agree/disagree or have your own advice on these topics I would love to hear from you in the comments box.

Seriously though don't disagree with me!

Now where is my red pen?

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