Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Podding on...

I often seem to start posts for this website with 'Sorry for the quiet period, I've been busy...' This is likely to continue as I juggle the challenges of moving into a new house (including tackling a waterlogged, overgrown garden!) with day-to-day life as a classroom teacher and assistant headteacher. 

Since my last few entries, I have continued to develop schemes of learning for groups of KS3 students who attend shorter 12-week placements within our PRU network. I have taken the time to upload to TES a variety of resources for the excellent 'Private Peaceful' and resources for the equally excellent 'There's Only One Jimmy Grimble' - designed mainly for students working between Level 3 to Level 5 who need to be coached in reading and thinking skills.

Other bits and pieces uploaded include a short presentation on thinking through SEN training in schools. A preview of this is shown below, and for those wanting the accompanying notes, I have uploaded the PowerPoint (as a read-only file) to TES.

Recently I have also had the pleasure of taking a bunch of students to present at the final of the 'School We'd Like' competition, run by The Guardian and Zurich Municipal. The bad news is we didn't succeed in winning the £5000 prize to create a unique counselling and mentoring room called 'The Pod' which would have also include a multi-media diary-keeping feature. However, the good news - which far outshines the result - came in the form of seeing our students take to the stage. We have also since had some very kind offers from individuals and groups we already work with to help us complete the project. 

We are now one day into the summer term, in Stockport at least, and the next big focus will be on preparing our Year 11 students for the final hurdle in their GCSEs. For students who struggle to stay organised and/or struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance during the next few weeks, I do have some revision and course work planners which might be of use.

I do think, having worked more intensively with Year 11 students this year, that there is a question of how we maintain the confidence and motivation of those who are not set to gain C or above GCSE grades. There is so much importance placed on C or above from government downwards that, for some of those students who struggle academically or simply haven't coped with the emotional and social-institutional demands of school, their opinion that education isn't for them is confirmed by  what they perceive as 'pointless' grades. 

Finally, I thought I might share these inspiring photos of a new display in our centre, designed by the students and a teaching assistant - made all the more powerful by the fact the quote is from a poem written by one of our students.


Monday, 31 March 2014

Ahem...2 years today...

This is just a quick post to note today marks the 2nd birthday of HumansNotRobots.co.uk. The resources section recently hit over 400,000 downloads which is kind of hard to believe - especially so given less than a decade ago teachers were sharing resources online by posting requests on the TES message boards, getting each other's addresses and then popping off to the Post Office to send worksheets etc. to one another!

I wonder what things will look like by 2024? Or even by 2016?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Farewell Bev, and thank you

It was so sad to read today that Bev Evans, the ever enthusiastic and super supportive SEN editor of TES Resources, has passed away. This post is just my small way of saying a public thank you to her - the world of teaching has lost a gem.

My thoughts are with her loved ones - as Quakers say, we hold them in the light.

TES has published a blog here where people can leave a tribute.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Towards lighter, brighter days

I tend to find this time of the school year to be increasingly enjoyable, what with us being more or less halfway through the academic year alongside the mornings & evenings starting to get a bit brighter. As an SEN Coordinator, and to an extent in my current role as an assistant headteacher, I have often found this time of year to be a point where the workload feels just that little bit lighter - allowing you to really focus in on strategic projects rather than rushing from one operational duty to another.

Over the past month or so, aside from my day-to-day SLT duties (which continue to include some SENCo tasks) and my teaching commitment, I've had the pleasure of working with a group of students on a bid for £5000 via the 'School We'd Like' competition - a joint venture from The Guardian and Zurich Municipal. Our bid is based around creating a flexible, small-scale resource base for students with complex social-emotional needs, called 'The Pod'. Having made it to the regional final and presented our idea in Newcastle a few weeks ago, I'd assumed we had not got any further - partly due to the strength of the presentations by rival bidders - and was planning to share our proposal online, hoping another school might partner up with us on it. However, this week I received the good news we are through to the national final in London next month and so, for now, I will have to keep it under wraps. Whether we win or not, the competition has proved to be a hugely positive experience - firstly for the students directly involved who have excelled themselves in getting up on a stage and speaking publicly (not to mention the gruelling journey to Newcastle and back in one school day!) and for our wider school in terms of us being aspirational.

My role also includes overseeing our data collection and monitoring systems. Coming from an arts background, I readily admit I am not a natural statistician. However, I don't think this necessarily puts me in a bad position as I feel (or at least hope!) it leads to me keeping such things simple and accessible - although having said that, much of what I've learnt to do in this field has been garnered from colleagues who are natural statisticians! In terms of tools to track progress, I have recently uploaded a few examples of SEN spreadsheet templates, using a basic model of 'traffic lighting' to provide at-a-glance indications on performance.

In addition to the above, I have recently spent two days at the University of Manchester delivering sessions to PGCE students on 'Teaching the Bottom Sets', focusing on classroom strategies to aid lower-attaining students. Next month, I will also be delivering a session on how to organise CPD in schools at a jam-packed SEN conference from Optimus Education.

Finally, in terms of my teaching commitment, I am currently developing a 'Private Peaceful' scheme of learning for Level 3 to 5 learners in English, focusing on higher-order reading & thinking skills. I am, as ever, indebted to those fellow teachers who share their resources freely online. I must also give a special mention to Rob Smith's Literacy Shed website - the 'War and Peace Shed' has many moving, highly-engaging resources and teaching ideas. I had a magic moment just this morning with some students listening intently to an interview with the late Harry Patch as we considered the emotional impact of first-person narrators on their audience compared to third-person narrators (I used a documentary clip, presented by Dan Snow, to aid the comparison). If readers want copies of the resources developed so far, please contact me directly as I have yet to share them online. I have also just finished using some resources, including homemade reading materials, to accompany the film 'There's Only One Jimmy Grimble' which teachers of lower-attaining English / literacy groups may find useful - again, contact me directly and I will happily provide copies.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

This is just a quick post to send my best wishes to all users of the site for 2014 - particularly those who have got in touch over the past 12 months to express their support & encouragement, to seek advice, to offer tips & suggestions etc.

I haven't written a blog post for some time as I've been too busy with the day job and moving house - however, I have continued to upload a variety resources during spare moments. These include:
  • Vocab Rally Game - This vocabulary development activity, for use as a starter or filler task, was not entirely my idea but one I've adapted from an older resource a colleague kindly gave me.
  • School Stress Survey - This short assessment and mentoring activity was developed as part of some work I am undertaking to develop an early intervention programme for disengaged KS3 students. I think it could prove particularly useful for school refusers with 'autistic traits'.
  • Weekly SEAL Reflections - I continue to upload reflections I use with my form group on a week-to-week basis, with admittedly varied impact!
  • Forest Schools Scrapbook - This template, using PowerPoint, has proved very successful with the students I've been working with on a Forest Schools project. There are a couple of anonymised examples also included which students will benefit from seeing in terms of grasping the 'end product' they are working towards.
  • 'Cooking at Home' - As part of my current teaching commitment I am teaching cookery skills. The eventual aim is to link this in with an alternative vocational qualification. As ever, suggestions from those in the know are most welcome!
A major part of my role for this year is to review and, where necessary, improve use of data within my setting. Below is a presentation I created to 'set out my stall' in September 2013 - and have since reviewed and developed further one academic term into the job.

This is available for download from the TES and the Guardian Teacher Network

I also continue to keep my Twitter feed updated with interesting articles on education as and when I find them. 

Enjoy the year ahead!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Consultation on the New SEN Code

The government has recently launched an open consultation on the new Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice and Regulation. The consultation will run until 9th of December 2013.

The new Code's most radical policy is the shift from the current system of Statements of SEN  which typically get issued mid-school career and last until 16 years with 'Education, Health & Care Plans' which will run from birth to 25 years. Based on what teaching colleagues have said so far, this is generally being viewed as a positive development even if the mechanics and realities are not yet fully known.

I have previously spoken on this issue - see my PowerPoint presentation, 'Challenges and Opportunities facing SEN in 2013' (also available for download here and here).

Monday, 7 October 2013

Screenagers, Reason and Civilisation

Further to the previous post about gaming culture amongst school-age students - and the recent release of Grand Theft Auto V - readers of this blog might find useful, on mulling over the issues raised, the following passage from the excellent 21st Century Boys by Sue Palmer:

"Digital natives, digital learners?

This is not an argument against information technology. It's abundantly clear that the developments of recent decades are at least as significant to human progress as the invention of the printing press. We're at the dawn of a new Renaissance, as momentous as that 16th century rebirth of learning which propelled Europe out of superstition and into the Enlightenment...

But if the values that drove the Enlightenment (and brought humanity this far) are to survive, we must make sure all our children can use technology effectively, not merely for entertainment but to learn and create. Democracy demands that everyone has a mind to learn, not just a fortunate elite who can manipulate the disempowered majority. To use computer technology effectively - accessing hypertext, diving in and out of windows, holding a variety of multimedia information in the mind while maintaining a logical train of thought - boys need to focus their concentration just as efficiently as they do to read and write. Probably more.

It's by no means easy to make (and retain) creative mental connections while at the same time clinging on to the thread of an underlying logic. In fact, it takes a lot of intellectual discipline. Most experts I've met from the field of 'digital literacy' insist that, in order to use computers well, children must be able to read and write first. They intuitively feel that this 21st century way of using the human brain 'piggybacks' on the logical, sequential processes of old-fashioned literacy.

If this is the case, it has enormous implications for education. Children, especially boys, are drawn to screens and screen-based learning from the moment they're born, and in a 21st century world it seems important that these 'digital natives' take their place as soon as possible in the digital world. There's pressure from all directions - media, marketing and government education gurus - to get them hooked into technology as soon as they can manipulate a mouse...

'Kids today are not remotely the same as they were.... their brains are different,' said education expert Ian Jukes at a conference I recently attended. 'Children's brains are adapting to the digital bombardment... they are not teenagers but screenagers!' His argument was that regular frequent exposure to digital technology rewires children's brains in ways that enhance their visual memory and processing skills, so that the current generation has learned to process information in a fundamentally different way from their forebears. 'Digital learners' prefer to access information from multiple media sources (pictures, sounds, colour, video) rather than old-fashioned text, operating, as Jukes puts it, at 'twitch speed'. They use parallel processing and multitasking techniques, applying 'continuous partial attention'. Their expertise is in randomly accessing hyperlinked multimedia information, and their reward is 'learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful and fun.'

This argument is reassuring for 21st century parents. But with a little reflection it's obvious that 'the elaborate procedural habits of formal thinking' won't develop out of continuous partial attention, flicking here and there at twitch speed. It's learning, Jim, but not learning as we've known it throughout human history.

The success of the species so far has relied on application, focused concentration and the capacity to pursue long-term rewards rather than immediate gratification. As, thanks to literacy, more and more human beings acquired these mental strengths the more progress Homosapiens made. As a woman, most of whose sex were allowed access to literacy and learning only a hundred years ago, I'm very conscious of the democratising power of formal thought processes... and, on behalf of my daughter and future generations of women, very anxious literacy should continue to work its magic on the minds of men.

But for most boys - whose nature doesn't fit them for sitting in a classroom, messing about with fiddly little symbols - the development of disciplined attention takes several years of determined effort. As Ian Jukes himself points out, if we encourage them to adapt to the digital bombardment too soon, 'the downside is that children may find it more difficult to follow a logical train of thought'. Since logic underpins every aspect of education and civilisation, this is a serious downside.

In a multimedia world, it would be insane to suggest we keep little boys away from technology until they're literate - it's an integral part of their world and a source of fun and information. But there are many reasons to put sensible limits on its use. We've seen that tuning a boy into screens before he's learning to tune into people may well inhibit his development of human empathy. In the same way, tuning him into quick-fire 'digital learning strategies' before he's mastered the ability to read and write may inhibit his capacity to think clearly and logically. In these two very important respects, allowing a boy to turn into a dedicated screenager before he enters his teens may lead to an unbalanced brain."