Friday, 19 April 2013

Follow Jim Smith, he's right behind us

Just a quick post tonight, having got home and sat down with a cup of tea after a long week. Over the past few days within my school we (the SEN & learning support team) have started a discussion about how we respond constructively to students who come to over-rely on support staff, often approaching them habitually with quite trivial issues.

One of the many books I've been dipping in and out of recently (I tend to never actually complete any book these days!) is 'Follow me, I'm right behind you - Whole School Progress, The LAZY Way' by Jim Smith. The author also wrote the hugely popular 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook: How students learn more when you teach less' which is also laying around my house or office somewhere. Both books share the same theme - re-focusing teachers and support staff on the learning process rather than the teaching process, with students doing the thinking & talking rather than the adult taking centre stage.

In our discussion about this kind of learned helplessness, I recalled Jim Smith's advice on how we could respond when a student cries 'help I'm stuck!' or words to that effect. Jim Smith suggests that rather than leaping to a student's aid, we can respond (kindly) with phrases like:

"Well think about someone you know who doesn't get stuck with this problem, what do they do?"

"OK, what did you do successfully last time you were stuck on a problem like this?"

"Imagine I wasn't here, what could you do to help yourself?"

I think that if said sensitively, and with a touch of humor, these could be prove quite useful for both the students, and ourselves, in trying to foster the independent thinking skills and self-esteem that some of our students can lack. It is certainly something I intend to try out within my own classroom over the coming weeks.

Jim Smith also advises we go further by creating 'More Progress Coaches' whereby students who demonstrate good problem solving skills provide peer-mentoring to other students - with the students delivering the peer-mentoring receiving training and a level of kudos for performing such a role. This is also an initiative the Sutton Trust reports to be high impact for relatively low cost.

Another interesting idea is creating a 'help wall' (either online or more traditionally as a display) where students can post up common problems relating to learning and the social side of school, and from there, other students then provide suggestions. Again, I think if this is carried out in a carefully thought through way it could prove useful. 

Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective - and of course, all of these are very cheap to run!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

From Acorns - and Eggs

I spent some time over the Easter break finishing off some projects I'd been developing in an on-off fashion over the past few months during spare evenings and weekend afternoons. Sometimes I find little 'complementary ideas' escalate into something of greater importance and scope as I undertake research into them. The piece of work I discuss below is a good example of this and I am excited to see how it turns out within my own setting over the coming months.

I believe 'Philosophy 4 Children' - a standalone subject in some schools - can be used as an approach to our planning and teaching of English, particularly so for NC Level 2 to 3 learners who need to be systematically coached in and given regular opportunity to practice high-level thinking in order to genuinely progress further. For whilst it is one challenge to coach struggling students on how to write a two clause sentence with correct spelling and correct punctuation - it is often a much greater challenge to bring them to a point where they can put their own meaningful content in there. The resources I have developed so far to get me started with this are now also uploaded in full to TES Resources, although I do intend to add more as I use it with my classes.

I find 'P4C' hooks in well to my conceptual & ethical understanding of SEN and SpLD, developed originally in my training as a specialist teacher of dyslexia. The work of dyslexia teaching pioneers Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham in the early 20th Century is something I constantly refer back to. The core principles of their approach state that interventions for students with dyslexia should be:
  • Informed - We should know the strengths and weaknesses of each student, seeking to always address the weaknesses whilst providing opportunities to equally play to strengths.
  • Language-Based - We should use language sensitively and deliberately with students as a vehicle for learning (particularly so for literacy), including innovatively using questioning, developing vocabulary to ensure full understanding and scaffolding talk to move it from the basic to the more sublime.
  • Multi-Sensory - We should routinely seek to draw on a variety of learning styles as a way of including all students, seeking to use them simultaneously rather than in dedicated slots.
  • Structured, Sequential and Cumulative - but Flexible - We should adopt a pacey yet patient step-by-step approach to learning, with sufficient time given to each student for consolidation, clarification and extension - otherwise known as 'overlearning'.
  • Meta-Cognitive - There should be an ongoing constructive dialogue with each student to develop their awareness of how they learn, including recognition of their strengths and their weaknesses.
  • Emotionally Sound - There should be an nurturing learning environment in which each student has frequent opportunities to practically see and genuinely feel success.
The two final principles are arguably more 'fuzzy' aspects which we can sometimes overlook in our relentless pursuit of 'getting the basics right', measured in reading & spelling scores. But in forgetting them, we are perhaps missing a key part of the puzzle.

As always, I would appreciate any feedback from teachers and mentors (and parents) working on similar issues.

Friday, 12 April 2013

A Place of Light

Today, via my Twitter feed, I was fortunate enough to happen upon this video about a Jerusalem-based project - started by one woman with little more than a $100 - to assist residents of the area with visual impairment. It really is quite inspiring and is something I intend to share with students in school.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Top Ten Quotes about Teaching Thinking in Schools

Running alongside my work around learner self-esteem, I have also started developing - within my own classroom - a new method of teaching & learning to try encourage my lower-attaining English groups to think more independently, more critically and more abstractly.

For the forthcoming term, we have been asked to each take on a class reader and develop some planning & resources around it. I have long been interested in the work of  the late Matthew Lipman and what he termed as 'Philosophy 4 Children', known as P4C for short. I think teaching a novel, such as Skellig by David Almond, is a great opportunity to try move our students working at Level 3, and thinking in a Level 3 way, to higher ground. The P4C cycle, which very much focuses on encouraging students to generate their own questions to stretch their learning further, appears to be one which we can adapt for this purpose and I intend to share resources I've developed around this over the coming weeks and months. As always, advice, tips and feedback from colleagues is appreciated - either via the comments section or via the contact page.

Below are some interesting quotes on this subject, which I think highlight the importance of this aspect of our work in schools:

>> "Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time." - Hebrew Proverb 

>> “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” - Christopher Hitchens 

>> “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work." - Adrienne Rich 

>> “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” - Bertrand Russell 

>> "Education must not simply teach work — it must teach life." - W.E.B. Du Bois 

>> "I decided to teach because I think that any person who studies philosophy has to be involved actively." - Angela Davis 

>> "Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." - Roger Lewin 

>> "The one real goal of education is to leave a person asking questions." - Max Beerhohm

And finally, one for English teachers in particular...

>> "A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images." - Jim Rohn 

And very finally, one I intend to turn into a poster for my more stubborn-minded students!

>> "Our heads are round so that thoughts can change direction." - Francis Picabia 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Top Ten Quotes about Learner Self-Esteem in Schools

Recently I have been developing a small pilot initiative within our school based around using social competence tests like the 'Self-Image Profiles' and 'Resiliency Scales' (both from Pearson) to look at how we can be more purposeful in our mentoring of those students with social-emotional and mental health needs. This, I have increasingly come to believe, is a key element in our work with students with SEN and Specific Learning Differences such as dyslexia, with many having long been subject to additional support and in turn naturally experiencing some degree of 'learned helplessness'. In due course I will upload these resources via TES and the various other sharing platforms.

As part of the in-house training I have been putting together around this, the first step I undertook was to try define in clear terms what we mean by self-esteem. In searching around for a few key quotes to help me with this, I found the following which others might find useful when reflecting on this issue in schools.

>> "A positive self image and healthy self esteem is based on approval, acceptance and recognition from others; but also upon actual accomplishments, achievements and success and upon the realistic self-confidence which ensues."  - Abraham Maslow

>> "Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

>> "If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." - Vincent Van Gogh

>> “Of all the judgements we pass in life, none is more important than the judgement we pass on ourselves.” - Nathaniel Branden

>> "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

>> "We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals." - Stephen Covey

>> “The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don't define them, learn about them, or even seriously consider them as believable or achievable.” - Dennis Waitley

>> “We may go to the moon, but that's not very far. The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.” - Charles De Gaulle

>> "Believe in your flyness, conquer your shyness." - Kanye West

And finally, one particularly for teachers and mentors feeling daunted by the challenge of working with students with the lowest self-esteem:

>> "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." - Bill Gates