Reflections on May 2016

As Victor Meldrew would put it:  “I cant believe it!!”

We are now at the end of May, the 9th Month of the academic year.    Time seems to be flying by as it seems like only yesterday I was posting my reflections on April.    I am not sure whether this is a good thing, as in “time flies when you are having fun” or a bad thing in so much as I don’t think I have achieved all the things I had hoped I would achieve by this point.     I think I will stick with the optimistic view and put it down to engagement, fun and possibly a bit of flow or my “element” as Ken Robinson would put it.

My previous reflections have all focused on the targets I set my self all that time ago back as the sun went down on 2015.   This time month I would like to do something a little different.

Recent weeks have had me reflecting on my time out in the UAE and on all the things I have done while there.    Thinking back the various events, dates, items and other very tangible items don’t elicit much of an emotional response.   They happened, I remember them but they lack any real richness.    The things I really, really, remember are those events to which I have now attached a story.      These stories have a rich detail which I happily share when appropriate.    They also elicit an emotional response in that I find myself smiling when I think about them, or for some stories it’s possible more likely a grimace than a smile.

So the question is what are the stories which arise from May 2016?

It was my birthday this month and my plan had been to try and get through without any real fuss; to have a quiet one so to speak.     That failed as my colleagues became aware of the event and decided that I would look all the more professional leaving the school site with a helium birthday balloon floating above my head.    The mug they provided me makes me laugh.


Now am not sure if this means that I should smile more at work or smile less.

My exercise level in May has not improved at all.   A perfect piece of evidence for this is the flower bed in my garden.


I might claim that it is like that on purpose as part of a wildlife conservation scheme however I doubt anyone would believe me.   Maybe by the time we get to the end of June some effort and work may have been done on this and I may be able to report a greater level of exercise.   Time will tell.

I think my reflection on May is the need to consider both the quantitative data and qualitative data in reflections and reviews of life and of progress.   I may hit targets I set around social media involvement, courses attended, etc but how important is that if when I look back I have no stories to tell or no rich memories.     What are your stories from May?



Whats in language?

During the last week the issue of how simple changes in the words we use can have a large impact on perceived meaning has arisen on repeated occasions.


The first instance of this was in reading Drive by Daniel Pink in which he mentioned the long established practice of issuing students home work.    Daniels book discusses the impact of motivation on the things we do and on the point of home work he raises the issue that generally the term work doesn’t inspire a large amount of intrinsic motivation.    The task is “work” and therefore is perceived to involve no pleasure or enjoyment.   As such the term home work turns students off the activity even before we have begun.   He suggests that we might rename it as home learning as our urge to explore and to learn brings with it intrinsic motivation which is not associated with work tasks.   A simple change.

Later in the week in a meeting discussing appraisal or performance management depending on which term you prefer, the issue of the use of the terms, reviewer and reviewee was raised.   A focus on looking forward and improvement was indicated within the policy and by the appropriate senior managers however the terms reviewer and reviewee seemed to indicate a post event reflection as opposed to looking forwards.   One suggestion as to a possible change in relation to the language was to use facilitator, rather than reviewer; so the facilitator of performance management or appraisal.

As an EdTech advocate I am often aware of the use of “enhance” as a term using in relation to technology use in the classroom.    Again this week I saw the term used.    To me the term implies a bolt on, a bit like tomato sauce enhancing chips; it isn’t required by the chips but adds to it.   At its basic level, and as indicated in the first level of the SAMR model, EdTech is a bolt on however its potential doesn’t lie here.    Its potential lies in its potential to redefine how we learn as well as what we learn.   Again another example of a simple change in language betraying a massive difference in meaning.

Recent news has had a lot of discussion on the SATs or Standard Assessment Tests, with the term tests or testing being used almost on every occasion.   This has led to lots of discussion with regards the pressure being put on students as a result of such testing.    Those teachers who are trying to make the best of this prescribed activity however refer to the SATs as an assessment.   They refer to them as just another tool they use in the day to day act of teaching and learning, and of assessing students to check that they are understanding, making progress and are engaged, etc.

How often do we stop and consider the words we use regularly?   As I type this I notice my use of “We” as opposed to “I”.    What difference does this slight change in language convey and what difference in perception of me does it encourage?

Maybe we need to find the time to stop and look at the big picture but in doing so look at the little things like the language we use as it rhough language which we communicate and are understood and it is through language that a significant part of how others perception of us is developed.



Differentiation, resilience and motivation

I recently read a post on StaffRm regarding Differentiation (read it here ) which I believe to be a very complex subject that can be boiled down and simplified to “knowing the student”.     The post made a very interesting point with regards catering to students needs, and in particular the areas which they need to develop.   The suggestion was that by repeatedly adjusting learning to accommodate these needs we might in fact encourage students to not address areas for improvement and therefore compound the issue at hand.

This got me thinking about all of the other things we should develop or encourage in students.   We want to develop 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.    Taking critical thinking we might provide students with a framework with which to question a particular situation or scenario thereby scaffolding the learning activity.     If we consistently provide these questions and frameworks students may come to believe these are the only questions and therefore miss other questions which may be appropriate to a given situation.

Having recently read Drive by Daniel Pink I also wonder what the impact of this constant scaffolding would have on students intrinsic motivation.    To a student it may appear that every time a task may appear at the outset to be difficult, that the teacher has put differentiation in place to make is easier and more achievable.     Also every time a task turns out to be difficult during the completion of the task itself, that the teacher will step in and put in place supporting measures, frameworks, etc to make things more achievable for the student.    The teacher here is doing the hard work so from the point of view of the student there is no need to be motivated to overcome any difficulties in hand, as the teacher can be expected to step in.

We also seek to make our students more resilient however how are students likely to become more resilient when we limit the challenges and difficulties they have to overcome.

I wonder whether the above points towards two different perspectives on education.   One perspective being the importance of attainment, and therefore the need to provide all students an equal opportunity to achieve through providing support and differentiation.    The other perspective focuses on preparing students for the future where they will come across challenge of significantly varying degrees.   Here focus is not on making the challenge easier or more achievable but on asking how can we overcome the challenge.   The focus is on the students and on developing the skills within them to overcome difficulties, the motivation to keep going in the face of challenge and the resilience to not give up.


I believe the answer here lies between the two perspectives however I feel it is a worthwhile exercise to consider which of the two you tend more towards and what you as a teacher could do to offer a more appropriately balanced educational experience for students.  I know I will be giving this some thoughts myself.


Some thoughts on Data

A recent article in the Telegraph (read it here) got me thinking once more about data.   This also got me thinking about the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman which I have only recently finished reading.  The book highlighted a number of issues which I feel have implications for education and need to be considered by school leaders.

Firstly the small numbers effect:  The Bill and Melinda gates foundation commissioned a study to examine schools in search of the most effective schools.    It found, unsurprisingly that small size, in terms of student numbers, schools achieved the best results, over larger schools.   Contradictory it also found that small schools also achieved the worst results.   The reason for this as explained by Kahneman is that where a data set contains only a small number of items the potential for variability is high.   As such, due to a variety of random variables and possibly a little helping of luck, some small schools do particularly well, out achieving big schools.    Other small schools are not so lucky and the variables don’t fall so well, resulting in the worst results.


To clarify this consider throwing three darts at a dart board aiming for the centre.   This represents the results of a school with a small number of students with higher scores being nearer centre and a lower score being those darts ending further from the centre.   In the case of student results an average result would then be calculated for the school and the same can be done looking at the position of the darts.   Assuming you are not a professional darts player you may do well or you may not do so well due to a variety of random variables.     Given the limited number of darts the potential for variability is high hence a high average or low average is very possible.   Next consider if you were to continue and throw sixty darts at the dart board, taking the average across all the dart throws.    Given the number of darts the average will regress towards your mean darts throwing ability.    The increased number of data items means that variability is reduced as each significant good or poor throw is averaged out among the other throws.

Within schools a great deal of value is being attached to statistical analysis of school data including standardised testing however care must be taken.   As I have suggested above a statistical analysis showing school A is better than school B could easily be the result of random factors such as school size, school resourcing and funding, etc as much as it may be related to better quality teaching and learning, and improved student outcomes.

Another issue if how we respond to the results.  Kahneman suggests that commonly we look for causal factors.   As such we seek to associate the data with a cause which in schools could be a number of different things however our tendency is to focus on that which comes easily to mind.   As such poorer (and better, although not as often,) results are associated most often attributed to teachers and the quality of their teaching as this is what is most frequently on the mind of school leaders.    We arrive at this conclusion often without considering other possible conclusions such as the variable difficulty of the assessments, assessment implementation, the specific cohort concerned, the sample size as discussed earlier and a multitude of other potential factors.   We also, due to arriving so quickly at a causal factor which clearly must be to blame and therefore needs to be rectified, fail to consider the statistical validity of our data.   We fail to consider the margins for error which may exist in our data including what we may consider acceptable margins for error.   We also fail to consider a number of other factors which influence our interpretation of the data including the tendency to focus more on addressing the results which are perceived to be negative.   This constant focus on the negative can result in a blame culture developing which can result in increasing negative results and increasing levels of blame.   Maybe an alternative approach which may work would be to focus more on the marginally positive results and how they were achieved and how they could be built upon.

The key issue in my belief is that we need to take care with data and the conclusions we infer from it.   We cannot abandon the use of data as how else would we measure how we are doing, however equally we cannot take it as fully factual.   The world is a complex place filled with variables, randomness and luck, and we need to examine school data bearing this fact in mind.   We also need to bear in mind that data is a tool to help us deliver the best learning opportunities for students;  data is not an end in itself!


Reflections on Month 4 of 2016

Another month gone, so we are now into May 2016.

Its been quite a frantic and busy month and even more so than March, April seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye.

April contained another excellent #appsharelive event which once again involved some excellent App ideas.     In addition I found another site for app ideas which has further allowed me to add to my toolbox of app ideas.    April also saw me take a trip down to London for the Westminster Education forum which I blogged about previously, and I got my #staffrm mug.


Throughout April I managed to blog a number of times, maintaining my target as part of #44weeks to blog at least once per week.   I keep trying to set aside a specific day to write and post my blogs however never seem to manage to keep to the schedule I try to set myself.   Going forward I think I will need to just accept that this irregularity is likely to continue and that I will just need to take care to ensure I manage the minimum of 1 blog entry per week.    One particular technique to help with this is that I am setting a weekly set of goals and am including the need to blog on this goal list.

My twitter activity in April increased on March largely due to my involvement in #sltchat on a couple of occasions plus my attendance at the Westminster Education Forum during which I tweeted a number of comments and images.    I also finally got round to starting to tidy up my twitter account in terms of creating lists, etc.   Clearly I would have benefited from doing this at the start of using twitter rather than leaving it until now which required significantly more work to sort.   I will need to try and ensure I periodically tidy things up as I go forward as opposed to putting it off.

My book reading in April was pretty steady although “Thinking, fast and slow” is quite a significant book to read and therefore took me some time to get through.    I am already making very quick progress through “Drive” which is already around 50% complete after only a couple of days.   It is interesting that I had selected both books independent of one another however having started “Drive” I was interested to find the author D. Pink referenced D. Kahneman the author of “Thinking, fast and slow”.

Fitness and exercise still sits as an area where I am making little progress although I need to admit that I did exceed my step target on a number of days in April which is an improvement and my overall weekly exercise level in terms of average steps per week has steadily increased in the last few weeks.   I need to try and continue to build on this.

I have also set myself a couple of new goal areas however I may write about those later.   Overall April has been another good month so onwards to May.