Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Academic Smackdown - A house event...

I sit here just over three weeks away from the end of an incredibly tough year. They're all tough, but this year has been extra busy. I achieved a promotion at the back end of last year, meaning that my responsibilities were increased, and on top of that out curriculum leader has been off for the last 12 weeks for medical reasons, meaning that I've had to step up to the assistant curriculum leader role whilst completing my own duties and teaching 20 lessons per week. I've been tired since October, and actually overslept by an hour this morning.

In a house meeting a number of months ago (probably prior to Christmas) the question was asked about potential house competitions and I suggested an academic competition - my heart bleeds for the quiet girl who gets zero attention for achieving a grade B at the end of year 9 whereas the boy who wins the 100m sprint at sports day and the misbehaving girl who has made improvements get all of it. This was my suggestion to allow those quiet (at times, silent at all others) intelligent kids to get some recognition and a loud round of applause. An 'Academic Smackdown', or 'Academic Heptathlon', but didn't want to limit the number of rounds.

I shelved the idea at the first. The response was too negative - "But it's too much work", "Someone will need to sort all of the questions out" - but I suggested the event to one of our house leaders who was incredibly supportive and we put the idea forward to the head. We looked at when to hold it, and decided that Year 11 out of the way and some time to breathe would be best and organised it for a day where disruption and the requirement for cover would be minimised. Wednesday, it seemed.

I left it for a while (first mistake) and got around to it after Easter. I sent an e-mail to curriculum leaders asking for subjects who would be interested in submitting a round for inclusion in the (now-dubbed) Academic Smackdown. Humanities (at years 7 and 8), ICT, Maths, Modern Foreign Languages, PE, RE and Science were the subjects to get back to me with a positive response and other teachers went to work on the questions. I wanted to give subjects ownership of their own round (second mistake).

The questions dripped in. Some as late as the week before the event. But they came in. It took a lot of work to put them in to a format I was happy with. I'm still not happy with it, but I now know it works and can work on something more long-term.

Whilst waiting for all of the questions to come in, I created an advert for the event, sharing it with form staff and asking them to show it to their forms, returning any interested students to me via e-mail (third mistake). The response was poor. I haven't given it a proper investigation, or asked questions about it, but the response from some forms was poor in terms of students (maybe their form teacher hadn't sold it so well) or non-existent (even a 'None from me. Sorry Mr. Taylor). I had to identify students from their KS2 data (English and Maths at level 5) and ask them. Many didn't show when I asked them to, so they missed out, but we just about managed to get 4 teams of 4 from years 7, 8 and 9. Unfortunately, year 10 became a write-off due to a lack of interest.

With teams sorted and questions compiled, the only issue was 'I've never run anything like this before. Will the number of questions be enough? Are they challenging, but not too challenging? What if...'. I compiled an 'In The News' round from a weekly news quiz on TES last night and went in feeling like this will go well.

We hired a set of buzzers from, set up the hall with 2 hexagonal tables either side of a smaller table (the 4 large ones for the teams and the middle one for our presenter), split the seating up in to 'house sections' and put a microphone on all tables. I bought an inflatable trophy as a half-way house to something more professional-looking (silver plates, one for each year group, as it is).

I'd asked for the help of some of our Young Leaders to aid me on the day. 8 of our year 10s scored the event for us, acted as resource managers for each team and helped me to sort out the second event when it became apparent that a few changes were needed. They were outstanding and continue to be a credit to themselves and the school. I asked two year 8 children (who run the tech side of their own assemblies) to run the tech side of every event, and they were brilliant. Lastly, but by no means least, when the idea was first discussed as having potential, I thought of one child to present it. A year 10 girl, who is not at all our most perfect student, but has everything I wanted - a ruthless streak, the want to do better, a bit of banter and dedication to a cause. She was fantastic, and even muddled her way through pronouncing French and Spanish phrases with a bit of help.

I didn't get a promotion that I went for last year (assistant curriculum leader) due to having no experience in leading people. The last three months have changed that, with this event and stepping up within the department. That said, I didn't do this for experience or a promotion. I did this because I feel for those quiet kids who have so much to give to their school and get little opportunity to showcase their talents.

If you are looking to run a house event at your school, this is the one for you. If you've read this and have any questions, tweet me an e-mail address to @taylorda01 and we'll get a dialogue going. I'd suggest that you customise your event to your school, but I may share some resources if prodded.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

CPD, Twilights and Improving Standards...

I've spent a lot of time in 'twilight' sessions over the last few weeks which raise some very important issues about our school. I'm not hiding from the fact that our data makes the school look worse than it is to work in, but it seems that each of these sessions is aimed at teachers, and what we can do better to improve our results.

More long term, I've read a lot about improving standards across the country, and how the 'Shanghai Maths' model of working is the answer to our issues.

I'm going to spell it out, just in case there are important people reading...

Our issues in the mathematics classroom are not educational, they are social issues.

On Monday and Friday we had our Year 11s sit their GCSE exams. The first paper will have scared them, the second will have been much easier for them to get through. I've sat with a few kids and gone through the paper and (in my opinion) nobody in my class should be achieving fewer than 34 and 75 marks respectively. I really hope that they've done incredibly well, but some of them will achieve lower than this.

Because they don't read questions before they start to answer.
Because they think they know better than their teachers.
Because everything else is more important than their GCSE mathematics grade.

I've taught year 7 children who can't add, year 10s who can't remember the names of shapes and Year 11s who sit through a revision session on surds without saying a word and the next day say 'Sir, can we do surds again?'. The reason for the year 7 child is generally 'They have poor recall skills', but they know all the words to every One Direction song. The year 10? "Poor recall", but he knows all 23 members of the England World Cup squad. The year 11? I think that's just our big issue - why would they ask questions when they can sit there and look like they're doing something?

I favourited a few tweets after the second exam, with the intention of putting them in here.
  • Of 270 to sit an exam at a 'very good school', the exams officers ran out of their 40 calculators that they lend out.
  • They also loaned out 60 rulers.
  • Another school put on revision on Thursday with only 20 kids out of 175 attending.
  • That same school had to give 50+ pens out in an exam!
It was mentioned in a conversation I had with a long term supply teacher at our place. The kids don't bring a pen, a pencil, a ruler, a calculator, but they have a large supply of biscuits and energy drinks, not to mention their smart phones.

Unfortunately, education isn't a priority for everyone. Until it is, standards will not improve. And there isn't a thing that I can do about it until we have a big social shift.