To grade, or not to grade

Prior to teaching, I spent over a decade as a manager in retail, in various different roles including as a Store Manager and a HR Manager. This gives me an insight into this ‘big, wide world’ that we try to best prepare our children for.

My issue with the education system as it currently stands is it doesn’t relate closely enough to the real world. Talking from personal experience, I was never once judged on my ability to do a job purely by the numbers I delivered. Sure, I had KPIs or performance targets to hit, but very often I didn’t hit them. Does that mean I’m a failure as a manager? Should I be sacked because I missed my sales target yesterday? Or replaced because our customer service measure dipped below 90% last week?

Of course not, that sort of world would be chaotic, stressful and downright ludicrous.

Although one only has to look at the average lifespan of a football manager to know that there are industries in which this is the accepted rule. Thankfully, they are the exception, not the norm.

The big wide world, for the most part, will not grade your contribution to society. Yet, we put our children through an education system teaching them that everything comes down to a result, a grade, a mark. We insist on labelling and categorising children according to test results, or marks achieved against a matrix. But do we ever tell them how they could improve? Do they know exactly how to move that 60% score to 70%? Do they even know what they did so well to achieve that A grade?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my rudimentary understanding of the human brain tells me that as humans, we have no inbuilt system that lets us know what we could be doing better or how to do that. Indeed, we rely on feedback from the environment and people around us to become better. I am in no doubt that we need interaction with other humans, preferably face to face, in order to help us improve.

When I think back, I improved as a manager because people who had better knowledge than me were honest in their feedback, gave good advice, suggested ideas to help me move forward and – crucially – told me what I was doing well.

Knowing that I delivered a customer service measure of 88% alone does none of those things. But the feedback I get based on the result? That’s when the real learning happens. What can I do better next week? How can I move that score to 90%? What would I have to do to get to 92%?

The other interesting point that became apparent to me is that children leaving school and going into the workplace were not used to receiving critical feedback based on their performance. In my experience, they wanted a target, for instance a time limit in which to complete a task, but would often take offence if I gave feedback based on the quality of their work. It was quite obvious to me that these young people were not used to being told how to be better, and I have a real problem with that.

I have read widely on this issue, considering the benefits of giving grades versus the strengths of formative feedback. An interesting article popped up on my news feed last week, and both the issue itself and the location in question caught my eye. The BBC reported on a decision by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, based in my hometown of Cardiff, to not give first year students a grade or mark. You can read the article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-44179515.

The belief is that this move will reduce stress, and improve well-being. Crucially, the report indicates that students had (and in my experience, do) focus on the mark rather than how to improve by developing their knowledge and skills.

Is this simply because these same students have been brought up in an education system which tells them that the grade is ultimately paramount?

Now, all of my examples here are based on the adult world, either in the world of work or higher education, but remember this is the world we are preparing our children for, and at the end of the day, are children in schools any different? Do they still need to know how to improve? Do they still look at a mark or grade and judge their ability in relation to their friends? Do they label themselves as either ‘smart’ or ‘stupid’ depending on one number or letter received from the teacher?

I would love to be part of a system in which children don’t know their levels, grades or marks. A system in which teachers could focus on giving high quality formative comments to move the learning forward, rather than scoring a paper and reducing a huge amount of work, effort and toil to one letter or number.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that children should go through their whole lives without facing summative assessments. Even in Scandinavia, learners will be summatively assessed at some point in their school lives. But why can’t we teach children that everybody has their strengths, everybody can improve and everybody can become better if they’re open to receiving feedback?

After all, if we don’t teach it in schools, the big, wide world will teach it the hard way.

I’ve made my feelings clear, but what do you think? Contact me @MrHannUSW and tell me your thoughts on the summative assessment versus formative comments debate.

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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Rwy’n Ddigon Da – I’m Good Enough

Welsh is not one of my strengths. As a teacher in Wales, this is a problem.

Languages always were my kryptonite in school, whether it was French, German or indeed Welsh. Through my adult life this didn’t cause me any problems until, of course, I came into teaching.

The expectation in Welsh education is that I teach Welsh lessons, but also to use Welsh incidentally in the classroom. I have no issue with this, I support a bilingual education system for many reasons. My issue is with myself, and my own ability to competently play my part in the system. Upon beginning the Primary teaching course I knew that Welsh would be an area I would really have to focus on to be able to say I’m at an ‘acceptable’ level.

Not ‘good’, but good enough.

In my first school placement in 2017, I found myself teaching a Reception class, 4-5 yr olds. In terms of Welsh, this was perfect for me since they were only expected to know very simple vocabulary, such as ‘bore da‘ (good morning), ‘prynhawn da‘ (good afternoon) and simple sentence structures such as the weather – ‘mae hi’n bwrw glaw‘ (it is raining, which is often was). I could get away with lots of ‘da iawn‘ (very good) and ‘dim siarad‘ (no talking) peppered throughout my teaching, yet I still came away knowing I would have to up my game for my next placement. I’d managed to tick enough boxes to get through first placement, but I knew there would be many more boxes to tick in the future.

My KS2 placement would require a serious raising of the bar.

I wouldn’t say I was  overly confident of my Welsh speaking ability going into my KS2 placement this year, but being placed in a Year 4 class certainly made me believe I had a shot at ticking this hypothetical ‘Incidental Welsh’ box. An upper KS2 class would have made me feel very inadequate, but Year 4 I felt I could manage, just maybe. I revised my Welsh vocabulary as much as I could, and I was certainly better prepared than I had been been for the previous placement. However, I found a little trick along the way which I was to rely on for much of my placement – post it notes.

Every phrase that I planned to use went on a post it note, either in my pocket or strategically placed somewhere around the classroom. For instance, if at the start of the lesson learners would be discussing something in their groups, I’d write ‘traffodwch gyda grwp‘ on a post it and stick that near the register. When their discussion time was over, I would ask them in Welsh to look at the board by saying ‘llygaid ar y bwrdd‘ (eyes on the board). That one would be stuck to the side of the board, where I would be positioned before giving the instruction. Then, I might ask learners to stop and listen for a mid-point plenary using ‘stoppiwch a gwrandewch‘. That would go on a post-it in my pocket, because I don’t necessarily know where I’m going to be in the classroom at that particular moment.

Using this strategy I managed to get through the first few lessons, and over time something amazing happened. I actually started to remember these phrases without having to look at the post-it notes. Then I stopped writing the post-it notes altogether. Then I started accidentally using the phrases outside of the classroom (I coach football on a Saturday morning, and stopped myself at ‘llygaid’ when I wanted my class of 3 yr olds to look at me!).

I even got confident enough to take on the mother of all challenges. Every year to celebrate St David’s Day, schools in Wales hold their own Eisteddfod. This typically consists of a series of competitions and general celebration of Welsh culture. All classes in my school had to prepare a Welsh song to perform at the Eisteddfod, a task which somehow became mine. Now, I’ll let you in to a little secret here – Mr Hann can’t sing.

Not. At. All.

Worse still, our song was Calon Lân. Yes, the traditional sound of every international rugby game, sung with passion and gusto by many a patriotic, devoted supporter. You can hear the song performed the way it is intended by clicking here.

So the problem is this: Mr Hann can’t sing, Mr Hann has not idea how to teach children to sing, but Mr Hann has to prepare prepare a class of 8/9yr olds to perform something to the entire school. The answer? You don’t sing.

You teach them to rap.

And rap we did! In just two 30 minute Welsh lessons we had learned the first two verses (more or less perfectly) and we’d created our own chorus. It’s not the finished product by any means, but on the last day of my placement I recorded my class performing what we’d learned so far.

You can watch it here:

Calon Lan Performance

I am still utterly blown away by how quickly they remembered the words, and how enthusiastic they were about performing it at every opportunity. They even sung me out on my last day with ‘ooooh ahhh Mr Hann’ instead of our chorus. I will never forget that.

So my point is this: I’m not good at Welsh, or so I believed. But with a bit of focus and effort, it turns out I’m ‘digon da‘ – good enough, to achieve these results. I’m proud of that. If I can do it, so can you.

Beth fyddwch chi’n ei wneud yn dda? What will you do well?

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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An Apple a day….

I can add the last seven days to the list of ‘good things that happened in 2017’, for this was a week in which I achieved two proud moments in my University life.

Firstly, I became an Apple Teacher.

What is an Apple Teacher? Well, to become a recognised Apple Teacher you must read through guides and complete a quiz to earn eight different badges. Each badge relates to a different app or skill, and you can complete the badges for Mac, iPad or both.

Once you’ve earned all eight badges you’ll become an Apple Teacher, and receive an email with your official Apple Teacher logo, which looks a bit like this:

20170204_211955000_ios

I found working through the materials to be a great CPD tool, and I would encourage educators of all knowledge and experience to consider doing as I did.

If you’re still not sure, here are a few of my thoughts about the whole process:

The guides are written with a consistent structure flowing through each one, meaning you can pick up a guide on any subject, from Guitar Band to Numbers, and easily find the section you need. Finding information within each guide is not difficult, as each has a contents page with hyperlinks to take you directly to the section you need. This could be a fantastic tool for more-able learners in KS2 to use and teach themselves new skills.

The problem I often have with guides is that reading the theory alone can can make it difficult to picture how you would apply it to a real life scenario. The Apple Teacher guides address this by actually taking you through the process of creating something. For example, the Numbers Guide talks through the creation of the ‘Butterfly Investigation Lab Report’, including a simple table, checklist and pie chart. Seeing this come together makes it much easier for me to understand how I could use this in other projects in future.

The addition of interactive functions within the guides adds real value to what you are reading. For example, within the Garage Band Guide you can listen to sound clips of what you’re supposed to be creating, to check that you’re on the right lines. Many of the pages have windows you can swipe through to see the progression of the stages you are following. All of these functions add a great deal of support on just one single page.

The process of taking the test online is also very simple and easy to access, with a smooth transition between the different sections.

 

Having completed the Apple Teacher badges, I then looked in to further learning available on the Apple Teacher site.

Which brings me to my second achievement. I sat down yesterday determined to complete the Apple Teacher Playground Swift badges too. The Swift badges are all related to coding, a subject that is surely daunting to many teachers who have never taught this before.

However, after reading through the guides and drawing on some hazy memories of previously-forgotten A-Level Computing knowledge, I successfully completed the Apply Teacher Playground Swift badges.

appleteacherswiftplaygrounds_white

Yes, it’s true I had a previous understanding of coding, and a good familiarity of Apple systems. But consider this – I last studied coding 11 years ago, and I’ve never used apps like Garage Band in my life. I was basically a beginner again. If I can do it, why can’t you?

Interested in becoming an Apple Teacher yourself? What are you waiting for? Follow this link, read the resources, take the tests and get qualified!

appleteacher.apple.com

Right, pencils down. That’s the end of our time. Until next time – hwyl fawr!

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