Teacher Training at USW: This cannot be the end.

I first heard the news via a BBC News article. I was shocked, in a state of disbelief. I had been so certain of the outcome that I hadn’t even properly considered the impact this news would have.

“Changes to where student teachers will be able to train in future have been announced” the article began, “bids from Swansea University and the USW, which currently offers teacher training at its Newport campus, were unsuccessful.”

The EWC, Education Workforce Council, were responsible for considering the proposals and deciding on which institutions to accredit. They announced their decision in a press release on 29th June.

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I was a small part of the process at University of South Wales (USW). Acting on behalf of the students currently undertaking the BA Primary Studies course, I was invited to join two of the discussions in order to offer a student’s perspective and opinion on the proposal being submitted by the University.

I sat around the table with academics, headteachers, former students and fellow-current students, and I have to say in all honesty I came away somewhat confused. Disenchanted, even. There appeared to be a real lack of understanding of the innovation and vision from the Accreditation Board when considering the University’s proposal.

As an example, during my time as a student, and no doubt for countless cohorts of the past, we have been crying out for shorter, more frequent stints in the classroom. The course currently offers ‘block placements’ of 6 weeks in years one and two, and 8 weeks in year three. This creates a huge amount of pressure, as it requires students to assemble a toolkit of behaviour management strategies, lesson ideas, an understanding of the curriculum, knowledge of current research and a bank of assessment for learning techniques through a series of lectures across the year. As well as this, students must ensure their own literacy, numeracy and digital competence skills are up to scratch ahead of placement. Then they have just 5 teaching weeks (less one observation week to begin) to put all of this knowledge into practice.

This is too much pressure for many students to really learn and perfect each strategy and technique.

The proposal was to have shorter stints in the classroom following each series of lectures, so that they can put their new knowledge to the test while it’s still fresh in their minds. The panel did not appear to appreciate the many benefits of this, which is very disappointing in my view.

Also, the University have long developed action enquirers who now actually get their work published and shared across the globe. How many Universities will publish students’ research as eBooks? According to the BBC, “the new criteria has asked for a greater emphasis on research and more collaboration with schools”. USW are already doing it. Search ‘University of South Wales’ on iBooks and you’ll find a wealth of material.

One such book is entitled ‘Bringing Digital Competence to Life‘. This is a case study conducted in the Summer of 2017 by myself and others on the BA Primary course. Over a four week period we planned and delivered a sequence of lessons that aimed to develop digital skills in a cross curricular way. I thoroughly recommend you take a look. A similar case study is currently being completed as I write this, and the eBook will be available shortly.

Is this not the sort of research and collaboration with schools so desired by the Accreditation Board?

One of the more troubling issues I have with the process is with regards to their understanding of what teachers of the future look like. Digital Competence in Wales sits with equal importance alongside Literacy and Numeracy. However, the Board showed a worrying lack of knowledge of even very basic technology currently being used in schools. For example, during a discussion around how the University encourages students to develop their confidence in using technology, a green screen was shown as an example. Students can use such facilities to enhance presentations, create ‘hook’ videos and many more strategies that enhance learning in the classroom. Yet, only one member of the Board really appeared to understand this. Granted, not understanding technology yourself is perfectly understandable. But not valuing the importance of how technology can enhance learning, that is inadmissible.

How can one make a decision about the future of teacher training with so little understanding of what modern teaching is?

The press release included a quote from Professor John Furlong, Chair of the ITE Accreditation Board. He claims the process of awarding accreditation “has been
conducted in an open, fair and rigorous way”.

I question the fairness of this process. My overriding feeling is the institutions receiving accreditation have won this right based on promises made, not results proven. USW prove that they have done, and can continue to do the fantastic work they are known for every single day.

The loss of this provision will be of huge detriment to the teaching profession in Wales, particularly in the South East of the country.  I have so much praise for everybody in the Primary Studies team at USW, but as it currently stands others won’t get the chance to benefit from the expertise, experience, facilities and relationships USW have built with schools over so many years.

It is a huge loss, and one which many feel passionately about. A petition is currently active at change.org which urges the EWC and Welsh Government to reconsider this decision. If you feel the same, I urge you to please sign the petition too.

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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:

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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.

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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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